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Filtering by Tag: addison

gold tried in the fire : part 2 / turning up the heat


This is my story of the last year, told in six parts. Paragraphs in italics are my dreams, and the dated snippets come directly from my daily journal. I trust my family to forgive me for all that I've shared, because I can't tell this story without including the heart parts … and some of them are raw, and hard to swallow.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

Turning Up the Heat

Nov 29 / I dreamed that Cedar found my purse, which had been stolen, but wouldn't give it back. I had to poop in public.

The number of people who sent cards, prayed for us all, thought of us, brought meals, worried about my sanity, texted, called, stopped by, and just plain lifted us up, were legion. All of it was lovely. I didn't reach out at all though, rarely answered the phone, and pretty much kept my head down. I felt I had to in order to survive, and that reaching out and touching the world beyond my immediate one was dangerous. It made me lose focus … and yet I needed it too. My regular identity and role in life had all but disappeared in the circumstances, and Cedar, knowing me intimately, was holding on to it for me until I needed it again. Giving me an anchor, a touchstone, a place to find myself again. The tricky part was knowing that I would not come out the other end of this experience the same. The fire would refine me too, or at least get rid of some of the crap. My weaknesses would be exposed, even as I learned and grew.


Managing Mom's care, and the disbursement of all the household possessions, was not a one person job. In all the intricacies of those participating … family interactions, hired caregivers, meals together, and the ever-changing needs of both Mom and Dad … exposed weaknesses abounded, many of them mine. Poor or incomplete communication, blindness to the things our arrival had taken away from others, martyrdom, head-down plowing ahead woven together with control issues, pride, holding grudges, wrong assumptions … just a few of mine that surfaced. Those of us that were together the most often, Stephen and Rene and Paul, Martha and Alex, Michael and I and the boys, and of course Mom and Dad … we found a lot of rough edges, had a lot of hard conversations, and learned to understand each other immeasurably better. It wasn't easy though.


You can't go through intense emotional experiences without some fears and insecurities surfacing, and when we sloshed into the pools of loss that scattered behind Mom towards the end, it got rather slippery. We Rules are pretty adept at buttoning up our feelings, and at least appearing to be stoic in the face of great internal upheaval. We grieve behind closed doors. Hayhoes (Mom's family) seem to come with the wash Warm setting, and are pretty good at letting the tears out when they need to. Neither family, in my experience though, is likely to willingly name the elephants in the room, or address any rough subjects head on, at least not without a fair bit of prodding. We keep things pretty close, and soldier on. There's also a good dose of Wait and See, which means that you take fewer preventative measures than you do remedial ones. This can be hard to marry into. Thankfully though, those in the family who were not born with the last name Rule have introduced a healthy dose of plain speaking and It's Worth a Try! into the mix.


With these inherent biases, I'm guessing I managed to step on Rene's toes more than anyone elses, and my insensitivity and head-down blinders caused me to offend her multiple times. One interaction, which I hope she'll forgive me for talking about, involved a phone call in which I took ownership of some project that I thought would make things easier for her, not realizing that it was yet one more thing that used to be her purview. She felt slighted and upset, and I got equally emotional on my end. We retreated to our corners to reflect, and when we reconnected a few hours later, we both were able to see each other's hearts, and vulnerabilities, and realize that assumptions and fears had sabotaged the entire exchange. She helped me see that taking more responsibility isn't always appreciated, and that not explaining myself better was a big hindrance to understanding. I was beginning to see in all my interactions, with everyone … that if I could see the motive behind a statement, and address what was emotionally driving the comment more than the words themselves, potential conflict often evaporated.

(I find it extremely amusing that just as I finished typing that paragraph, a friend texted me to ask “Is it true that the way Stephen used to breathe would bother you when you guys were younger?” I think I still have some sensitivity issues myself!)


Without getting into any more nitty gritty, over the course of our time in Chicago God worked for good in every single relationship that I had, and could see. Some hugely, some quietly, some loudly. He smoothed edges, prompted realizations, healed breaches, poured on understanding, illuminated fears, fostered empathy, grew patience, taught frank communication, mended breaks, and removed blocks. He knit us together in ways that I didn't quite see coming. No one gave up, and everyone gave it their all. We all found more gold, and were Seen, and loved.

Dec 2 / House emptying progressing, and the reality that it won't be here the next time I come is hitting hard.


Dec 9 / Dad determined to get Mom in the car with the Hoyer lift. We do, and he takes her for a ride to Stephen and Rene's. She was very pleased.

Dec 14 / Dad at the dinner table shared his thought that buying gold tried in the fire … some of that gold is Mom, as she is now. I cried.

As the month rolled by, it started to hit home what an incredibly stable presence Mom was. Her character didn't really change despite the Alzheimers, other than a period years ago where she was still talking a lot while her filters were going, and did some uncharacteristically blunt speaking of her mind. She otherwise had no real shifts in her demeanor, in almost vivid contrast to the rest of us. No anger, fighting back, arguing, or complaining. She quietly and happily kept on … surrounded by our fussing, dancing, swallowing, worrying, rearranging, second-guessing, and stressing. She was the steady thread that we tangoed with, but never knotted. Her presence was unflappable.


By mid December, the fact that Mom was in a downward slide was pretty clear. She started having occasional seizures, and though short, each one took a very visible toll. She was out of it a lot more of the time, drooling frequently, and sleeping longer. Getting responses from her was growing more and more difficult too. As she declined, I struggled with the responsibility. Dad had clearly given me the job of decisions regarding her care for the time being, and he was always careful to not second guess whoever had the job. The worse she got, the fewer options I had to work with. By the end of the year, she was clearly sick, but would perk up for a day here or there, making us think she was on the rebound.

Dec 30 / Everyone off. Sick, tired, scared. Dad and Mom stared each other down for awhile, and she cried. Real pain.”

Jan 2, 2019 / Mom miserable. Could quiet her with “God loves you. Christ is in your heart, the Spirit in your belly.”

Jan 4 / Mom won't drink. Scared that I'm not able to help her. I told Dad that I'm out of options.


On January 5th, after a nudge from her sweet Saturday caregiver Annabelle, and discovering that her blood pressure was dropping, we all agreed she clearly wasn't in a position to be helped at a clinic, and needed immediate intervention. I called 911. They arrived within 5 minutes, and the paramedics got her out the door, down the ramp, onto a gurney, and into the ambulance in a sudden rush that left me almost shaking. Dad rode with her to the hospital, and as they pulled away I stood on the sidewalk with Michael's arm around my shoulders, rather stunned by the sudden and enormous feeling of relief. The responsibility was off of my shoulders.


She was stabilized in a few hours, successfully treated for sepsis stemming from a UTI in a few days, and tested for her ability to swallow with no success. I spent most of each day with with them in the room, reveling in the times that it was just the three of us, with no other visitors, though family came often, and others too. It was lovely, quiet, and peaceful, and she was awake and more alert than she had been in the previous few weeks. One afternoon, Dad coaxed her to say “I love you” back to him, and she clearly tried to respond. We all processed the thought that there was nothing anyone could do though, and that she was not likely to rebound in any real way even though her infection was gone. Letting her go. Hard, but at peace.

The staff started politely working to boot her out of the hospital to some form of home care or hospice, and Dad began working on his own to get her to swallow again. We'd been trying for days to get her regular Dr to return calls, with no success. On Friday afternoon, after murmurs of three or so days of waiting to get into a hospice facility, and researching home health options on our own, Dad's favorite doctor came in. When she heard that we hadn't yet gotten a call back from Mom's GP, she asked his name, said she'd go call him, and came back with the news that Mom had a bed at the nicest hospice in the area, and that she'd be moved there in an hour! It just so happened that Mom's GP was the new head of the facility … God in the details for sure.

She was picked up and moved into a huge beautiful room with a double hospital bed, and every amenity you could think of. Dad moved in with her. The next morning they took her off of all of her meds, and her doctor explained that there was nothing more to do but make her comfortable. Hearing it from the him made the remaining bits of hope fade, the situation clearer, and hearts heavier. There was acceptance, but it was painful.


It only took a day to understand the rave reviews I'd heard about hospice, and wonder at the spirit of nurses who worked there day in and day out, as they bore no resemblance to the ones at the hospital. The focus is on helping folks die with dignity, not fighting to keep them alive, and the peace that permeated the place was tangible. No rushing gurneys, loud noises, beeping monitors, or lights on all night. The only beep and scurry I ever witnessed was a 'bed alarm' when someone had managed to get up that wasn't expected to and they feared a fall. The staff truly take cares of everything, leaving you to just enjoy being together.

If you ask though, they'll tell stories … the lady who lived on chocolate pudding for four years, or the one who walked out to the nurse's station to say “I can't wait for my aunt …” “But she's coming tomorrow!” “No, I can't wait.” and walks back to his room with perfectly good vital signs, goes to bed, and never gets up. There were more, and I became fascinated at how the nurses maintained their empathy and kindness in the face of such constant death and loss.


Mom's brother Danny and his wife Chris arrived the day she got moved, and stayed for several more. Danny got her to smile. Dad got her to sip water with a straw. Then slid a few bites of baby food down her throat. Hope sprouted. The nurses got Dad to eat, despite his assertion that he wasn't hungry. Visitors came and went. Kleenex abounded. Family sings with Paul or Michael playing guitar, the nurses apologizing but shutting the door as we were a bit loud. Stories. Laughter. Mom kept eating. Now there was hope that she might be well enough to transition to home hospice, and the mood in the room clearly shifted. It also became clear that we were the anomaly at our end of the hall, the room next door had changed occupants almost daily, and it was hard to watch.


It was confirmed Mom could move by the weekend, and that “home” now meant Stephen and Rene's place, where the renovations to the in-law apartment were being frantically finished. The final plumbing was whipped together by Michael and our friend Bernie. A whirlwind move of furniture and basics was orchestrated by Rene, several others pitched in, and we managed to bring enough touches of home and pictures and things over that by the time they released Mom two days later, she had turned it into a most warm and welcoming space, with everything they needed already put away. I rode in the ambulance this time, and it started to hit me as they were unloading her and wheeling her into the house. This is it. They are never coming back to 2nd Avenue, that era is over. A lump lodged.

We all had dinner together that night, with Mom pulled up to the table in her wheelchair and even chewing a few bites of chili, and it was a gathering I'd never expected to see happen again. Delicious in every way. The hospice nurse came and went, and I helped tuck Mom in one last time before we left, forcibly swallowing my heart. Our bedtime routine had always been the sweetest part of the day. As we were walking out the front door to go home to the camper at 2nd Ave, Stephen smiled and said “Have you felt the transition yet?” In that moment the final piece hit home … I'm relieved of all responsibility for them both. A bigger lump, another swallow, a bittersweet relief. The baton was passed.


The transition was a hard one for everyone. New roles, new boundaries, changed routines and needs and “wait but whose job is that and how are they going to do it?” Everyone bent over backwards to make it as easy as possible, but there were a lot of changes for everyone, and it took weeks to get it all sorted out. For myself, looking back it reminds me a bit of my feelings when I moved out of my folk's house after college, and into my own place. I didn't go 'back home' for a meal for months, working to establish my independence and territory and way of doing things. My folks clearly felt it, but didn't push me in any way. This was a wee bit like that, from the other side of the fence. Knowing that I needed to keep my hands off and my mouth shut, it wasn't my puzzle to solve or responsibility at all, and I'd just muddy the waters if I tried. We didn't wait months to visit though, and fairly quickly got used to whose living room was used for what, when doors were to be open or closed, and how to navigate visiting in a home with two households in it, that overlapped in so many ways.

I had plenty to do anyway, there was more than enough work at 2nd Ave to keep me busy and out of trouble … and we had a trip to plan! One of the things that I'd had to mentally give up on was going to the Vedder family reunion, which had been scheduled to start on Jan 26th in NC. Somewhere in Mom's slide in December, I'd tearfully let go of the assumption that I'd make it there, and left it that if God could work miracles, and let me be free to go without leaving Mom at death's door or being in danger of missing a funeral, then that was great. I did not, however, see any way in which He could pull that off. It clearly looked impossible. She ended up in the hospital on January 5th, and I mentally and guiltily calculated the possibilities that she could die and a funeral be had before the 26th, and set it aside. She moved to hospice on the 11th. I went through the same drama in my head, still not seeing how it might work. I wasn't counting on it, no, but I certainly hadn't quite let it all go, had I? It wasn't until the doctor OK'd her move to home hospice that I allowed myself to believe the trip could, and probably would, happen. She was happily settled in their new home by January 19th! A miracle for sure.

Back to Part 1 / On to Part 3

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gold tried in the fire : part 1 / stepping into the furnace


This is my story of the last year, told in six parts. Paragraphs in italics are my dreams, and the dated snippets come directly from my daily journal. I trust my family to forgive me for all that I've shared, because I can't tell this story without including the heart parts … but some of them are raw and hard to swallow.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

I'm sitting in my little bedroom in the camper, on my scratchy but oh so delightfully yellow bedspread, with Sparrow grooming herself behind me. The AC is blasting, the Kentucky campground air outside is swampy and barely breathable, and I'm somewhat nervously munching apple slices and CheezIts that I've confiscated from Fynn's bed. Where do I start?

Dad had a heart incident on August 3rd of 2018 and ended up in the hospital for 18 days, getting a quadruple bypass and a new valve. Mom was already deep into her Alzheimers, and lost a lot of ground without her anchor. We arrived to help out on August 10th. After caring for Mom for almost five months in their home, she went to the hospital on January 5th of this year with a bad infection, and then hospice for a bit, before she and Dad moved into my brother Stephen's home with the home hospice program. Mom passed away on April 25th, at home surrounded by family. We stayed around to fix up their old house for a few months, and just left Chicago on Monday, July 8th.

I've spent several of the days since then re-reading my journals that cover the nearly 11 months we spent parked in my parents' driveway. We were there long enough that all Google streetview maps currently include our truck and camper, and Mom's wheelchair ramp up to the front door. I'm not sure how soon those images will be updated, but likely not before the house is sold, and I like to imagine it occupied by another family looking to raise their kids on a dead-end street chock full of other children and friendly neighbors. Walking out that door for the last time on Monday left me choked up, full up, and so stuffed with feelings that I had real trouble getting out the last word, as I turned around and whispered into the still air before I pulled the door shut … “Thanks!”

stepping into the furnace

The alarm rings in the camper at 6:30. I don't dare hit snooze. I ask God to help me get out of bed. I'm not sure I can, without help. I'm scraping bottom, and I've just woken up. I feel overwhelmed before I start the day. Blinders on, tunnel vision is the only way through. A laser focus on what is in front of me, and nothing else. Mom and Dad are in front of me, my boys are in the wings and I can see them with my peripheral vision. My husband is keeping me tethered to some kind of sanity, and God is keeping me alive. This is a completely emptied-of-myself kind of dependence that I've never experienced before.


As I mentioned in my last post (last October) there was an overwhelming feeling at the start that this was mine to do, and that God was pulling me through. While there were a few blips in the following months that made me sometimes question if I was doing more than I could or should, there was no shaking of the certainty that God had my back, and that His hand was in every single detail. It was up to me to get out of my own way and simply do the good that I could see in front of me … stomping on any tendrils of worry that tried to grab me, and addressing the roots of any fears that surfaced. Most of the extreme emotions were cut off at the knees by that last tactic, and any that weren't either erupted as frustration or anger, or were “stuffed back in” to be addressed later. There didn't seem to be any time for meltdowns, walks, headbanging, or writing. Many days, there wasn't even any time or energy to talk to Michael at the end of it.


Aug 11 / I have to keep things glued

Aug 13 / World shrinking to a pinprick of focus

Aug 21 / Dad's home!

Aug 25 / Felt frazzled, and like I was skidding down a hill, and getting more compressed as I slid.


Sept 25 / I dream I'm in NYC on the sidewalk, and my big black motorcycle is nearby. I wake up and it's covered with white fluff, out of which pop two sheep's heads, and a cat, who had all been nesting in the fluff. The cat hissed at the sheep, and they jumped down and ran off. I was upset with the cat, I'd wanted to pet the sheep!

Learning to let go was a continual battle. Over and over telling myself to let go of expectations, the freedom to choose, mobility, that bit of time to do anything more than what was directly in front of my nose. Any hopes or dreams or plans, or things I thought I deserved that I clung to … they inevitably made me restless, frustrated, and wishing to get back into a state of peaceful acceptance. I chased my own peace away.

Mom had every single one of those things taken away from her, slowly, relentlessly, and thoroughly. She never complained. She accepted the changes, without any visible protest. If Dad said she couldn't anymore, she didn't. Ok, there was one exception I saw a couple years back … the removal of a bag of candy bars, and her retrieval of them, putting them back by her chair with a mischievous and slightly defiant smile. But there was no fighting against the indignities, the changes, the losses, the turmoil, the steady and thorough destruction of any semblance of choice in her life. The removal of keys and shopping and what to wear and who to talk to and where to go, how long to stay up and what to read …every single thing that she ever had any control over. Gone. Her mind, continually playing tricks on her, stealing the connections that let her say what she wanted, express her feelings, put a name to a face, tell someone she loved them. It all slipped away.


Nov 4 / At the edge of sanity.

Nov 11 / Mom tried to say something as we were coming out of the bedroom. It came out garbled. She clearly knew it, and was horrified. Heartbreaking.


Once Dad got home from the hospital on August 21st, the weeks that followed were strange and beautiful and hard for everyone. He felt his limitations physically, but not as much as he was told he might. He chafed a bit under the restrictions. “Don't cross your legs, don't use your arms to push yourself up, do your lung exercises, take your daily walks.” His desires outstripped his energy at first, and I watched him wrestle a bit with what he could accomplish in a day. He spent many hours going through files and papers and bits of stashed-away-life that were being pulled from cabinets and drawers and boxes in the basement. I tried not to give him too many piles at once, but there were always more waiting in the wings.

After he went back to work full time, the sorting was relegated to after dinner, and we had our routine down by then. I spent the evenings on the couch across the living room from his chair, Mom parked in between us in her wheelchair. He'd share things that he uncovered, show pictures, and tell stories. Then fall silent as he got lost in something. Mom would be looking at cards or magazines, turning her head at every conversation (and clearly following all of it), and smiling often.


One Sunday afternoon a locked metal box surfaced that made him get a bit excited. He started scavenging around the house for the key, but came up empty. He was pretty sure it contained some correspondence he had deemed worth saving, most notably ALL the letters that Mom had written to him during their 16 months of long distance courtship and engagement. I remembered a desk tray with some small keys in it, came back with a pair, and sure enough they included the one he needed.

What followed was torturous and beautiful and incredibly painful. He pulled a letter out and started to read. Then another. And another. His face started to change. He got a bit choked up, and said “They are a bit like maraschino cherries, you can only eat a few at a time.” He then spent his afternoon “nap” reading too many, and getting up to take a sudden and epic walk in order to process things. To top it all off, a day or two later I remembered a box in the basement that I'd labeled “Dad's letters to Mom” when I came across it a few years before. I brought that up, and he began weaving together the story of those months of hope, love, and planning. They wrote each other almost daily.


Over the next week, he would pull out a letter or two every evening (and sometimes a few in the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep), look to see what he'd written to her that inspired her responses, stare at Mom for awhile, read a sentence or two out loud, and then get lost again in the memories. He was hearing her voice, the one that she no longer had. Seeing her as she was then, in her own words, and falling in love with her all over again, exactly as she was now. She felt it. The way he looked at her, spoke to her, loved on her. It tore him up, and gave him intense joy at the same time.


The slides and movies were uncovered a bit later, including the working-and-even-has-a-spare-drive-belt 1940's cast iron 8mm projector that had been his dad's, which was necessary to play those movies. The few that Dad really wanted to share were the ones he'd taken of us kids learning to crawl and walk.


He got the projector set up one night, and called us all to the living room to bear witness to me learning to get up and go, with my siblings behind me cheering me on, and even demonstrating what I was supposed to do. It was bizarre to watch, and left me feeling a bit strange. Seeing myself at an age that I have no memories of. Mom, young, holding me. That bit really threw me for a loop. I was sitting on the floor next to her chair, and when the lights came up, it appeared that it got to her too. She had tears in her eyes, and seemed sad for the rest of the evening. How could she not be, assuming she recognized herself, young and happy and holding her child? Any moment like that, where it appeared that the veil was lifted and she knew her current state … those were the worst. So incredibly painful to see her knowledge, however brief, that something was desperately wrong. The relief (but torture too) when she'd return to happy but unaware.


Nov 28 / I dreamed I was on a river boat and got separated from my family. The river ran into a building and petered out. I asked the clerk where I was … “Yesterday” was the answer. I go out into the courtyard to wait for my family to catch up, and while I'm there Maurice and Helen (friends from church) walk out, but they're both about 9 or 10 feet tall. Maurice is dead. I held their hands. I saw the boys arriving.

Trying to continue my roles as wife and mother, while being a daughter and caretaker, was never easy. The boys were told before we even arrived in Chicago that my focus would be on my parents, but the ramifications of that, coupled with an even more intense focus than I'd anticipated, made a huge shift in our family dynamics. It very quickly felt like I was on a track, moving at a fixed speed, while the Michael and the boys were drifting along somewhere just out of sight. During the first seven weeks, when he was working in Boston, it was even harder on the kids. They were fed at regular intervals (more regular than we've ever been, to be honest) but other than that, they (and my sister Martha's son Alex, who was there most of the time) were almost completely left to their own devices. They were shushed often, and frequently banished outside during Mom's nap. School work was done solo, they read books and plugged into media and fought with foam swords, made forts with Alex, played board games with Paul (my brother Stephen's son), and jumped to it whenever I hollered for help. Our family bedtime story, a staple since Douglas was a baby, didn't happen much at first, but was resumed once Michael came back.


Martha had moved in for most of the first 4 months, and she was a delight to have and a rock of sanity. She was able to take the boys all out once in awhile, which was a great break for them, and spent the rest of her time helping with Mom, doing laundry and breakfasts and errands and groceries, and filling in all the things I wasn't doing to keep the household running. My sister-in-law Rene often pitched in with bringing meals, having the boys over, cleaning, and sitting with Mom when she saw I desperately needed a break. She and Stephen and Paul had moved in and cared for Mom for the first couple of weeks Dad was in the hospital, and then for at least another month Stephen came every morning and evening to help get her in and out of bed.


Douglas really started stepping up his game as a helper too, making meals occasionally, and helping me with every transition and lift with Mom while Martha was gone for a week. He figured out the Hoyer lift once it arrived, and became an expert at operating it. The boys and I sometimes fit in grocery shopping together, late night WalMart trips, and a Starbucks treat every few weeks. I found enough oomph to just barely keep the household functioning, and it was an intense growing experience in my reliance on God, time management, and patience.


I wasn't good at asking for help though. I never have been, and this situation was playing on my guilt strings more than some. As Mom slid deeper into Alzheimers over the years, and was needing more care, the question of which of her kids were going to do what was bandied about. Weren't daughters supposed to be the ones taking care of their Mother? Weren't we living a free life, and able to move in and take care of things? I felt it keenly, but at the time didn't see how I could move to Chicago and become her caretaker without bringing my family life grinding to a halt, and we didn't see how that could be a good thing. However, I felt badly that to date I'd done so little towards supporting Mom and Dad. This was my chance to do as much as I possibly could, and I was assuming that it wasn't a 'permanent' job, but pitching in while the needs were great. God had brought us here for this, and Michael and I were clear that it was for as long as we were needed. Stephen and Rene would be taking over when things stabilized, bearing the brunt of the care.


The more time I spent with Mom, focusing on how to make her comfortable, happy, and occupied … the more the guilt strings faded. I wouldn't label it fun, but there was a deep and satisfying joy that flowed into the cracks. The pleasure of getting Mom to laugh, to smile, to connect, to light up. Holding her hands, lotioning her feet, washing her hair, bathing her body, singing her songs. Tempting her with food, reading her snippets of cards and stories, taking her on walks once the ramp was built, parking her on the back deck in the sun. Watching her light up when friends came to visit, sharing inside jokes that still tickled her funny bone, keeping her company in comfortable silence. Those things fed me, fed her, and brought my relationship with her to a point that I'd given up on reaching decades ago. I'd never tried hard enough, and maybe she wasn't ready either. Being reduced to having zero input in her own life though, she had to remain open to anyone and anything that came her way. God parked me in her driveway, even tossed me into bed with her the first few weeks, and then put me in the position of being, for awhile at least, completely responsible for her care. A total role reversal from that 8mm movie we'd watched together.


But the love? It grew. It filled the cracks, the little holes left by things I wished I'd told her, moments we'd never had, depths we'd never plumbed. Ways we'd never connected, or even tried to. Once the words weren't an option anymore, at least for her, I found myself looking for every other signal I could find as to what she was thinking or feeling. It worked better than words … made me dig even deeper to see her spirit, catch that twinkle, or see the stubborn silence when she was talked down to. I learned to see her. That gift alone was more than enough to make me almost horrified at what I would have missed out on, had God not given her Alzheimers, and me this job. Pure gold. Refined in a fire that left me raw, emptied, and shaken.

(And why were Maurice and Helen in that dream, in Yesterday? Maurice died of cancer many years ago, and I remember to this day, with regret, that the last time I saw him, walking slowly and clearly debilitated from his disease, I didn't run up to him and give him a hug, and try to See him. I missed my chance.)

On to Part 2

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I’ve never been the most consistent housekeeper, but you all pretty much know that by now. I do make lists often though, so will attempt to briefly update you on what we’ve been up to since the last post about the Land Ho! Art Sale in June.

The Sale is over!


The Land Ho! sale ran for two weeks, and we sold a nice amount of work! Enough to get a good nest egg going for our Land Fund, even after paying off all of the costs of scans and canvas and paint and shipping supplies. It was a lot of work to get everything ordered, packaged, and shipped, but it felt good to wrap up that whole effort and call it finished. Big thanks to everyone who ordered something, or sent in a donation, it was mightily appreciated!

Finishing up at Keren and Bobby’s …


After hogging Keren and Bobby’s basement and driveway and back yard for months on end, with all the forging and art making and sprawling that we seem to do, it was time to move on. We had to finish up some work first though that we’d started before the Art Sale became a thing, so we focused on the renovations in the basement that had been started before it was turned into a temporary studio and shipping center. Lots of trim and painting and flooring and sanding and door hanging before we had to call it quits because Michael had a Sol LeWitt job coming up in Cambridge Massachusetts … but first we had to get the trailer to Chicago so the boys and I could help out at my folks while he worked at Harvard.

Getting Out …


Getting out of any long-term stay is hard, and leaving after 6 months is even more difficult. There was a torn awning to remove and dispose of (sadly), many tools to sort and stow, and a seemingly endless list of things to pack and dispose of and tend to. We badly wanted a few days to ourselves before landing in Chicago, but it seemed like the window was getting so small that we might not have more than a night or two on the road. We had to be there by Friday August 10th at the latest. On August 3rd, we got a call that my Dad had something that appeared at first to be a heart attack, and he was in the hospital. We prayed, packed faster, and managed to get on the road on the 6th. After a few hours of heading over the mountains, we knew that Matilda’s transmission wasn’t just sending out warning signals, it was in its death throes.


After stopping for a night with Caleb and boys (pure bliss!) we tried to limp North but had to admit that we weren’t going to make it. We were forced into a …

Mini Transmission Vacation!


It was now Tuesday August 7th and we were in Wilkesboro NC with just 4 days until Michael had to hop on Amtrak in downtown Chicago. It was now looking like Dad had open heart surgery looming in the next week or so as he had some afib and a faulty valve, and they were busy giving him tests to rule out possible complications. We had to find someone who could get and replace the transmission in a 1995 F250 in 2-3 days. We asked God to point us in the right direction, limped into a big truck body shop, got a recommendation for a transmission place in the next town that said they might be able to help, and landed in a VFW campsite nearby.


After chatting with a friendly veteran, befriending the camp host’s 4 crazy dogs, and getting the camper set up, we took off to see if these folks could indeed help us. Matilda’s 20’ of red and white loveliness looked like the runt of the litter when parked among the rest of the trucks in Gear Jammer Transmission’s crowded lot. The mechanics came on out, crawled under Matilda and poked around, and made a few phone calls. After being assured they could get a new one and put it in in the next 48 hours, we hitched a ride back to our campground with the friendly owner.


Before collapsing for the night, we took the transmission guy’s recommendation of a hole-in-the-wall BBQ place a short walk from our campsite, devoured a quiet and delicious meal together, and mused on the way in which we were getting my strongly desired “few nights to ourselves” before landing in Chicago. It was hard to fully relax with the worries about Dad and his pending surgery, which ended up suddenly scheduled for Friday the 10th, but it was still lovely to be on our own and puttering for a couple of nights. We got a purring Matilda back late on Thursday, and prepped for an early Friday morning start.

Dad’s Surgery


Friday was our drive to Chicago day, and Dad’s surgery. I’d talked to him a couple times by phone, and knew he had no fears at all. We trusted that all was in God’s hands, and got on the road. He was scheduled for a valve replacement, a double bypass, and an ablation. He ended up with a quadruple bypass, a new valve to replace what they discovered was an abnormal 2-flap one, and a maze procedure. By the time we arrived in their driveway just before midnight, he was out of anesthesia and back in one piece in the ICU.

Michael and Harvard


Saturday morning we took stock of the state of things at the house where my brother Stephen and his wife Rene and son Paul were caring for Mom, briefly visited Dad in the hospital, and then Michael packed up in time for me to take him to the train heading downtown, where he’d hop on Amtrak to go East. I must have messed up my Metra schedule while reading it on my phone in the truck the day before, because the train he was to catch only ran on weekdays, and at the last minute I had to hightail it into Chicago to drop him directly at the station. The prospect of Michael being gone for 5 weeks while I was helping with Mom and Dad and the household, while also parenting and homeschooling, loomed large, and I tried to get my head around how to handle it all as I drove back to the house.


Michael dove deep in Cambridge where he was helping re-install a huge Sol LeWitt wall drawing in a museum on Harvard’s campus. A 5-story atrium with tight spaces and convoluted scaffolding and minimal AC was more challenging than some jobs, and between Harvard’s work rules and delays from the construction crew working in the same space, the job stretched to 7 weeks. Getting him back at the end of that time was pretty delightful.

The Scene at 4N405


Since we arrived on August 10th, much has changed. Dad was in the hospital for another two weeks after we got here, and was more than ready to come home when they pulled the final drainage tube out. Mom took a pretty steep dive downwards after he went into the hospital, missing the connection of being with him daily, and having seen what happened to him when he passed out while at the park. Their bond is a huge part of what keeps her going, and without seeing him or being able to be with him at all, she lost a lot of ground and basically stopped being able to walk.


Her care needs increased a lot as a result, and she currently needs 2 or 3 people’s help on a daily basis. They decided to move into the in-law apartment at my brother’s new home, which includes a flat floor plan and wider doorways, and plans are in motion to add a kitchenette and laundry to accommodate their needs. In the meantime, we have added a Hoyer lift, a wheelchair, and a ramp down the front steps to the household. Dad has gained strength steadily, and recovery is going well enough that he’s back to work and up to long walks and carrying boxes to the car. Those boxes would be the result of the sorting of his vast book collection down to one bookcase’s worth to take along to the new place.

A telegram my grandfather Elmer sent to his fiancée Juanita for Valentine’s Day in 1937, 8 weeks before they were married.

A telegram my grandfather Elmer sent to his fiancée Juanita for Valentine’s Day in 1937, 8 weeks before they were married.

We’re currently taking care of Mom with a lot of help from my sister Martha, working on sorting and emptying the house of a lifetime of accumulation (it is minimal by most standards!), and preparing to fix the house up for sale once they move. There’s a lot to do, and we’re here as long as we’re needed.


The land we had our eye on is still available, but we’re not focused on it at the moment. We’ve tried to just do what’s in front of us for years now, and the current situation is no different. There are needs, there is work that we know in our hearts is ours to do, and we’re in it with everything we’ve got.

Onward …

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Standing in the Clearing


When I was 15 my father and I took night-walks into the woods, pausing every 20 paces, listening, seeing how close to the pond we could get without alarming the peepers into silence. Often we heard deer-munchings. Once we saw a moonlit porcupine up a tree. Always we had an ear out for the Whippoorwill on the berm of RT 538 nested in the gravel. If we did hear it, my Dad would whistle back a fair but quiet imitation. (The song of the whippoorwill occupies the lower courts of whisability.) On one such occasion, having come to a star-drenched field, the milky sky-way blazing above, my father broached the subject of my romantical sighings. “I've watched you looking at a girl...” he paused, “your whole demeanor has changed. Your eyes are soft; you look sotted with love.” He was smiling. “Are you ready to get married?” I admitted that the desire was strong. All that stood between me and marriage was the scarcity of years to my name, the lack of a willing partner, and my inability to speak in the presence of beautiful girls. Other than that, I was ready.  “And how,” his voice was still smiling, “do you propose to support a wife?”

Now this was a question dripping with subtle accusation, which I readily ascertained as a trap. My father himself was the youngest of four and was no stranger to my pressing the advantage of last-born to the avoidance of Work. Yet I considered myself a skirter, not a shirker. I met my obligations with gusto and performed my chores and duties with whole-hearted energy, but the prospect of added responsibility I met with the elusive charm that only the baby of a family can wield.


This cursory self-evaluation left me knowing I COULD work to support a wife, but something was wrong with that answer. It wasn't just that I knew my father was waiting for that response; there was something my heart was not articulating. So I remained silent under the stars, delving deeper into myself. An owl hooted from the end of the meadow. I eventually touched a finger to the feeling and opened my mouth. What came out was woefully garbled and inadequate. The rudderless hormonal ramblings of a 15-year-old. I'm sure it did very little to allay my father's misgivings. But now, after 16 years of marriage, I think I can finally put it to words, though I warn you, it may still be the wide-eyed lowing of a calf on the moor.

Bethany and I and the kids were on the Kaiser's garage roof, about 6 months into our trip, hammering shingles down on a cupola. It was around 95 degrees. It might have been a recipe for foul tempers had we not each held a hammer and nails.

The fundamental joy of pounding a nail with a hammer seizes our imagination as a toddler, becoming an icon; the quintessence of 'making something'. Bam bam BAM! And when we've grown to actually heft and strike the hammer we discover our childhood expectations of pure fun are delivered in full. Pounding a nail really IS the sweet spot of construction!

So we were all in fine spirits, sweating, building this little house on the roof peak, which 3 weeks before we'd had no idea was called a cupola. Now we knew how one was built.

I watched Bethany pound a nail. When she looked up we both grinned, and it dawned on me, this was it. This was the very thing I'd longed for at 15. To have a real live girl pouring her heart with my heart into the same project. Pouring our hearts together into whatever work there was. Into whatever people there were. A real live girl unafraid to hoist sails, sing songs, cross swords, and pound nails. RIGHT BY MY SIDE!


I stood under a sunset sky on the Kaiser's roof, spellbound by this girl with the hammer. Tears flooding my eyes. God got me good with this one. How long had I tried working to support a wife, when all along it was wiving to support a work. Not the 'behind every great man is an even greater woman' kind of work. Not MY work. Our work. A 'weaving our separate thousand dreams into one fabric of Doing and let God blow the sail' kind of work. This was the sweet spot of marriage.

As I reveled, dusk descended on the Kaiser's garden releasing a great cloud of mosquitoes. We were determined to nail the last eight shingles before it was truly dark. Our sweat hung like stratas of soup steam, perfuming the air. The mosquito cloud (like 10,000 Bugs Bunnies, floating on their fingertips, noses in the sweet-stream) ascended to the cupola and engulfed us. Have you ever swatted a mosquito biting your person with a hammer? We were dancing the Macarena at triple-speed, but the onslaught was so relentless and overwhelming our sanity was starting to suffer. We abandoned ship leaving the last few shingles for morning.

It is a fine morning waking up with hammer girl.

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