Sunday, November 29, 2009

goodbye for now, pineapple man ... part 6

Wednesday, November 4

When I was little, Dad often took me on his Saturday errands. A favorite destination: Sears Roebuck. Dad might check the sales in the men's clothing and poke around the hardware department. At last we'd stop at the candy and popcorn counter. Every Sears had one: long, glass cases filled with tempting treats, all at a 6-year-old's eye level. Dad would buy us a big paper bag of warm popcorn to share.

Then it was back home to mom, my brothers and sister, and life as usual. How I wanted to continue on a long, exciting adventure with Dad.

Sometime around the age where I began to think, question and discuss the mysteries of life, Dad seemed to lose interest in relating to me. I ached for a closeness with him but it wasn't to be. It seemed he had no idea how to relate to me at that age. This perplexed me.

People have commented after reading these posts: "How great to spend that time with your dad. It reminds me to spend more time with my own dad."

You must understand: I spent the week forging a relationship that never was. I got to know my own father on a deeper, more profound level and in fact, I discovered a person I never knew. Our time revealed to me how much we have missed, and affirmed my resolve to build solid relationships with those I love.

As I helped Dad through his physical therapy, I ached, knowing I'd say goodbye to him at the end of today. Home and family called me back to Ohio, but some serious heartstrings had formed between the two of us. I felt protective of Dad, bound to him by all we'd been through over six days.

And I laughed, remembering another witty comment he'd made during lunch. A girl walked by wearing those funny furry boots. After she passed us, Dad said, "she looks like the tail end of the Iditarod!"

Oh, I'd have loved to race the Iditarod with pineapple man ... certainly an adventure far greater than Sears. But I'm grateful for this week, an adventure in itself and a sweet and perfect gift.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

many hands

Many hands make light work.

Its truth was evident at our house today. In fact, so many hands got to work before and after the meal that the dishwasher remained empty. All dishes were washed, dried and put away by three wonderful young women: daughter Katie, her friend Rachelle, and daughter-in-love Jill.

Hubby Bill and son Mark finished carving the turkey and put away the leftovers. I was kind of in the way, so I took photos as the "white tornado" zoomed through my kitchen.

Then again, there was a moment or two where too many cooks were about to spoil the proverbial broth, but remembering my Thanksgiving week challenge, I didn't complain.

A good and thankful Thanksgiving was had at the Hallers, though we did miss family who couldn't be here.

Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving as well. And if you don't have "many hands" today, I hope you'll thank the One who holds you in His very capable hands, providing, guiding, and protecting you and yours.

Monday, November 23, 2009

the Thanksgiving week challenge

This idea, and much of the post, isn't original. By permission, it's borrowed from another blogger I follow, who challenged himself and his readers to re-set their minds to be thankful. I tend to be a grumbler and can definitely use this challenge!

The Thanksgiving holiday is one of my favorites ... food, parades, family, friends. But originally, it was meant to be a day to pause and give authentic thanks to God. Unfortunately for many, including myself, thanksgiving is more of a one-day holiday than a way of life. I don't know about you, but I've been blessed beyond comprehension, and even in the unwelcome moments of life, I have so much for which to be thankful.

What would it look like if I ONLY spoke words of gratitude the entire week of Thanksgiving?

If I went so far as to look at this dirty and cluttered house, a task I'd rather ignore, and instead think, “God, thank you for my home. Give me joy in cleaning it!”

When my grown children call late at night, “God, thank you that they care enough to call at all!”

I even get snarky when my husband gets in "my" kitchen space. Come on! I need to be thankful he's only trying to help.

How about if every time this week I see a person, I tell them why I am thankful they are in my life.

So, starting this Monday morning and going through this Sunday evening, I'm challenging myself to live an entire week full of thanksgiving.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4

Anytime I'm tempted to think/say/do something negative (filthy, foolish, crude or otherwise unthankful), I will instead choose, in that very moment, to give thanks to God for His blessings in my life.

If you'd like to join me, please leave a comment saying so AND repost this (in your own words, if you'd need to link me) on your blog or facebook and challenge your friends to do the same. Even if you're not reading this until after Monday morning, it's never too late to take up a good challenge. And, keep in mind that nobody who takes this challenge is going to make it an entire week without missing the mark ... so when that happens, let's just pick ourselves back up and start again!

credit to:

(And yeah, I'm thankful to GOD for abundant blessings, not the Indians, Pilgrims, pumpkins, corn or wild turkeys. If you disagree ... that's up to you. But this is my blog, so I'm not worried about political correctness.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the good humor man (pineapple man, part 5)

Tuesday, November 3

I'd be omitting a part of this journey if I didn't write about the one-liners and humor that came from Dad every single day I was with him.

Whenever I travel, I like to wander, get my bearings and see what's what. This is what I did with Dad on his first day at Richland. I asked an aide to help get him in a wheelchair and off we went.

There wasn't a lot to see, but I stretched it all I could. Down each hallway. Reading bulletin boards and noticing the posted activities for the residents. Making conversation with staff. Then, outside into the gorgeous Tennessee autumn afternoon. Around sidewalks, across parking lots, beside a fountain, and finally a few minutes at a bench where dad's roommate was having a visit from his dog.

I think Dad thought it funny that dogs would pay a visit to a nursing home, but he kept it to himself.

Back in his room, Dad glanced at a paper taped on his wall. "Is that a tombstone? Because if it is, I want to change beds!" he said. How could a mind experiencing hallucinations and extreme mood swings also maintain a sense of humor? Or were his comments just Dad being Dad? He's always had a quick, dry wit.

I thought I needed to prepare Dad for my departure two days later. "I'm going to miss you when I go home," I said, tearing up again.

"You miss a headache when it's gone, too," he replied dryly.

Dad had dinner in his bed. I hoped he'd be up to getting to the dining room soon, but for now it was the two of us in his room. He had a hamburger, which I'd ordered as part of the paperwork the night before.

As usual, Dad's nose gave him trouble as he ate, and soon he let out a massive sneeze, hamburger and all. He was a bit embarrassed, but to divert attention he said, "it's like the wreck of the Hesperus!" And he proceeded to tell me about the Hesperus, a cargo ship that blew up in the ocean decades ago. Oh, dad. Funny dad. (Side note: I googled 'Hesperus.' It was indeed a ship, but possibly only in the mind of Longfellow.)

The next day we lunched together in the main dining room. The barbecue chicken was delicious and I finished first. Looking at my plate, Dad said, "your plate looks like a scene from Wild Kingdom!"

From there we had a discussion on humor. "How do you come up with so many quick little jokes?" I asked him.

"I always tie my joke to something familiar so the hearer can connect with it. And it makes people pay attention, at least, those who get humor." He told me this intelligently, as he always has.

I love humor and people who "get" it. At that moment I realized I must have received a humor gene from Dad.

I haven't spent a lot of time with my dad in recent years. Now, I wished it was more. I so wanted to talk more, hear his jokes, and witness the pineapple juice sweetening his spirit.

With a heavy heart I'd driven to Nashville six days ago, and with a heavy heart I'd drive back home.

Monday, November 16, 2009

pineapple man ... part 4

It was Monday, November 2.

While dad had shown marked improvement in three days, he still had a long road ahead. His manual dexterity was shaky. He needed two physical therapists to get him to a sitting position. It was all he could do to walk from one side of the bed to the other, using a walker. A victory was one hour in a chair beside his bed, eating his lunch. He may as well have run a marathon, he was so exhausted.

The day's focus was dad's next stop. As the afternoon wore on, word came that Richland Place had room for dad. As soon as the details, paperwork were complete, dad would go by ambulance to Richland.

Again, confusion reared its head. Dad asked me, "how far a walk is it to Richland?"

My stepsister Anne came by to update me of the details and encourage dad, telling him of Richland's amenities. "They have everything there, Joe. You can even get a manicure and pedicure."

"Real men don't get pedicures," dad responded.

The confusing babble of tests needed down the road, diagnoses, and dad's meds only served to overwhelm me. I could only think of how an ambulance ride to a new environment might further muddle dad's mind.

When the time came, about 5:30 p.m., and the E.M.T.s loaded dad on a skinny little gurney, I felt scared again. I was emotionally fragile by now, having witnessed dad's horrifying mental and physical decline. I squeezed his hand, kissed him and said, "see ya soon."

By the time I arrived at Richland, dad was already in his room. The staff, incredibly efficient and caring, barraged Anne and me with questions and paperwork. I didn't care about the stinkin' paperwork.

Dad's roommate, a spry and friendly fellow, contrasted starkly to dad's exhausted state. I tried chatting with dad for a few minutes, but it was apparent that he needed to sleep.

Half a dresser. A TV mounted too high on the wall. A tiny closet with no hangers. And dad's bed with a curtain pulled around it. This was his new home. A nice place for a care facility, but not nice enough for my dad.

I hugged Anne, unable to stop the tears. "It seems so final," I told her.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

day trip

It's become evident that to keep up with our growing family ... four grown kids, two daughters-in-love and a soon-to-be grandchild spread over four different states, we must become vagabonds of sorts.

Like today. We took a fine little day trip down to Oxford, Ohio to visit son Mark and his new bride Jill. Or, as we fondly call her, Jilly Bean. I don't know how that got started. Today I bought her some jelly beans (buttered popcorn: is there any other flavor as great when it comes to jelly beans? She and I agreed on that one) so the name fits.

Anyway. Calendar open for the day. Dog care covered. (Thank you, neighbor Sammy) Up early-ish for a Saturday, and westward we went.

We arrived at the adorably appointed newlywed apartment and had a tour. Cute, cute, cute. Funny how the mountain of wedding gifts all fit into the apartment so neatly and uncluttered!

Then, off for tour #2 of the fabulously new and expensive Farmer School of Business. I am impressed by the ways a college can spend our tuition money. Beautiful: see for yourself ...

Next up was a 2-mile hike through the woods and over the streams of Miami University's wildness: an area as yet unadorned by multi-million dollar buildings.

Lunch was enjoyed at Mark and Jill's apartment: how fun is that, to be fed by your children!

Next we headed to Hamilton, Ohio to check out Jungle Jim's. Beginning as a produce stand 35 years ago, Jungle Jim's is now a crazy gargantuan food store/international market/quirky place. I thoroughly embarrassed my son by shooting a few photos, but what the heck.

We even visited Jungle Jim's award-winning restrooms!

Finally a little Ohio State football and some pizza before we rolled on home.

A good day was had by all. Thanks, Mark and Jill!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

pineapple man ... part 3

My third day with dad marked one week in the hospital for him. My journal reveals a day dizzy with information from doctors and mental confusion for dad.

We came face to face with the decision of dad's next step. The choices: Vanderbilt, where his geriatric doctor practices, or a rehab center where he would work on mobility and basic living skills, most of which he'd lost in the hospital.

Thankfully, the decision was unanimous. Doctors, nurses, and family all agreed. As soon as an opening could be located at a reputable rehab facility, he'd be packing. I'm no doctor, but I surmised that until and unless dad could get out of bed and move around, his medical issues wouldn't matter much.

But all was not neat and tidy. I rode an emotional roller coaster this day, listening to dad's tale of an episode with a Ford truck. He assured me this had transpired down in the parking garage overnight. Next he pointed out a baby's head peeking out from behind my laptop.

Then, "did Bill go back to St. Louis?" He got my husband's name right, but the wrong city.

It was all a bit creepy to me, not knowing what lay around the next corner of dad's muddled mind. I tried to shake it off, but keeping dad on track was difficult. It was as if I walked a balance beam in gym class while some bully on the floor below gave nudges to throw me off.

Intertwined through our days were my amazing stepsisters Anne and Sarah and their husbands. Anne did the legwork of making phone calls, checking out rehab centers and making sense of insurance coverage. Sarah was Sally's errand girl, running for groceries and such. They both sat at dad's bedside, too, talking with him. Dad and Sally have been married for nearly 28 years, yet I'd never really gotten to know Anne and Sarah. After a week together, crying and talking and praying, it seems we are more like sisters and I count this as another amazing gift of God.

One of the physicians told me about "sundowning" in the life of an elderly patient, and I witnessed it in dad. At day's end, he often became more confused and fatigued, and much of the progress of the day seemed to evaporate. Then, I knew. Time for me to leave my "boy" and get some rest.

The thought occurred to me that sundowning was happening to me, too. Exhaustion and fear of dad's unknown future brought another wave of tears as I left his room.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

pineapple man, part 2 ... football

Given the events of the previous day, I entered dad's hospital room with a heavy heart, a dread more ominous than the day's date: Halloween. God carried me, yet I still felt the burden of spending another day with my fragile, weak, confused father.

I cried again. And so did he. I helped with his breakfast, though this time I let him feed himself. How would he ever re-learn the task if I did it for him? Slowly, shakily, he ate eggs and toast, spilling a part of it on his gown.

As a young girl, I often found my dad parked in front of the TV on weekend afternoons. I'd walk through the family room.

"Whatcha watching?" I'd ask, feigning interest.

"Football." Obviously.

"Who's winning?" like I cared.

I really only wanted a bit of my dad's weekend. A walk in the woods, a game of cards, an outing to get ice cream. And he did some of those, sometimes. But he worked hard, often travelling during the week. I now realize he must have been exhausted. But in my 10-year-old mind, it seemed football was of more interest to him, and I resented that. It's no wonder I have never, ever really liked football.

On this day, a Saturday, I scanned the sports page I'd brought for him. The Arkansas Razorbacks, dad's favorite team, were slated to play at 3:00 p.m.

"Dad! Guess who's playing this afternoon?"
"The hawgs?" he grinned weakly.
"Bingo! Let's watch it!"

And so we sat, dad in a hospital bed and me on the edge of a chair beside him, watching football. I cheered the touchdowns and pretended to understand the plays and strategies. His Arkansas Razorbacks, the very thing I resented so long ago, brought unity and focus between us. I didn't care two hoots about the game. But my feeble narration seemed to pull him back to me.

I cried. Again.

And I laughed at the irony. Only our great God could show such tenderness in this way: to build a bridge from the thing I care least about: football, to one I love so much: my father.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

pineapple man, day 1

Little more than two weeks ago, I planned on a long weekend in Nashville, Tennessee to check in on my dad and love-mom (I don't call her stepmother) Sally. She'd had surgery and dad was showing signs of forgetfulness. It seemed a good idea to lend some support.

I never dreamed of the week that would unfold before me. Now on the other side I realize it was the worst - and best - week of my life.

Two weeks ago, my 84-year-old father landed in the hospital after several hours of dizziness and nausea. The plan to stabilize him and send him home changed drastically into a 9-day hospital stay.

I entered his hospital room on day five around 8 a.m. He stared at me, a stare empty of the father I know. He looked vulnerable, scared. His hair spiked in all directions and he lay crookedly in his hospital bed, unable to straighten himself up. For that matter, he was unable to sit, stand or walk unassisted.

"Do you know who I am?" I asked, my throat tightening.
"Yes ... Barbara," he whispered.
I began to cry.
"You're crying," he said. "So cruel. Why do people do those things?"

His mind imagined all sorts of horrors.

In short, my dad was forgetting to take most of his meds at home, and coupled with the strange hospital environment and other medical issues, he tipped into what seemed a severe dementia.

I cried some more.

I acclimated during those first two hours to what the next six days would bring, none of which even remotely resembled the relationship I'd formerly had with my dad. Initially this scared me. Then, the two of us embarked on a sort of journey together. A new closeness took shape. Yes, even in the course of that first day, something changed between us.

He talked, I listened. I talked, he listened. Of memories, of God, of family and friends. I felt an urgency to talk as much as he could listen, to tell him things like never before. My mind raced, looking for words or memories that might connect and pull him back to reality. I stroked his arm, combed his hair, dabbed his tears. And talked. And laughed. And I listened, leaning in to catch his labored words, trying to make sense of them.

He'd say, "I'm lost, something's wrong with my mind." This terrified me. He seemed to be coming back, bit by bit. Then he'd slide away again. What if the slide continued? What if, what if?

Amazingly, dad's sharp wit was nearly intact.
A doctor quizzed him: "Mr. Matlock, do you know where you are?"
"I'm right here," he deadpanned.

His old gruff exterior seemed to soften. A child-like sweetness emerged. I told him he's like a pineapple, and that we all wanted to see more of his inner sweetness. That one puzzled him.

I held dad's hand, wiped his tears and his nose. It was the first time I'd seen him cry in 30 years. This day, he cried frequently. I warmed his oatmeal in a microwave across the hall and fed him spoonfuls. I held cups of juice and water for him to sip through a straw.

Giving him a first bite of scrambled eggs, I realized the bite was too large so I divided it. And suddenly I was feeding my baby, not my father.

He hallucinated frequently, pointing out cats, whales and bugs in his room. And I cried some more.

As medical personnel came and went, I forced myself to put emotions aside, to listen and formulate questions regarding dad's care. I look back in the notebook I kept. In it I scribbled possible diagnoses, various drugs, questions to ask and needed phone numbers.

Somehow I made it to the end of that first day. As I packed up to leave, it felt so wrong. I was leaving not my dad in that hospital bed, but my small child.

On the way to the parking garage, I was numb. What could God be teaching me? I could only pray, trusting he would carry me in the coming days.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

on hiatus

My blog-posting is taking a break for about a week. I've been called out of town for a "divine appointment." I'm journaling and at some point, I will share with you.

Thanks for waiting.