Finding Joy in an Unlikely Place

They say your parents are your first teachers.

#Truth

       Like most kids I thought my parents hung the moon and were the smartest people around.  That lasted until I was about 13 or 14.  At that point I couldn’t believe my parents had made it as far as they had without my wise and far superior input.  I mean seriously I knew EVERYTHING.  On the night of my 21st birthday I taped the following quote to their bedroom door:

    When I was a boy  girl of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man  around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.   Mark Twain

My parents, especially my Dad, laughed and made a point of telling me they were glad I had finally figured it out.

So throughout the years there were times when I leaned heavily on my parents wisdom and times when they leaned heavily on mine especially as they eased ever so slowly into the digital world.  Well my Dad did, my mother had no use for it.  At one point Dad’s computer served him well as a convenient place to play solitaire just like their  DVD player was a rather expensive clock.  Once he got the hang of email there was no escaping the many forwards and the endless jokes he passed on.

About a year ago my  93 yr old widowed mother suffered a stroke, followed by another about 2 months later.  It threw her into dementia.  We could no longer say she was just forgetful.  It was too obvious.  In due time we moved her to Memory Care where she is today.

There is no doubt that dementia is a cruel disease.  I would not wish it on anyone.  And yet there is that crazy silver lining that shows up whether we want it to or not.

We were fortunate to be able to do “porch visits” with my Mom  until November.  After that it was window visits but for various reasons those were not the best.  Then it was Facetime.  Mom didn’t get those at all.  Finally on March 18th we were able to visit in person taking all the necessary precautions.

Today was my fourth in person visit.  Each visit is different.  Two visits she fell asleep on me and wasn’t at all excited to see me.  The third visit found her alert and active.  Today’s visit she was in bed taking a nap and was happy to see me.

I have learned not to set expectations about these visits.  I stay very much in the present moment with her which is a blessing and a joy.  She is teaching me to just be present and more importantly to meet her where she is at and how much she can interact.  I slow down and do something I need to do more of..just be.

Today there was nothing but love in the room between us.  I greeted her with my usual “Hello Beautiful”   She  smiled.  I am always tickled to see she knows who I am.  I am prepared for the day when she doesn’t know me or mistakes me for someone else.  I will meet her where she is at when that time comes and if she needs me to be someone from her past, like her mother…well I can do that.

She asked about my husband…a good clue she couldn’t remember his name.  It is all okay.  She told me she had a surprise visit from her Mom and Dad.  I chuckled and said ” Wow that is so nice!  I too would be surprised if they came to visit me!”   Yes a little dark humor can be a coping mechanism.  I saw the comfort she got from that “visit”.  She mentioned my Dad and asked where he was.  Our answer is always “He is on a business trip”   She nodded.  There is joy in that as well.  She no longer suffers the sadness of his death.  She looked up and said “he left without kissing me goodbye”   I replied ” I’m sure it was early when he left”  She said “True, I will look forward to his kiss when he returns”.  I quietly sent out a message to the universe to have Dad  “visit”her like my grandparents did earlier.

My mother has rounded third base and is heading home in the final inning of her life.  It is not without its starts and stops.  It has multiple hiccups.  She is still teaching me and showing me that love knows no bounds, that sitting, being present, slowing down are good values to hang onto and perpetuate.   I practiced it yesterday when I  plopped down with my almost 14 yr old granddaughter on a huge bean bag chair.  Our heads were touching.  She was showing me something on her phone and we were laughing, talking about life, school, boys and cooking.  She has obviously not figured out that I don’t KNOW everything although I think grandparents get a pass on this phase of  teenagers.  I was in no hurry to move or have the moment end.  It was my favorite part of our visit.  Thanks Mom.

If Covid had allowed I would have crawled in bed next to my Mom today and put my head next to hers.  I got as close as I could. My phone was off, I had no place to be but there.  She smiled. Mom’s day refreshes multiple times a day.  She has reached the point where nothing really troubles her and joy abounds.

Do I wish I could have her totally back?  Of course, who wouldn’t? I am grateful that I have found  a peaceful place to be with her in my heart and treasure each time I get to hear her say ” I love you too!  Bushels and bushels.”

One of our porch visits 🙂

Thanks Mom for the life lessons, all of them… love you.

 

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It Matters to Me

Dear Mom,

It was so good to see you today!  I love your smile and how you light up when you see me.

You looked good.  For 94 years young you look younger than some other people I know. Shhh..we will keep that a secret between us.

You asked about Dad..as usual he is traveling for business.  You shrugged knowing how often he does this.

I brought you lunch. You were delighted and promises were made to warm it up when lunch time rolled around.

You said you were tired so I left to fetch some items you needed.  Toothpaste, tooth brush, socks, washcloths and some new sheets.  Easy enough, or so I thought.  Turns out full sheets are tough to find.  Well tough if you want them to be pretty and soft.  I hope you like what I picked.  They are soft but I couldn’t find floral so I had to settle for a blue geometric pattern.  Hopefully you love the softness more and can understand that floral sheets are hard to find.

I did find some beautiful rose colored washcloths.  They are soft and plush.  There is nothing worse than washing your face with something akin to sandpaper.

Of course the toothbrush, toothpaste and socks were the easiest except socks in your tiny size are not plentiful but I found them..go me.

I can’t bring everything over until tomorrow.  You will be surprised I know since every day is brand new to you.   Every minute is fresh with the previous minutes escaping from your memory moments after they pass.

You won’t remember that I even came by today.  You might remember your yummy hamburger 🙂  Food seems to be more memorable these days.

You accept that Dad is on a business trip.  It would be too painful to remind you every time that he is gone.  4 years today as a matter of fact.  You constantly look for him and ask about him.  Believe me I wish he was here too but it would be hard for him to see you like this.

I have so many questions that I want to ask but you are unable to answer.  I look through past photos…long before I was even in your thoughts as a possibility and I long to know that carefree spirit in the hula skirt or peeking out from behind the shower curtain in your dorm at nursing school.  I think we would have been friends and had a grand time together.

How I wish I had paid more attention to your cooking and how you put recipes together.  I asked you today but you couldn’t recall.  Lost opportunities. Thankfully I have your recipes in your beautiful handwriting that makes me smile.

As I carefully picked out the sheets and washcloths today I wondered why I was being so particular because in my brain I knew it really didn’t matter to you.  The color or the pattern, maybe even the softness or thread count were of no consequence.

My heart told me what is true..it matters.  It matters to me.

I am thankful you still remember who I am.  I am thankful I can see you in person and give you a quick hug.  I can brush your hair and tell you I love you.

In that moment it matters.  It always will.  I picked everything out with love today and that matters.

While I am often sad when I leave your room in Memory Care, knowing you would rather be with Dad,  I am thankful I get to tell you I love you one more time.

Love you Mom..bushels and bushels,

 Jennifer

Mom on her 80th

Me and Mom on her 80th!!!

 

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Interruptions on the Run…

Someone very wise once told me that it is the spaces between the notes that truly makes the music.  I wonder if that holds true for interruptions on the run.  I don’t think so ..insert eye roll.

Way back when in 2017 I was on a serious running kick.  I was starting out with a 10k.  I had run this 10k many times and this year I trained hard and was ready to be better than ever.  Life changing interruption when my Dad passed away the day before the race and so did my mojo for making it my year to do all things running.  It’s way too hard to run with a heavy heart even though I tried.

Fast forward to 2019 and I made a serious effort to train for a marathon.  I struggled in the summer heat when I usually swim and bike instead of run but I was determined.  So determined in fact that when we were on the Eastern Shore celebrating our anniversary I decided to go for an early morning run to beat the July heat.  I was kicking it despite the rising temperature and enjoying the quiet of the small town and its classic old homes.  In the enthusiasm of the moment and giving myself a mental high five  I decided to double back and do one more circle around the block.  My toe caught the uneven sidewalk and I went flying.  Didn’t break anything but bruised my entire left side.  I think a break would have been less painful.   Also this made for a very romantic anniversary…NOT!

Running put on hold…so was walking and moving in general.

There must be something about “one last go around” because thats how I broke my wrist ice skating in 2015.

2020 was MY year.  Do you see a pattern here?   Not only did Covid happen but lots of things with my elderly mother that took up my time.   I did a lot of biking to relieve stress but not much running.  I did manage an 8k which along with a half marathon and a full marathon was open to do for 20 days in November on our beautiful Virginia Capitol to Capitol trail.  I was grateful they had managed to make it seem like a real race.  Well when I did it there were  3 of us out there but hey it is better than being alone.

 

                     An unusually warm day in November for the 8k       

 So here we are in 2021 and I sit in front of the computer writing this with ice on my foot.

Sigh

 Despite the setbacks and being an all together cranky-ass ( said it before and I will say it again..running is my prozac) I am persevering.  It is back to my original love which is triathlons.  So if I can’t run or bike I am in search of a pool to start swimming.

Did I mention this is my least favorite thing to do?

Did I mention that the last time I lugged my aging body to the pool I happened to pick the time that the high school was practicing with all those young bodies right in my face as I slowly…and I mean super slowly made my way across the pool?

And yet I can’t give up, I can NOT tri. 🙂

Also being the somewhat snarky person I am, I may have just muttered under my breath that those young swimmers will get old like the rest of us…jokes on them..as it was on me.

I am also buoyed by the fact that should I be lucky enough to get all the training in I am still game for a marathon..virtual style..why?  Lots of reasons.

I get to pick the date

I get to pick the weather 

I get to pick the color of shirt…not so important but still a plus!

I get to pick my prize.  I’m choosing a trip to Hawaii or a bottle of wine…or a trip to Italy..need to talk to the race sponsor..oh wait that is me.

I will be the winner no matter what.  The one and only race I won in my age group they stopped giving out prizes (bottles of  wine) at 40+.  I went home a very unhappy camper…who does that?

I can take as long as I want .  I seriously wanted to do the Honolulu Marathon held in December ( still do)  Not only for the obvious reasons but also because we used to live there AND there is no time limit on the race..it runs on Hawaii time..you got this brau!

So yes I am still an over 50 ( way over) triathlete and writer triing to make a difference.

I will be writing more frequently about all things running, biking, swimming plus life in general because ..well because it’s my blog.

See you on the road, on the bike, in the pool and laughing at life’s little and big absurdities.

As always..Keep Triing    Jennifer

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It’s Thoughtful Thursday…thankful for the mess

In the last four years you have read about my monumental task of cleaning out my parents house after my Dad died unexpectedly.  At the same time we also had to move my mother into Assisted Living.  Honestly much of that time is a blur in my memory.

I am still dealing with some of the aftermath.  Well a lot of it.  My parents didn’t throw out much.  The moment that is seared into my memory is opening a box and finding throw pillows from  the couch we had when I was five.  If it hadn’t been 10am I would have started drinking and Kahlua in my coffee does not count.  Well maybe it does.

In any case I am currently going through all the boxes of photos and memorabilia we dumped in my office after the final clean out.  I had to take a break after we finished.  Going through boxes is the most mind numbing experience.  I’d rather go to the dentist or take algebra again..and fail it ..again.

Lately though I have been thankful for the “classy hoarding” my parents did.  “Classy Hoarding” is a phrase I coined to refer to a house that looks put together but has closets and a basement just plain stuffed!  If the house could have groaned and let out its’ seams it would have done it!

So why am I thankful?  I am thankful because I am finding so many unbelievable treasures .  Treasures only to me and my family but still they are priceless.

Among other things I have found a letter written to my mother from  grateful parents whose young son died.  They wrote eloquently about how much they appreciated her kind and loving ways towards their 12 year old son as he passed away from cardiac problems.  My mother could not fill in the details ( unfortunately) but it was during her last weeks of nursing school.  The only thing she could say about it was that it was very sad.

I found humorous photos of my Mom and Dad in their youth.  As a child you never envision your parents as being wild and while this was the mild side of wild it was fun to see. It was  long before they were worried about what anyone would think and I found it refreshing.  I wish I could ask both of them about this time in their lives but one is in heaven and one is sadly in the throes of dementia.

I found letters written by them as a young engaged couple in love.  And then there is a lovely letter from the father of my mothers’ best friend extolling her virtues to her new in laws who did not approve of the marriage.  My grandparents thought my father could do better . Then my parents eloped and that didn’t help. They did recant those feelings many times over and became  Moms’ biggest fans.

In that same letter Ted Holtzinger painted a picture of my Moms’ tireless efforts on the pediatric polio ward before there was a vaccine.  Also as you read this please know that at 5 feet tall and 80 lbs my Mom was not much bigger than her patients.

           Ted wrote:

        I wish I could tell you of her heroic efforts on behalf of the littlest victims of this city’s worst polio epidemic.  She worked around the clock for what must have seemed like endless days trying to save those who were most seriously afflicted from death or from a life sentence to the worst phases of crippling that makes polio such a dreaded scourge.

     I saw her there one night when the epidemic was at it s height., her hands and arms reddened to the elbow form the hot packs that she was administering to the sufferers of this worst form of polio, I watched her wince as she lifted hot pack after hot pack from the scalding water and I said a silent prayer of thanks for women like Betty who could forget self in service to others so grievously afflicted and yet so needful of  her administrations.

My mother never told us about any of this.  I am so thankful this letter and others like exist and were saved so that I may have a glimpse of my mother before I knew her.

By the way I also have the response my grandfather sent many years later and it was eloquent as well.  Not sure why he waited so long but grateful I have the two letters to go side by side.

So on this Thoughtful Thursday what is my point about all these treasures?  Can you guess?

Write a real letter.  A real one.  Not a text or an email…a real honest to goodness letter.  Make a copy and save it.  Who should you write it to?  That is for you to decide but in this day and age of digital it is refreshing to hold a letter that can be read over and over again without turning anything on.

Tell someone what they mean to you, write down memories of fun times , special life events and anything that has become family lore. If you see someone like my Mom doing something so very special let them know you noticed.

I know it is all the rage to be minimalistic and to get rid of everything that isn’t nailed down.  I get it.  And all that is found will be digitized in case the originals are lost.  In the meantime it is a joy to hold a letter once written by a friend, a grandparent, my Mom, my Dad.  They once held that piece of paper.  The connection is real.

So thank you Mom and Dad…it has been hard but the rewards are bountiful.  I am so happy you saved this part of our history.

Now as always, go make it a Thoughtful One..and if you are so honored go hug your Mom and Dad !                                                                     Jennifer

 

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Sifting through the ashes and letting go…

I am haunted by a video clip I saw about a month ago as the California fires devastated so many communities.  A woman of 70 or so was desperately searching through the ashes of her home for her beloved wedding band.

I prayed she would find it knowing that the probability was not good.  Tears streamed down her face as her hands ran through the ashes and I realized much later that it wasn’t so much the wedding ring she was searching for but some tangible remnant of a life that had been swiftly taken from her as the fires raged uncontrollably.  She was forced to let go of all she had known for decades.  Grasping for even one small thing to hang onto she continued to search for something she could hold in her hand.

It was heart wrenching to witness.

My mother is doing the same thing although the circumstances are vastly different.  Her life changed drastically when my father passed away suddenly on March 31st.  I have watched her try to hold on to what she knew, what they shared, what they enjoyed.  She continued to buy the same groceries, making meals my father would enjoy.  Wanting my husband, her son and son in laws to do the things Dad did in the yard, finish the endless projects he started, follow the same routine.  She even wanted me to fill Paul’s plate and serve it to him as she would my Dad.

I got it.  I have been here and witnessed it all.  And it suddenly occurred to me that she was searching through the ashes of her life as well looking for what once was.

It was, is and continues to be heartbreaking.

This week it is especially evident. We found her an apartment in an independent living place near me.  We moved her furniture into her apartment last week-end.  It looks so cute and I was so pleased to see it all come together.  We headed back to Mom’s house to spend the week saying goodbye and pack up her personal items etc. She started focusing on things that didn’t matter, gathering up knick knacks,things she will never use, endless dried flower arrangements, wreaths,  platters, and other odds and ends. I was constantly reminding her that we only had my car and my husband’s car to carry all this and we really needed the room for her clothes, coats, shoes etc. She kept piling it up and I got testy knowing we could get this stuff later. She spent a whole morning looking for placemats that matched napkins she found ( hadn’t been used in decades). She scolded me for putting something on the floor in an emptied bedroom ( floor was clean) and scolded me again for packing her favorite pan and casserole dish. Sigh.

I measured my car to see what we could fit.  I started to panic. We had words. We made up. I realized then that she was still sifting, still looking, still yearning for the life she had with my Dad.

We did find some humor when she mentioned how much she missed Dad. I agreed and told her I missed him as well. She sighed and said she just wished he would come and get her.  This was just after we took her furniture down to her new place. I patted her on the hand and told her  I wouldn’t like that.  Then as an after thought and weary from moving  I asked if she could ask him to wait at least a month before he came and got her, she laughed and so did I.

For being almost 91 years old she is doing well and I am so  proud of her for taking this step forward.

Be like Mom…Keep Triing

What a cute couple !!!

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Unpacking my suitcase and my heart…

I totally unpacked my suitcase today.  I just dumped it out on the floor. Socks, shorts, pj’s, underwear, shirts,loose change  and little pieces of trash spread in a not so artistic heap on the rug at the end of my bed.  I  went to the bathroom and dumped my other bag and watched my makeup, hairdryer, shampoo and other stuff tumble  all over the vanity and into the sinks.

I shut the door and walked away.  Later tonight or tomorrow I will gather it up and repack it for the umpteenth time since March 31st.

Max , my goofy golden retriever, understands.  I dumped his bag out as well  and then hid it.  He is tired of being packed up as well.

I wish it was as easy to unpack my heart.

I didn’t mean to put my grief on hold.  It just happened.  I was the one to make the phone calls.  My sisters cried, my brother swore. I immediately went into nurse mode where I parked my emotions and did the tasks at hand.  I packed as quickly as I could and got on the road to be with Mom.

Almost 3 months later I have not spent an entire week at home.  I long for that sense of routine, the comfort of my own bed, and the warmth of familiar surroundings.  I get a few days here and there but not enough to settle in and truly be with all that has happened.

I need that time to unpack my heart.

Unpacking my heart cannot be done quickly.  Unlike my suitcase I will not unceremoniously dump it onto the floor.  It will take some care and finesse.  I want to embrace the memories and feel my Dads’ presence as I unpack.  Much like pulling a well loved book or photo off the shelf I see myself running my hand over the cover or image and smiling as the texture of each memory feels familiar in my hand and my heart.  Gently I will place it where it will wait patiently  to be brought forth again and again and fill me not with sorrow but with gratitude and joy.

I needed to dump my suitcase today if for nothing else than to realize I cannot do the same to my heart.  A gesture out of frustration and weariness unexpectedly led me to a new beginning.

Everyday I have prayed for guidance to help my family and especially my Mom.  I forgot to pray for my own needs and yet I realized today I was not forgotten. I did not ask and yet I received.

I know He  will be beside me as I unpack my heart and I am grateful for His presence.

 

 

 

 

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