Gloria

I still stop by Mom’s town house every few days just to pick up the mail. There are fewer days now when there’s anything of importance, and except for the remaining utility bills, whatever I pick up usually goes straight from the mailbox to the recycle bin.

After picking up the mail, I walk through the house and make sure everything is still okay. The first couple of weeks after she passed away, being in the house always brought tears. Mom’s pill-box still sat at the kitchen table next to the napkin holder, as if she’d be back to take her daily doses of medications. So did her stack of recent mail, and the letter opener she always used because her fingers couldn’t open envelopes anymore. The living room, her bedroom, the sun room all looked as if they were just waiting for her to return to them and her daily routine. It made me so sad to be in her space and know she would never come back. So many days I’d just plop into her place on the comfy living room couch and cry for a few minutes before moving on.

My siblings and I have been working to clear out Mom’s belongings though, and we’re close to being ready to sell. It’s easier to be there now because almost everything that made it unique to Mom has been removed. The important stuff has been divided among the four of us, and the rest is being relegated to charity or the trash.

On Wednesday after work, when I pulled into the driveway the garage door wouldn’t open. I pushed the button on the remote multiple times to no avail. Thinking the battery had died, I tried the keypad. Still no luck. I finally walked up the sidewalk to let myself in the front door with my key, and quickly realized the power was out. I momentarily wondered if I’d forgotten to pay the electric bill, but then remembered sending it not long ago. And fortunately, the refrigerator had been cleaned out weeks ago so I didn’t have to worry about spoiled food.

I did my usual walk-through, and seeing that the boxes of stuff we’d sorted were all where we’d left them last, decided I could head home. As I locked up behind me and headed back to the driveway I still had a nagging feeling that I’d dropped the ball somehow and wondered if I should be more worried. It was then that I noticed all of the neighbors’ driveways. Almost every one of them had a car sitting in it, and all of the garage doors were closed. I realized then that this small community of seniors almost never leaves their cars outside. Evidence that the garage doors couldn’t be opened and it was a neighborhood outage.

When I got home, I decided to call Mom’s next door neighbor, just to completely ease my mind. Gloria had been such a good friend to Mom during the two-and-a-half years they were neighbors. As she came to understand the severity of Mom’s disease and the limitations it placed on her, Gloria often stopped by to drop off a serving of some desert she’d made, or just to sit and talk for a while. Eventually, their friendship grew to the point that if Mom was spending the weekend at my house, or if she was hospitalized and knew she’d be away for a few days, she’d have me call Gloria to let her know what was happening so that Gloria wouldn’t worry if she didn’t see Mom’s kitchen blinds opened up for the day.

Gloria is a few years older than Mom was, but she lives a pretty active life. She volunteers at a local church, and she maintains an expansive garden behind the block of town homes on her side of the street. In the summertime, the garden grows lush, full and colorful. Because Mom couldn’t go anywhere without assistance, the garden was a source of great joy to her. She could at least step out onto her back patio and sit in a chair enjoying the sun, the flowers and all the birds that were drawn to the garden. Sometimes Gloria would wander over and the two women would sit together and chat. Gloria had become a true friend to Mom, and as a result, I’ve grown to love her.

So when I got home on Wednesday a few minutes after stopping at the town house, I dialed Gloria’s number. There was no answer, and so I left a message letting her know I just wanted to see what she knew about the power outage. After I hung up, I realized Gloria probably had a cordless phone, which meant if the power was out in the whole neighborhood, she wouldn’t be able to get my call.

On Thursday evening, my phone rang and it was Gloria’s name that appeared on the Caller ID display. We started chatting and I quickly had the sense how little we’d connected since she came to hug me and offer her condolences at Mom’s funeral. Our conversation flowed easily and after she’d confirmed the power outage was neighborhood-wide, we went on to catch up on the happenings of each other’s lives. I realized how interwoven our lives had become through Mom and found myself smiling at how easily we shared stories with each other. It occurred to me that I don’t want to let her slip out of my life now that Mom is gone and made a mental note to make an effort to stay in touch.

I mentioned before that the grieving process has brought me to the point where I’m able to look back on the past couple of years and see more clearly the many ways my life has been blessed. Gloria is definitely one of those blessings.

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Alive again

I’ve turned a corner. I feel it this week – immensely.

I hadn’t even realized over the past few years, the degree to which I was lacking any real joy, or hope, or even a simple sense of peace. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t recognize then how low I was. But I see it now, and it feels so good to be on the other side of it.

The past few years were a journey, one that began in 2014 with a significant decline in my parents’ collective health, and ending in February of this year by which time both of them were gone from this world. It was a difficult road at times, but I see now that I navigated it with some semblance of success, and it seems I’ve reached a sort of check point.

This week has brought clarity. When I look back at myself over the past two years especially, I see the darkness that permeated my mind, the lingering sense of loneliness, and the pangs of sadness that always hovered just below the surface and often spilled over. It’s only now I realize I was probably walking a fine line between true depression and basic self-pity. No one wants to watch their parents die. I often felt sorry for myself because it felt as if I had a front row seat for the slow end of my parents’ lives and I watched it in brilliant Technicolor.

I can’t count the number of times I wished things could have been vastly different, that my parents didn’t have to suffer the debilitating effects of disease and aging, or at least, that I could have had blinders on. But now, there’s a sense of gratefulness that God put me where He did. Today, I have few regrets and those include wishing that I’d had less fear, and that I might have supported my parents with a glad heart at all times. I didn’t always. BUT … I did it. I was there for them. I held their hands as they stumbled through to the end. Even if inside I sometimes felt scared, or bitter that my life was put on hold to some degree, I see now that I wrapped my arms around my role. My parents never had to go to a nursing home, which was a huge fear for both of them. And my relationship with Mom blossomed into something beautiful – which in my younger years, I never could have imagined. Countless times during the past two years, she expressed her immense gratefulness to me. Affectionate pet-names rolled off her tongue when she spoke to me, and that felt SO good! The words, “I love you,” were exchanged daily between us … words that years ago were always assumed, but rarely verbalized. I will never be sorry that I was thrown into this role of part-time caregiver and faithful daughter. Difficult as it was at times, it could also be rewarding and deeply fulfilling. I had to dig deep, but it allowed me to find a strength I might otherwise never have known.

For years, I have felt a desire to deepen my faith, to figure out where I’m at with God, and how to get where I want to be with him. I know that’s a lifelong pursuit, but this week it’s become so clear that doors were opened because of the experiences of the past several years. I have grown in my faith as a result, and it seems that I’ve finally found the sense of direction I’ve often lacked.

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner after work with a friend, one who inspires me with the way she lives her faith. I told her at the time how I still felt so weighed down – with memories of Mom’s last difficult days, with the burden of settling her affairs, with my own family stuff, and with ever-increasing work stress. I told her how stuck I felt, and that I knew I needed some time during the day to pray, reflect or recharge, but I didn’t know how to find it. Even though my parents are now gone and a sense of freedom had begun to return, I still felt as if there were never enough hours in the day. Turmoil was still so prominent in my heart.

My friend reminded me of something she does that I’d forgotten. The challenges of her life have been infinitely more difficult than anything I’ve ever known, and yet she maintains a sense of peace. Each day on her drive to work, she turns off the car radio and spends her commute praying. I decided the next day I was going to give it a try myself.  I’ve never felt that I really knew how to pray beyond the routine prayers I’d committed to memory during my Catholic upbringing. I’ve rarely felt that I’ve actually communicated with God, or heard His will with any true certainty. The first few days were sketchy. My mind was chaotic and rambling, and I wasn’t sure if I was really praying, or just letting my brain run wild. But something good was happening. My daily commute is typically thirty minutes or so, longer if there’s any kind of weather or traffic issues. And with that small fraction of each day, I had begun to carve out a much-needed period of quiet and reflection during my otherwise noisy existence. Each morning, I began to develop a bigger craving for that time alone in the car. And each day, a sense of peace and contentment began to gradually grow inside of me.

I’ve begun to sleep again on my own. My nerves feel less frayed. Minor annoyances are beginning to roll off my back. I’m smiling more readily and I’m able to see again how blessed my life has really been. Most importantly, there’s a recognition that life will always be a series of hills and valleys. I’m on the mountain top for the time being, but I see now it’s the periodic lows that will help me continue to appreciate when I’m on a high. The last few years brought some serious lows, but I would never give them back. I am grateful I was given the opportunity.

Three Things

Happiness is something I frequently contemplate. I think I’m always chasing it to some degree, yet recognizing that I don’t always succeed as much as I’d prefer. How many times have I written about trying to be happier, only to feel as if it is constantly slipping through my fingers?

I was listening to a sermon online a few weeks ago, as I sometimes do in the mornings while in front of the bathroom mirror getting ready for work. I’ve pretty much stopped attending church altogether, but over the past several years I’ve found a couple of churches to which I’ve become a frequent virtual attendee. I like the way they remind me that it’s normal to be imperfect. We all are. There’s no hope of ever being perfect, so I can just relax in my imperfection and be comfortable just doing the best I can. And I like the way they break down the bible and relate it to real life.

This particular sermon I recently heard was focused on … well, I don’t actually remember the specific Bible passages. But one portion of it addressed the world’s collective need for happiness. One point specifically struck a chord with me. And that was that happiness isn’t supposed to be a permanent state. Happiness is a feeling, an emotion, just like all of the other feelings and emotions. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just one of the many, although certainly much more pleasurable than some of the others. And that’s probably why we think we need and deserve more of it than the others.

The concept stuck with me because it helped me just to realize that it’s normal to feel less than happy. I often do. As I’ve so often written, I just can’t wrap my head around having to switch roles with my mom. I’ve become the one who worries, loses sleep, and constantly feels as if I’m juggling responsibilities and eternally falling short. It’s hard to feel consistently happy while being witness to the daily decline caused by a disease that robs Mom of the well-being we all expect to enjoy during our retirement years. That happy old-age thing is just not the way it is for so many, I know. I just hate having to be reminded all the time, simultaneously wondering how long I get to have her with me … and whether I’ll ever be able to relax again.

I try to remind myself that this is life. This is just life. After all, I once heard that we’re not here to live. We’re here to die. That’s our only certainty. And all we can do is make the most of the days between now and then. Most of us don’t know for certain how many days we get, so that’s the challenge. Make the most of each one while never knowing which one is the last.

So back to the sermon. It talked about a study that was done in which a group of people was surveyed about how happy they feel. The group was then divided in two. One half of the group was to go on doing nothing different from what they normally do, while the other half was instructed to keep a daily record for the next several weeks of three things for which they were grateful. Afterwards, both groups completed another survey to measure their levels of happiness. Not surprisingly, the group that kept a daily gratefulness record saw a significant increase in their level of happiness.

I listened to that sermon weeks ago and it occurred to me that I should do that again. I say “again” because I have periodically made a habit of keeping a record of the good stuff, and I have usually found it to be beneficial if only because it helps keep my focus a little more heavy on the right instead of the wrong. And yet, I have failed to pick up the habit again, probably because the only thing I’m doing consistently lately is being inconsistent.

But here I am this morning, with a little bit of time on my hands. And so with hope (but no promises) of making this a habit here or elsewhere, I will document three things for which I am grateful.

  1. A “day” job – For thirty-plus years, my husband has worked rotating shifts. Since before our kids were born, Jack might be gone days, afternoons, nights, or weekends. Sometimes he’s been able to join the family for holidays, birthdays and special occasions, sometimes not. Just over a month ago, an opportunity came his way. We evaluated the change in pay and our finances, and agreed we were ready to make the leap. No more working the weekends (unless he chooses to put in some overtime.) No more working on holidays. No more missing out on invitations because he has to work. YAY!
  2. Adult kids living at home – Since the start of this past summer, all three of my adult kids have been living at home, in various states of temporary. I knew from the get-go that this would pose its challenges, not the least of which include the daily juggling of shower time and the battle for laundry facilities. But overall, it has been a joy. I never felt ready for any of them to leave the nest when they did. This has been a nice reprieve, giving me a second chance to prepare myself for the quiet that is sure to fill this house again. And next time, I’ll feel more ready for it.
  3. Over-the-counter, non-habit-forming sleep aids – Several months ago, I stopped sleeping. It took its toll and I recognized that it was making me very angsty, frustrated and short-fused. While I was aware that there are several logical contributors to my lack of sleep at this stage of my life, it didn’t make things any easier. I’ve never been a fan of taking a pill to help me do something I should be able to accomplish on my own, but one day, I’d simply had enough. I broke down and bought something to help me stay asleep. I am thrilled to say that I am sleeping through the night again, even having pleasant dreams, and I’ve come down a few notches. I feel more relaxed, better focused, and able to just deal with stuff. Oh, sleep, how I love you!

That felt good, just identifying three good things. It’s made me realize that I could easily keep listing good things, and maybe that’s just the motivation I need to pick up this habit again. But I’ll save it for another day. And if anyone is still stopping by here anymore, I’d love to read about your good things!

So Much Better

My sense of well-being these days depends heavily on how my mom is doing. These past couple of weeks, she’s continued to steadily improve, and I am feeling hopeful again.

During her stay in the hospital last month, and in the days following, things looked bad. Really bad. Mom was SO weak and still feeling so very sick. I honestly thought the end was coming. I couldn’t help but worry at her insistence at staying at home all alone. I disaster-fantasized about all of the worrisome things that might happen while I was at work and too far away to help if something happened. I moved through my days with an ache like a vice around my chest. My sleep was restless and I felt a heavy depression that was impossible to shake. Nothing else in my world felt good.

Fast forward to today. Week two of Mom’s home-care services is under our belts, and I’m marking it a success. She’s on a consistent schedule now, with Barb, who is about my age, coming to care for Mom Monday through Thursday, and young Amanda on Fridays. Every day, I’m amazed at how good Mom looks and sounds. In fact, her spirit shines brighter now than it seemingly has in years. I continue to be amazed at the positive impact resulting from a few hours of compassionate care and peaceful companionship each day. Best decision we ever made, and worth every penny! I am so grateful to these women who dedicate their time to making Mom’s life more comfortable and happy.

And so life has begun to feel more manageable and steady again. I’ve needed to make a few adjustments myself, finally realizing that I have to focus only on what I can do myself to care for Mom, and dropping any expectations I have of others. Expectations often lead to disappointment, and the only person hurt by that disappointment is me.

My level of responsibility at work has increased significantly of late, and it feels good to be able to focus on it. I’m feeling strong and confident about where my work life is going. I’m enjoying my work again!

I’ve been able to carve out a little time again for myself, my own family, and enjoyed a Friday night dinner with some old friends.

I’m starting to realize that life is a series of little journeys, all woven together into the path of my life. This most recent one has been a real test, though I’m grateful the really difficult part was relatively short-lived. I’ve begun to see that surviving in life is largely a matter of believing you can. But believing is sometimes the hardest battle. Every day, I lean more heavily on my faith, which I continue to marvel at when I think how much I shunned it just a few short years ago. I’m learning the importance of being thankful both for the things that I recognize as good, and even those that are not. I’m learning to consider that even the tough things sometimes hold a larger purpose. Every day I see that my struggles often pale in comparison to those of others, and that fact alone gives me the resolve I need to keep striving for a positive attitude. It takes work but it is so worth it. This is what life is all about! I don’t like the person I am when self-pity takes over, and I’m proud to say that more often, I’m leaving her behind. Lately, I’m beginning to feel a sense of peace. I know it’s what will encourage me through the best and the worst days to come.

Godsend

Mom’s home care services started last Monday and I could not be more pleased.

There are so many agencies offering services for seniors out there. I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d seen a television commercial for a particular agency, and the ad appealed to me, so I started there. A representative came out to Mom’s town home for our consultation, and we were both so impressed, Mom signed up on the spot.

Our only other experience with home care was an agency that we’d hired for Dad after he’d broken his hip. Dad’s caregiver was a very nice man, but he wasn’t great at his job. He wasn’t self motivated, and if my parents didn’t specifically ask him to do something, he would sit at the dining room table and play with his cell phone or watch whatever happened to be on the television. He had a thick accent and there was a significant language barrier. He couldn’t carry on a casual conversation with my parents, and once when asked to get a box of cereal out of a cupboard, he returned with saltine crackers.

When interviewing the agency we hired for Mom, I mentioned that based on past experience, it was important to us that any caregiver working with Mom be confident and self motivated. We were assured this would not be a problem. I wasn’t sure whether it was cool to also specify that her caregiver be a woman, one with strong English skills, and  preferably a bit more on the mature side. We were told the only thing that couldn’t be specified in writing was the age preference. But it would be kept in mind when her schedule was created.

We were told that since the caregivers were already scheduled for most of the month, the first week would probably involve several different caregivers, ones with some availability in their existing schedules. But by the following week, there would be a consistent schedule of just two people, and an occasional substitute if ever one of the regulars couldn’t be there.

On Monday morning, a fresh face by the name of Amanda showed up at Mom’s house and she was all of twenty years old. And despite her preference not to have someone so young, Mom loved her from the start. She already joked that my middle kid, Ryker should stop by and meet Amanda. (My mom, the matchmaker! This is quite the kick!) Mom said Amanda was confident, motivated, and could carry on a conversation with her easily. She doesn’t come from a background of ease, and this seems to contribute to her drive and sense of compassion. At the end of their time together, Amanda asked Mom if she could request to be on her schedule every Friday and Mom happily agreed.

I was very encouraged when I called Monday afternoon to get Mom’s status report.

On Tuesday, Karla came, and on Wednesday, Anna. Both of these ladies were in their sixties. Karla had retired from her full-time job and said she was now working as a caregiver because she enjoyed it and couldn’t stand the thought of being retired and doing nothing in particular. Anna used to live in Michigan. When her husband passed away, she moved here to be closer to family. She particularly loved Mom’s dog, which happens to be a Pekingese. Anna said she used to have Pekingese dogs herself. Mom thoroughly enjoyed both Karla and Anna. Both of them told Mom that they’d love to come back when she’s got an opening in her schedule and she said she would welcome each of them anytime.

On Thursday, another woman came. She was quieter and less confident than the others, but she provided nice company for Mom. She didn’t do many of the everyday chores. She had told Mom she’d slipped and fallen on the ice the day before and was sore. Mom said she didn’t want to ask her to do much if she was hurt. I gently told Mom that if her caregiver wasn’t well enough to do a few simple chores, she probably shouldn’t have come to work that day. But I figured this was a one time deal with this person. She won’t be a regular on Mom’s schedule so I dropped it.

On Friday, Amanda returned and Mom had another good day.

Next week, there will be one more new face, Mom’s most regular caregiver, Barbara. I’m praying Barbara will be as good a fit as the women Mom met last week, if not better. Amanda will return each week on Friday, and I already know that’s a good thing.

I was nervous at the beginning of last week. Because of the poor experience with Dad’s home care services, my sister and I had to work hard to convince Mom to agree to some services for herself. Each day last week, I would call Mom after lunch when I knew her caregiver would have gone for the day. Each day, I heard a positive spirit in Mom’s voice such as I haven’t heard in months. I was looking forward to the fact that these caregivers would take over some of the chores that my sister and I normally have to do. I was hoping my mom would tolerate having someone in her house daily, hovering over her for a few hours. What I didn’t really expect is how much Mom would truly enjoy the companionship her caregivers provided.

A few days into her first week of services, I realized how much my mom’s loneliness had probably impacted her physical health. And going forward, even if her caregivers do nothing but provide friendly companionship, it will be okay with me if that’s what makes Mom happy and healthier. (But I really hope they manage the chores. I’m tired of trying to keep up with two households!)

Throughout the week, Mom’s spirits seemed brighter and her physical health appeared to improve by the day. She and I had new things to talk about, and I knew just what a good thing we’d done when she mentioned something one of the caregivers had told her. I was confused about which one had said it after hearing all of those new names and asked, “That’s the young girl, right?”

Mom said, “No, you’re thinking of Amanda. She’s the granddaughter one. I’m talking about Anna.”

The granddaughter one! My mom already thinks of Amanda like one of her grandchildren!

If there’d been any doubt in my mind as to whether Mom would be able to get comfortable with her home care, it was now erased.

Seeing my mother through this past year since my dad’s passing, seeing her decline in many ways … it’s been such a hard journey. Staying positive has been a serious challenge and I often feel such a heavy weight on my heart.

But this. This past week. These caregivers. They have been a true Godsend. And I am grateful beyond words.

Hello, 2017!

I am ready for a new year! Like so many others, I’m not sorry to see 2016 go. 2016 wrung us out in so many ways, not just here at home, but throughout the country, and around the world. And even though today, the sun has simply risen on another twenty-four hour window, just like it has every day before this one, the fact that today brings a fresh new year gives me a sense of hope and optimism.

I’ve been reshaped in the past year. I’d like to think I’ve been made stronger. But the process of getting here hasn’t been easy.

Jack and I went to a wedding yesterday. At the reception, I was talking with a friend who has suffered more family tragedy in the past couple of years than anyone should have to endure. We talked about things like losing loved ones, watching our parents grow old and frail, and the seemingly high instance of addiction in people these days. We talked about how much pain and hurt exist in this world. And we discussed how easy it is to worry and to hurt when you love others. I said that I always figured the older I got, the easier life should be, and the less we should have to worry about. But with each passing year, I realize it’s just not so. It can be so easy to let fear, hurt and bitterness consume you – if you allow it.

If anyone ever had the right to curl up in a ball and let darkness swallow them up, it would be this friend. But she hasn’t and won’t allow that to happen. She inspires me. As we talked, there were some tears. She’s been through so much, and she endured a period of darkness not long ago that I’m not sure I personally could have survived. We talked about how hard it can be to keep taking another step forward when so often we don’t understand why things sometimes happen the way they do.

I’ve reached a stage in my life when “someday” has arrived. Years ago, I understood that someday, my parents would grow old.  I knew that friends and loved ones would eventually depart from this life, and that there was the possibility that we wouldn’t all grow old. I knew that not everyone I cared about would have an easy life. Not everyone would enjoy good health for all of their days. But when I was younger, and had more control over protecting the ones I love, when time was on my side, it was easy to tuck someday away in the back of my mind.

We get older, and someday inevitably arrives. It can’t be ignored. You can let it swallow you up … or you can face it, and find happiness and good in spite of it.

I told my friend that as I endured the loss of  loved ones over the past couple of years, the only thing that kept me from losing it was the fact that there were clear signs that this here, this now, is not all that there is. A prayer to my grandmother was answered with the sound of her favorite song. A loved one showed up in a dream, assuring us that it’s all okay, that there is happiness in the beyond. I call them God moments. So does my friend. To others, maybe they are simply hope and optimism, or just wishful thinking. Whatever they are … they give me the strength to keep keeping on.

Still, in 2016, I mostly felt as if I was just going through the motions and trying not to let everything get the best of me. I know this is simply life. Most of us will have to pass by this way at some point. It’s a process. Grief and sorrow can’t be overcome in a day. And maybe they are something we just learn to live with. Strength and new wisdom do not come in an instant. Shedding old skin, arising anew … it all takes time. This is what we’re here for. To feel every emotion. To feel alone sometimes as well as to be surrounded. To experience joy as well as pain. To understand that sometimes we have to endure the depths for a while. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. All of this is what helps us to know what it is to truly live.

My friend summed it up well. She told me she never could have survived her losses if it weren’t for the love and support of those around her. “We’re here to love each other,” she said. “We’re just supposed to love each other. That’s all this is about. Nothing else matters.”

I think she’s right. In 2017, I hope I’ll stay more focused on this. I can’t save my mom from the inevitable strains of her health conditions, but I can take care of her as best I can. I can be with her as much as possible and love her as much as possible. I can’t save anyone from the ugliness of this world, but I can remind them they aren’t alone and they are loved. And when the unimaginable happens, maybe that love will be someone’s saving grace.

I spent too much time in 2016 feeling lost, alone and defeated. I don’t want to feel the sting of tears so often anymore. I want to feel less anger and bitterness. I want to remind my brain to focus on the positive, and when negativity finds its way in, acknowledge it and let it pass on by. I want to enjoy what I have, appreciate that which I can control, and stop stressing about what (and who) is beyond my grasp.

As I’ve so often been reminded in recent days,  a new year is like a blank book.

treat-the-new-year-like-a-blank-book-5-638

I hope I write a good one in 2017.

 

I remember when I used to write

Lord, I miss writing. And to think that for years, I used to come to the internet and do so multiple times a week. Now weeks go by with not a word. I miss it.

My life is just not in a place that allows for writing anything much that’s creative or takes more than a few moments. I’ve thought about this so much lately, how there was a time when it would give me anxiety to go too many days without writing. Writing was the thing that gave me release and I gave it priority. Not to mention, it gave me a community that I loved being a part of. I know there will come a time again when I’ll have the time and freedom to sit down and craft my life stories again, as well as spend time with writing friends. It just isn’t that time. For now, I’ll have to be content to find a rare moment like this here and there.

Actually, I shouldn’t even be sitting here now. I’m supposed to be tackling things around the house in preparation for a house full of company this coming Thursday. I volunteered to have the hubby’s family here for Thanksgiving. When I mentioned to him that I was contemplating this, Jack asked, “Are you insane?” They’re a BIG group. They won’t all be able to join us, thank god! But we’re still looking at a good 25 to 30 guests. I’m not too worried. I have a new room on the back of my house with no furniture in it. It’s going to be our Thanksgiving dining room! And this gives me something different and fun to look forward to for a change.

But as I was saying, there’s work to do around this house. The combination of a months-long construction project, and my caregiver responsibilities to my mom means that we have not kept up on a lot of our usual “stuff.” I should be tackling all that stuff right now. But while glancing at my phone this morning, I noticed a WordPress notification that it’s my one year anniversary on this blog. (They should also give me a reward – or penalty – for being the person who has abandoned blogs and started fresh in a new place so many times. I think this one is my fifth blog site since 2006. And I was hoping to make this my permanent home. I probably will. I just might not be “home” quite often for a while here until something gives a bit in my life.)

I had a milestone birthday last week. People kept asking me how it felt to be “the big five oh!” I told everyone, simply, that I was happy to be here. The unspoken words in my head were, “I lost my best friend a few months ago at forty-seven years old. I am grateful to reach fifty.”

Life has been busy. The hours in the days fly by. The days and the weeks and the months fly by. And I find myself wondering how the end of this year is already approaching when it seems we just turned the corner on 2016. How is it that my dad has been gone for almost a year already? My father-in-law for two?

The busyness and the speed of time lately means I appreciate like never before, the little things. Things like having an evening free to run errands or get a little grocery shopping done. Or bowling. Bowling used to just be … well, bowling. Now it’s my guarantee of having some sort of social life. Without it, I would not.

Still, we’ve managed to squeeze in some good stuff. The kids were all here last weekend to celebrate my big birthday. They and Jack had tried to plan a surprise party for me, but I got wind of it. (Jack’s terrible with secrets.) I told them, in all sincerity, I really did not want a big to-do. I just wanted time with them. They graciously honored my request and it was WONDERFUL! I loved waking up and having the usually quiet house soon fill up with their presence. We had big breakfasts together – eating things like Belgian waffles and bacon. And we sat together in the living room and just talked and laughed. I just love the adults my kids have become. They’re good people.

As part of my birthday gift, Chesney arranged for us to have a family photo taken, rather spontaneously. There was no time to coordinate clothing, and I realized I just didn’t care if we looked picture-perfect. We had a grand time doing it and the photos turned out GREAT! I’m going to treasure these for a long time to come.

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… This felt good … I may not be back again soon. But I will be back.

Best Things

img_4159I was just thinking that the best thing about today was the sunshine. Blazing, almost blinding at times sunshine.

And the brilliant blue sky.

And the sound of chirping birds filling the air as I stepped out of my car upon arriving at work today…

…Taking a break from a challenging day to enjoy a walk around the pond with a coworker/friend. Sun on our skin. A slight breeze and fresh air. Catching up on one another’s weekend doings and forgetting, for fifteen minutes, about the things going wrong back inside the office.

An email from my oldest with a picture attached. Sharing his past weekend’s adventure.

“I think I want to spend more time at the North Shore,” his message said.

I opened the picture and replied, “Wow. Can I come with next time?”

And, “Is that you in the photo?”

“Yup, that’s me,” he replied. “Fighting a fish. Or a rock.”

Spontaneous cooking at home once I’d left work and picked up Mom. I hadn’t thought tonight was going to be one of my nights. Jack is at work for the evening, so … nothing planned for dinner.

“I’ve been thinking about making your goulash,” I said to Mom as she settled in the living room chair waiting for Wheel of Fortune to begin.

“Oh, that sounds good,” she agreed.

“You’ll have to remind me what all goes in there. It’s been forever since I’ve made it.”

Ground beef, onions and garlic cooking in frying pan. Salt and Pepper. And after the meat had browned and was sizzling, stewed tomatoes and some pasta.

“Put a few tablespoons of ketchup in too,” she reminded me.

Mom wanted a slice of buttered bread to accompany her meal. I said that reminded me of dinners at Grandma’s house, where there was always a plate of sliced white bread and plenty of butter with every meal. I pulled some cantaloupe out of the refrigerator and put that on the table too. Not exactly the healthiest of meals, but it was hot, and it tasted good. Then again, food always tastes better when you’ve got someone to enjoy it with.

Just a really good day…

Getting Muddy

There’s a bird caw-caw-cawing somewhere out back. I can hear him even though the windows are closed. Even though I know the call is coming from a big, dirty, black bird, it makes me smile. It’s such a welcome sound. If I listen carefully, I can hear the softer, songs of daintier birds in the background. Spring seems to have arrived, at least for the weekend. I won’t get my hopes up. After all, it’s only March. But it has been a forgiving winter. I’m grateful for the early arrival of warmer days.

The last two weeks – I don’t know where they’ve gone. Mom had some bad days. Work was overwhelming. The last weekend got sucked up by other obligations. There’s always so much to do, and the more I cross off the list, the more gets added. Days keep marching on, ready or not.

Yet … I know I don’t have anything to complain about. I have a job – one that I love. I have a family that stays as close as I can hope. And they are all doing okay. They’re well. They’re safe. And Mom is okay. She just had a few bad days and seems to be on the upswing again. The house may have needed a good cleaning, but if that’s my biggest worry, I’ll take it. I know I have it good.

Last week, we learned of a death – the daughter of some old friends. She succumbed to brain cancer at just thirty years old. Parents, siblings, and a significant other left to grieve her passing from this life.

Last week, someone I’ve been worried about for a while finally ran out of luck. She got a DWI. And the weight of her world was too heavy already.

Last week, I talked to my best friend. She’s out of state, and I haven’t managed to connect with her in months. Texts have gone unanswered, phone calls unreturned. Now I know why. The cancer she’s been fighting for years – and over which she had recently been gaining the upper hand – had moved into her brain. My heart weighed heavy as she told me. I didn’t have the guts to ask about her prognosis. As she talked, she proved that she continues to fight and maintain her fantastic sense of humor.

“My hair is gone,” she said. “Except for the one in the mole on my hand. And except for my  mustache! Still have to keep waxing that damn thing!”

Sometimes I look around at the vast circle of people we hold close. There’s a lot of struggle and pain. I was thinking of my best friend, feeling like I haven’t been the friend I’m supposed to be to her. Half the time, I’ve been completely unaware of how bad it’s been for her, while I’m feeling sorry for myself because of something like not having time to sit down and write for a little while.

I pray for her constantly these days, but it doesn’t feel like enough. I told her story – anonymously – on a prayer board, wanting more prayers for her. I’m asking for a miracle, even though I know it’s out of my hands. I selected the option to receive a text message every time someone prayed for my request. (Faith has gone all technology! Pretty cool!) My phone buzzed all morning long, signaling offered prayers. It’s astounding to realize there are people in this world who will hope and pray for someone they don’t even know.

I read through the multitudes of other requests out there and offered prayers for people I don’t know. It’s becoming a daily thing I do. Homelessness, brokenness, sickness, mental illness, addiction, financial distress… the list goes on and on. It’s heart-breaking to realize that there are others who would trade their problems for mine in a heartbeat. It’s humbling to realize how blessed I am – and for how long I’ve taken that for granted. It’s opened my eyes to a million ways I can give back and do something for others. And it gives me hope. It’s so easy to close myself up in the comfort of my own world, but more and more lately, I realize I’m not meant to shrink away like that. I’m supposed to do something about it, get in the mud and help wherever I can. However I can. Even if it’s as simple as just hoping and praying.

Life is messy, no doubt. But life is good.

Dog Fortune

It’s no secret to anyone that I’m a full-fledged, over-the-top dog lover. Dogs don’t judge. They forgive so easily. They simply take you at face-value and love unconditionally.

I often stop to recognize how fortunate we are that Lucy Pie came along into our lives. I just adore her. Her face is full of sweetness, and she’s loaded with personality. Anytime one of us returns home from anywhere, Lucy provides the kind of welcome deserved by one who’s been away for months on end, and whose return was anticipated with sheer uncertainty. The four-legged leaping, the whipping tail-wagging, the joyous barking is enough to sweep away the darkest of moods. And Lucy runs from one person to the next, bouncing off our shins while failing to maintain any sort of self-control. It’s as if she’s saying to each of us, “Look who’s come home! Can you believe it? We HAVE to celebrate!”

Our grand-dog, Dacotah displays similar, albeit a bit more controlled affection for her loved ones. There’s no chance of feeling lonely with these two canines around. I’m constantly amazed by their intelligence, and the way they figure out how to communicate with us.

Lucy has perfected a sort of loud yawn. She does this particularly when we awaken in the morning, or when someone comes home. She opens her jaws wide and emits a noise that sounds like she is saying, “Hiiii-eeee!” I always respond, “Hi, Baby,” and then Lucy’s tail begins to thump rapidly against the floor, so happy is she to be acknowledged.

And then there’s the sneeze. When Lucy’s excitement is too much for her to contain, she sneezes, again and again! She’s so funny.

Dacotah clacks her teeth when she wants something. She might be looking to be fed, or she might want a good scratching for her often dry skin. She knows I have the fingernails for it. She’ll sit facing me, locking eyes while snapping her jaw at me while I ask, “What choo want?” When I finally run my fingernails along her shoulders and back, her whole body melts into my hands.

It’s hard not to feel happy around these girls. And they love each other as much as they love their people. When Dacotah is visiting, there’s rarely a moment that Lucy isn’t glued to her side.

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Laying claim to the sunny spot in the living room on a cold winter morning

As much as Lucy loves Dacotah, she can be a bit possessive. If Dacotah takes a toy from Lucy’s overly-stuffed toy box, Lucy runs right over to snatch the toy from her. Honestly, I want to believe she’s not always just being selfish. I think she’s hoping that Dacotah will play. She wants to chase and play tug-of-war. But Lucy’s got a bit more puppy left in her than Dacotah, and Dacotah tends to just give up and walk away, prompting us to scold, “Loooo – Seeeee!”

Lucy doesn’t tend to be bothered by the scoldings. And she is most certainly selfish about sharing “her” people with Dacotah. Lucy thinks nothing of trying to steal all attention from Dacotah’s “daddy,” Jaeger. But if Dacotah pays attention to Lucy’s people, Lucy has to squeeze between and make sure Dacotah knows we belong to her, and her alone.

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If Dacotah is next to me, then Lucy is going to be on top of me!

Even though Lucy can be very rambunctious and silly, there’s a gentle and comforting side to her too. She’s thrilled when my mom visits, and seems to know how fragile she is. When she comes over, Lucy tries hard to wait for Nana to get settled in a living room chair. Then Lucy slowly and carefully lifts herself into the chair too, squeezing in next to Nana. She tips her head way back to snuggle against my mom’s neck and shoulder, and sneaks a big, wet kiss if she can get away with it.

When I’m feeling quiet, sometimes Lucy comes to me as if to ask, “Are you okay?” She’ll move in front of me, then sit back on her haunches and hold her paws out for me to hold. She looks into my eyes and cocks her head as if trying to figure out what it is that’s going on with me.

When she sits like this, she knows I’ll eventually run my hand up and down the soft fur on her chest … and maybe this is all she’s really hoping for. But I like to think there’s more intention in her actions than just a good belly rub.

A friend and her family had to make the difficult decision to put their sixteen year-old dog down this week. I expressed my condolences and remembered what a sad and difficult decision that is to make. The loss of a beloved pet leaves an undeniable hole in one’s heart. I’ve been there too many times myself. Thinking of my friend’s loss reminded me what a gift our pets can be. They bring such joy and love to the household. I’ve always considered my four-legged kids to be members of the family. And in spite of the fur on the furniture, the occasional sock or slipper lost to puppy chewing, the periodic puking that happens just inside the back door, and the clean-up that has to be done in the yard, particularly after a snowy winter, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

As Lucy was snuggling in my lap last night, I kissed her soft head and told her, “You’re a very special dog, you know that?” She simply sighed in contentment. I think she knows.