Thursday, July 30, 2015

Time Out- I'm on Base and You Can't Get Me

I officially declare a time out from life. Temporary, mind you. I'm not sure how long I'll need, but if I'm to prevent part of my heart from growing cold and hard, I need some time. - I really don't know how much more strength I can find- at this point I am digging deep.

And damn it, my shovel was smashed to pieces yesterday by someone I love dearly.

This is the part in the story where I start digging with my hands, on my knees in the mud, having a Captain Dan moment.

Except I don't have a shrimping boat to tie myself too and scream at the heavens for a few hours.

Although, if God can hear my screaming thoughts inside my head, then I don't need a shrimping boat and a storm to communicate.

I listened to Abu cry herself to sleep last night,  because she couldn't believe that someone she cared about with all the graciousness of her heart would choose an inanimate object over her. She would give the shirt off her back for this person- had nothing but nice things to say, and the hurt she feels cuts me to the core of my mommy heart.

The Vikings were brilliant- burn the shit with the owner. I told my girls- when I die- burn all my shit with my body- I don't want any fighting over scraps of my life.
Bean pointed out she might be arrested for doing that, but she would do it for me anyways.

And the ironic part of the matter, is this person was getting the items, there was no question -  but for whatever reason she freaked out, acted in such a way that even I with my big, sensitive heart can not excuse with grief- and tore my family apart. And destroyed her relationships with my girls.

I hope it was worth it.

As Doc said in Back to the Future 3- Shot in the back over a matter of 80 bucks.

That line has bugged me since I first watched the movie, because what sort of person would shoot a person over something as tiny as 80 bucks?

And then I found out. Unfortunately it wasn't a nemesis, but blood. And I have to admit that hurts in ways that are crushing.

Betrayal. It stings. That's why it plays such a big part in books. We hate what we can not fight, the stab in the back.

On top of that - Hero Hottie had a doctor's appointment and was told he is really sick, as we knew, but they don't know what's wrong with him. More tests are ordered.

More. tests. are. ordered. - Translation: we don't know what the hell is wrong with your husband.

As a child I loved to read mysteries...

As an adult they are starting to lose their appeal.

My Grandpa died last week. He lived 54 days after Grandma. He would be so disappointed to know what has happened this week.

Knowing my Grandpa, he would have burnt his shit, rather than have things transpire the way they have.

My Mom asked a nurse how could she work at the hospice house, working with people when they're at their worse.

A few days later she came back and said she had thought about Mom's comment.

"I don't work with people at their worse. I work with them at their best. This is who they are."

Because dying strips us of all our facades and walls we have built around ourselves, exposing our true, naked selves.

Media has it wrong- we don't live like we're dying. We die the way we lived.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hospice House

Details of a Short Stay at the Hospice House

       Two years ago when my Grandma had surgery for colon cancer, she could see the hospice house from her hospital room. During her two week stay in one of the tallest buildings in our small town, she could peer over the parking lot, the drainage field and the row of pine trees, to the hospice house. And for two weeks she watched people go in and out, visiting their dying loved ones, and she decided that she didn't want to die there. She wanted to be at home. 

     Unfortunately, life doesn't  never goes as planned. I'm starting to believe that you need some sort of plan - like a goal- so you don't wander aimlessly around waiting for life to happen to you, but plans are more like suggestions. 

  One time I toured a college, and the college mentor was explaining to me that she had been there for seven years and just couldn't leave because she didn't know what to do with her life when she left. 
     Completely forgetting the fact that she was in fact living her life at that moment she was wasting it, while she decided she had to 'be something' in order to live life. -

   But back to Grandma- not even two weeks after we sorted shoes, water retention in her body made her limbs too heavy for family members to care for her at home. And when my sister pulled her shoulder trying to help her- she knew she had to make a decision and she entered hospice house via ambulance and being lifted down her porch stairs in her kitchen chair by two strapping EMTs.

And that image of her sitting- all frail and both bones and skin from wasting away from cancer and swollen and puffy tissues from water retention- wearing a nightgown and robe- knowing she would never return to her home- in her own kitchen chair- makes me cry. I wasn't there when she left for the hospice house, but I came that night to see her. 

I had never been in the hospice house before. I'd heard excellent things about it.- My Mom and I went together, quiet in our thoughts. The building is right behind the hospital and off a main road, but they designed it in such a way that you feel like you're in the woods. It's an illusion- but it's peaceful and relaxing, and one can pretend that death is a quiet, separate affair from the busyness of life. 

The interior is designed like a lodge, floor to ceiling windows allow you to peer into the strip of pine trees, concealing the hospital tower just on the other side. A stone fireplace, and comfortable chairs fill the lobby, like you've just come in from skiing. Books, a television, a piano, and a kids area invite family members to stay. The next room is a large dining room, with enough chairs to seat large families. And a kitchen is open for anyone to use. 

Laminate floors that look like polished wood floors, dim lighting, and exposed beams with plenty of natural light, make the surroundings seem less like a hospital and more like a home, except for the nurses station in the middle, the beeps and rings that accompany any medical setting, and the harsh cleaner smell in the air. 

Grandma looks so small and vulnerable in her bed. A bed that is rumored to cost $50,000 and can take her vitals, and will sound an alarm if she gets or falls off it. 

The bed - For being a fancy example of medical genius and technology, Grandma complains and says the bed is stiff and uncomfortable. The nurses agree, and say they have heard that from other patients. One sassy nurse says maybe admin should have to sleep on the beds before they buy them. -

I'm at a lost of what to say- shouldn't you have the most comfortable bed when you're dying?

The room is beautifully decorated- with exposed beams, triangle shaped windows above the doors leading onto a balcony, which has a bird bath and bird feeders on it. Perfect for my Grandma who used to feed the birds, until health and budget prevented her. 

Grandma is a little lost, confused- her wrinkled brow scrunched together, my Mom having to remind her how she arrived there. Which Grandma recalled quickly, once we starting talking about it.

And my Grandma being my Grandma, notices the tiny smidgen of dust collected above the Cove Heaters.

No one knows it at the time, but in less than two weeks, Grandma will be gone and Grandpa will occupy the room across the way. 

I visit the next day and Grandma is sitting up in her rocking chair, watching the birds eat at the birdseed. My Mom had tracked down a volunteer to fill it up so Grandma can enjoy birdwatching. She never turns on the television, once while she's there, using her time to read a bit, watch the birds, and visit. She is rarely without someone there with her.
My great Aunt D, who is Grandma's big sister by eleven years, is constantly by her side, and she doesn't say it, but no big sister thinks they're going to help their baby sister onto the next path. Every time she brushes Grandma's forehead, or grabs her hand, or tries to make sure she has everything she needs, she is smiling and encouraging. But occasionally, you can see the pain when she loses control for just a nano second, and the heaviness of her heart dampens her eyes. 

And then it's gone, and she smiles and tries to chat. 

I ask if Grandma needs something else to read, but she says she has plenty of magazines at home that she hasn't had time to read, plus a couple of books she's in the middle of reading, so when she's done with the two magazines she has brought, she'll have me go get them.

She doesn't even finish the magazines she brought, and later when I read them, I find her blue post it note, holding her place, stuck in the middle of a story. 

For the book lover in me, the child who would sneak out of bed to finish a book by nightlight- I'm having trouble with imagining what it must feel like to leave this physical world without finishing the book you are reading. I think it might drive me nuts on the other side. I'm afraid I will not be able to die without all books finished- or I will end up haunting a library. 

It's amazing how much life less than two weeks can contain when you realize that time's almost up- and so I will have to finish the rest of Grandma's hospice stay in the next blog or two. 

I'm still trying to figure things out. But I do know Tim McGraw is wrong. Riding a bull and jumping out of a airplane isn't what makes your life worth living. 

And a bucket list is only as good as the love it contains. And perhaps just a little bit of the meaning of life- comes back to the hand that is holding yours when you journey into the next world.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Grandma's Shoes

 Life in the State of Dying

            I kneel on the carpet, in front of the carefully lined up rows of plastic shoe containers. Each one labeled with the style and color of the shoes inside. In some styles of shoes my Grandma had bought five different colors, so she could properly match her shoes with her outfits.
      Most of the shoes won't ever enclose her feet again- the cancer has started to effect every aspect of her bodily functions and her legs and feet are painfully swelling up. Slippers still fit- barely.
        The day is late and cold. Although it is May and everyone should be out in their yards planting and weeding- people are preparing for a blizzard. So buckets cover delicate new plants and sheets are spread across flowers beds -- a sheet won't keep the cold, wet snow from damaging the plants- but the hopeful gardeners crosses their fingers and hope that Mother Nature isn't too brutal.
      My Grandma, who suddenly went from walking with a cane last week, to needing a wheelchair this week- sits in her pajamas- everyday she is less likely to dress, which for a woman who was always dressed in carefully pressed skirts and blouses- and the collar carefully adorned with one of her pins- it is an unsettling sight.

     She sits in her wheelchair next to me- holding one of Grandpa's shirts, an equally pressed long sleeved buttoned down Western shirt in white with a small floral print on it- but a masculine floral print- the colors in orange and yellow and red.
      Her fingers, which have become quite gnarly and slender in just the past weeks, plays with the fabric.
     "I should throw this out," she says, as her fingers tangle tighter in the fabric. "It's so thin bare, he can't wear it anymore."
    I wait, knowing from the far off look in her eyes that she wants to say more. Bean, who is helping me sort shoes and clothes, is patiently waiting, shifting back and forth on her feet, obviously in her teenage hood not sure what to say and for being Bean and having a habit of always saying the wrong thing- is practicing her nodding a lot this afternoon. She knows her great-grandma is dying- she knows we're helping her sort her material life from the journey she is embarking on- and she doesn't have the experience to say anything that makes this task even easier.

     And so she nods and without complaining- has been helping me vacuum my grandparent's house, and even scrubbing their bathrooms. There are very few words I can say to her, except, "good job kid."

   Grandma knots her fingers in the fabric. "I can't throw it away yet."
   I look up into her face. "Grandma, you don't have to. We'll put it on the shelf."
   "There's a story to it. When your Grandpa used to work at the church doing the lawn mowing, he would sometimes get attacked by bees. We finally figured it out it was only when he was wearing this shirt. They liked it."
    I chuckle along with her, remembering a time when my Grandpa wasn't bound by an oxygen cord and giant tanks of oxygen- when he could walk without taking deep breaths of air because otherwise he wasn't taking in enough breath to make his legs function. The deep guttural sounds he has to make to force enough air into lungs as he shuffles across the floor startled Abu at first- she thought he was going to die right then and there. Now I notices she discreetly watches him- ready to help if he should need it.
   I take the shirt and gently place it on the shelf. When they are gone, I'm not sure if I'll be able to toss the shirt- she has given it life, attaching a story to it. A memory. Meaning.
   Damn it. I didn't think helping Grandma sort her closet and drawers would be so difficult, but a few times I have to take a deep breath and force the tears back.
  "I can't believe it's going to snow," she says. "I didn't need to see snow one more time."

     Before she goes.

      "Now you get to see Grandma's secret." She says with a huge grin.
      I chuckle. "All your shoes?" It's no secret- I know she has a love of shoes and the dozen upon dozen of pairs attest to it.
     "Now I know where Bean gets her love of shoes from. Do you know when she was two I could keep her busy for hours if I gave her a shoe catalog?"
   Bean wrinkles her nose and then she laughs. She can't deny her love of shoes either. If she didn't have giant feet, she wouldn't mind trying on some of Grandma's shoes. They aren't old lady styles- they are fashionable and elegant and classy.

       Just classic.
     Bean helps me sort. We have a pile to try to sell to the consignment store, a pile for donation, and a trash pile.
   Only one pair of shoes goes into the trash pile- the others have been so well taken care of- they can be shared. If we had the same foot size, she would have given them to me- for interviews at my paper job. The pride I hear in her voice when she mentions my paper job. She has read every article I have written and saved all of them.
   "Front page, huh?" She smiles. My latest article actually made the front page just the day before and she mentions that when we sort her clothes she's hoping that there are some items I can wear for my professional career.

      Grandma is tired after we finish sorting the shoes, so the clothes will have to wait until after the weekend. Sunday is Mother's Day and I know my Mom plans on bringing her some wonderfully beautiful flowers in a pretty vase.
     Grandma's last Mother's Day. My Mom's last chance to give her mother something for Mother's Day. The day will be bittersweet.
     I know my Mom will not say what she really wants to say- sharing emotions doesn't come easy for her and I'm hoping that the flowers speak volumes to my Grandma.
   Mom has been going over there every day, cooking meals and tending to them.

Her chronic pain condition makes it difficult- love makes it happen. 

    When we go to leave, Baby Blueberry skips over to my Grandma and gives her a huge hug, she skips over oxygen cords and gives my Grandpa an equally big hug with tiny pudgy arms. She doesn't understand, but there is an understanding in her eyes that seems so wise for a two year old. She knows they need the love and in her generous spirit she gives it.
   Her easily given hugs thrill them and they talk about it with my Mom, who is staying to serve them the spaghetti she made, after we leave.

   In the car I tell the girls thank you for the help. Thanks to Bean for helping make their bed, to the extreme specific way my Grandma wanted it and for helping sort her shoes. She nods, and says, "the old people need help." A typical teenage nonchalant statement, but her patience and compassion she displays with them shows me so much more.
   Abu says she doesn't mind playing with Baby Blueberry while I do stuff and asks wasn't I proud of her for watching her for so long.
   Yes, I answer, thinking of their sweetness as they played together, but then my thoughts drift to the boxes of shoes in my car. I wish I didn't have to drop them off. To separate this material life from what comes next.
   But it comes.

  When I arrive home, I look around at the stuff that surrounds me and realize I don't own any of it. I'm borrowing it, using it, enjoying it, but one day- it gets sorted and divided- some kept- some tossed-
     and so I spend the evening dancing and being goofy with my girls and then get down on the floor and play unicorns and princesses with Blueberry.

   And I realize as I pen this blog, that for the rest of my life when I think about the process of dying- I will think about boxes of shoes, a certain teenager helping me put freshly laundered bedsheets on my grandparent's bed, well-loved shirts that aren't meant for the trash, skipping toddlers with pudgy little arms full of love, and a tired Mom cooking her parents spaghetti.