Saying Goodbye

T.S. Elliot called April the “cruelest month”.  And I guess it has been cruel.  But another way of looking at it would be to call it the kindest. Dad has been slowly slipping away since his stroke about eighteen months ago. And it’s been hard to watch a guy who was interested in everyone and everything and would try anything begin to sleep his days away.

He enjoyed every day whether it included cross country skiing, driving dialysis patients for the Red Cross, volunteering at Tanglewood, teaching his grandchildren how to play “oh Hell”, taking his great grandchildren trick or treating, having a morning cup of coffee and doing the crossword puzzle with Annette in bed or simply sipping a Manhattan at the end of a busy day.  The man never stopped and Annette, nine years younger, had trouble keeping up with him.

Yesterday was hard.  Dad had been brought to the hospital on Saturday morning.  He was unresponsive and seemed to be working hard with every breath.  Saturday and a Sunday were long days, especially for Kim and Paula and Annette. I was there by late Sunday afternoon. The medical team was working hard to get his sodium levels down, telling us if they could get them regulated, dad would wake up and begin to get well.

By Monday morning, I think we all knew it wasn’t going to happen. The doctor wanted to do an MRI to determine whether dad had had a stroke. I asked what they’d do differently if they found out that was so.  The answer was “nothing”…so we said no to the MRI.  Shortly after that we talked to the doctor again.  We all knew it was time to stop working so hard to keep him alive and just make him as comfortable as possible.

Dad was moved to a pretty room in their hospice section. A cart was brought in with coffee, tea and water and snacks for the family. We sat with dad, telling stories, playing music on my iphone ( first my church music and then Neil Diamond).  The room was big and that was good.  Five of his seven kids were there, Annette’s nieces came.  Annette sat by his side, stroking his head, massaging his hands with cream. We worried about how hard he was working to breathe and the nursing staff increased the morphine.

I left with Annette about 7:15.  Kim and John were going to take shifts during the night but that wasn’t needed.  Dad died about 8:15. Annette and I went back and sat with him along with Kim and Karen. Annette’s nephew, George, arrived. Finally, about 10:00 Annette and I left the hospital.

Dad would have been 95 next month and even though we’ll miss him terribly, I know it was time and I know, as Paula said, he was probably very happy to get rid of his old, frail body. The next few days will be hard ones for all of us. And harder still will be the days after that when Annette, who until recently never  went grocery shopping without him, has to get used to living alone.

Yes, April is the crudest month…and the kindest  and yesterday was the saddest day but i am so very glad I was here to see a good, good man slip the bonds of earth and fly.

Last week with some of the gang

 

Back to Massachusetts

Happy Easter, dear friends.  And Happy Passover.  I’m in the Tampa airport, heading back to New England for the third time in less than a month. Dad is in the hospital.  He wasn’t well when we were there for mom’s funeral, had failed dramatically since leaving the hospital and going into rehab.  And yesterday he was bad enough to warrant another trip to the hospital.

I’m not sure if he’ll rally this time.  The guy is tough…cross country skiing well into his eighties, hiking, biking, traveling…he and Annette never stopped.  He even went to yoga with me a couple years ago. Wish I’d gotten a picture of him doing  the downward facing dog.  used to tell him, “I want to be like you when I grow up.”

But he’s not good…at least he wasn’t when my sisters were there last night…didn’t recognize anyone, agitated, trying to pull out IV lines and oxygen.  It hurts me just to think of it…just hoping and praying that whatever meds they gave him last night settled him and gave him some peace.

Mom’s funeral was lovely.  The music was beautiful and I was so moved by the people came, so very grateful to them and to all who’ve sent messages of support and condolences  John rented an old farmhouse in the Berkshires with beds for everyone…kids and grandkids who had time to go for a short hike on the Appalachian Trail, played cards, eat, drink laugh and get caught up on each other’s lives.  It was so good.  I wonder if we’ll be renting it again soon.

And on a happier note, Jerry is doing really well…three meals a day (mushed up in blender) and  down to 1 1/2 cans of feeding tube formula.  Well on his way to steak and a baked potato!  And minimal coughing.  I drive him crazy staring at him every time he coughs…so scared he’s aspirating food and on his way to pneumonia.  He may miss me during these many trips to MA but I’m sure it’s a nice break not to have me watching him every minute!

Who knows what this week will bring.  The realization that life is fragile and precious, that none of us will get out of this alive, that we need to come to terms with our own mortality has been so “in my face” these days.  Still, it’s Easter…a reminder that light shines in the darkness, good wins over evil, kindness will ultimately trump hate  ( my stupid iPad automatically puts a capital T on trump…what’s that all about?)

Say a prayer for my dad and for Annette.  They have been so joined at the hip that it was only very recently in their over forty year marriage that she went grocery shopping without him.  I prayed all the way to the airport…May they have peace, may they have joy may they have courage and loving kindness.  And may all of you have the same.

 

Mom

Mount Greylock

My mom died this morning…95 years old.  I was just there, left yesterday morning to come back to Florida.  I’m so glad I saw her before she left us.  She didn’t have an easy life and the final years were especially hard but I think she was at peace in the end.  Hospice is so good and the people at Craneville Place, her nursing home, loved her and cared for her.  I don’t know if she recognized us at the end.  But when I left her she seemed peaceful and relaxed.

Still it’s hard.  Incredible how hard it is.  She certainly was ready to go, had wanted to go for years.  She wasn’t happy and we all knew it was time.  But it’s still so sad.

Funny the memories that come back.  I’m laughing remembering a time I walked in from school and found her sitting at the kitchen table tying knots with pieces of rope.  She had some book in front of her and kept checking it.

What are doing?  I asked.

Learning to tie knots.

Why?

So I can teach you at Girl Scouts tomorrow.

And she did teach all the little girls how to tie square knots and slip knots and whatever the next day.  She was a really good teacher.

And I remember when I was in high school.  Our geometry teacher was just awful.  She had no control (the class showed her no mercy) and she couldn’t explain anything.  So we had no idea how to do the homework.  I’d show up at home with a couple friends after school with our geometry books and we’d wail, “We can’t do it.  It doesn’t make sense.”  And mom would tell us to get a snack and watch the little kids (my brother and sister were toddlers)  and she’d go into her bedroom and read the lesson and then, about ten minutes later, she’d come out, sit us down and explain what we needed to do and why.  I think we were the only ones who’d have the geometry homework done those days.

She had a stroke quite a few years ago but the month before she had a stroke, she drove through a blizzard to my brother, John’s house in Richmond, Vermont, for the annual family gathering at Christmas.  No cell phone, nothing…just mom on her own.  Brave woman.

After she and dad were divorced, she started a business with a friend of hers…a home care business.  When the red tape from Medicare got too annoying, she was ready to just walk away from the whole thing but I think it was her lawyer who convinced her to sell it instead.  And she did and between that and her investments (she really understood the market unlike her daughter who has no clue) she’s never run out of money.

Seven children…can you imagine?  That’s what good Catholics did back then.  She wasn’t born Catholic.  Her mom was Jewish and her dad was Lutheran but they hadn’t really gone to any church or synagogue.  She got interested in the Catholic Church because she noticed, when she was in college, that the Catholic girls got up and went to Mass every Sunday no matter how late they had been up on Saturday night.

Five of the seven kids are in the Berkshires already.  Only Eileen and I are left to go.  We will most likely head up there tomorrow once the arrangements have been made.  You can’t imagine how much I want to be with my brother and sisters right now…that common history, I guess.

Here are a few pictures I could find…Paula has some really good ones.  I need to get copies of hers!

Engagement photo?

Mom and Kim

Mom and Paula

Mom with Declan and me in 2010?

Key Lime Pie and Other Treats

Big Gulf, Little kids

Jerry left rehab last Friday and we haven’t had a minute to catch our breath ever since.  Ryan, Anne and Grace arrived Saturday afternoon.  Erin, Brent, Lana, Calli and Declan arrived Sunday night. (You should have seen our house at night with people sleeping everywhere)  Ryan and Anne left on Tuesday morning and Grace stayed an extra day hang out with her cousins and to go to Mote Marine Aquarium.  Now we only have Erin and her gang and they’re leaving tomorrow for Harry Potter World at Universal in Orlando.  I imagine we’ll head to the beach this afternoon.  Those kids are crazy.

It’s been cold, really cold but the kids have been at the beach every day.  I don’t know how they do it.   And they’ve been doing swim team practice at the outdoor pool at our local YMCA in the evening. Brrr.

In the meantime, Jerry and I had tons to do.  He had an X-ray and met with Dr. Fong, his surgeon, in Sarasota on Monday for his post surgical visit. He’s healing beautifully.   X-ray showed clear lungs (yay, no more pneumonia), all systems go.  He can start driving (with supervision), needs to talk to his cardiologist about the cardiac program at the Y, no pool because of the feeding tube but everything else looks good.

Then on Wednesday we met with the out patient speech pathologist.  Jerry had begun trying foods at the hospital and we just assumed he’d keep on going at rehab.Unfortunately, the speech therapist at rehab didn’t want to try foods with Jerry…first because she didn’t have the records from Sarasota Memorial and then because he had pneumonia (or maybe she was just chicken).   Unfortunately, gradual return to eating was the whole purpose of rehab (for us anyway) and we were massively frustrated to spend two weeks there just doing swallowing exercises.  So when we headed to outpatient speech on Wednesday, I brought a container of yogurt and his morning meds already crushed and ready to go.

If she won’t try foods, I told Jerry, we leaving and we’ll find another therapist.

We walked in and the therapist immediately started asking about food and what he was able to eat.  I put the yogurt and meds on the desk and we began there.  We LOVE this therapist.  She gave us a list of things for Jerry to try and so far, so good.  Yogurt, mashed bananas, mashed potatoes and gravy, scrambled eggs, and best of all, key lime pie (minus the crust).  He’s still getting most of his nutrition via the feeding tube but slowly but surely he’s on his way back.  Yes!

It’s been a long journey and we know we have more to go but we’re getting there.  And our record for surviving rough times so far is 100%…can’t see any reason why we won’t come out of this one.  We’ll just keep on keeping on…and count our blessings (many of whom we saw this week!)

Love to all

Cousins

In the Gulf (brr)

Sweet Calli at the beach

Sharks at Mote

Home Again!

It’s be a bit more than a month.  Jerry checked into the hospital on February 6 and checked out of rehab on March 10.  Whew!  It’s been a long haul.  And we still have a long way to go, especially in the swallowing department.  But we’re on our way.  We have lots of appointments next week…x-ray, meet with surgeon, with primary care, with cardiologist, with speech therapist.

And we’re going to have a houseful of family.  Ryan and his family will be here tomorrow.  Erin and her gang come on Sunday.  They may overlap…sleeping arrangements will be interesting….but I think one goes when the other comes.  At least it’s family…they can take care of themselves while we go off to see doctors.

And I have a new (unchipped) tooth.  Scrapes and bruises are healing.  I still can’t believe how lucky I was not to break anything.

So all is well.  Thanks again for your prayers, your thoughts, your healing energy!

If It Isn’t One Thing…

In the courtyard

Jerry is definitely on the mend and I think they’re ready to kick him out of rehab…He’s got his little quirky issues but, aside from not being able to eat real food (and yes, we know that’s BIG), he’s doing just fine.  Well, he’s got some pneumonia …that’s not so great…but with some heavy duty antibiotics and a lot of time walking and a handy little spirometer, he’ll have that licked.  When he comes home, we’re expecting he’ll be going to speech for swallowing work several times a week and to the Y for exercise.

My guess is that he’ll be home by Friday.  He came home Saturday and Sunday afternoon (no therapy on the weekends).  It was nice…relax by the pool, get taxes done, pick out his own clothes to bring back (I didn’t do a bad job but he wanted particular shorts and tee shirts), play cards (He won the last set but I’m winning this one) and walk a little bit around the neighborhood.  Jerry also fixed the lights on the lanai and checked the oil in the Camry (there’s something weird with the oil and the Camry) We could do his feedings at home but he did need to go back for meds and breathing treatments.

In the meantime, I took a nasty fall this morning.  Was out walking before I met a friend for breakfast and tripped on an uneven sidewalk and went flying.  The good news…nothing is broken.  I remember when a good friend fell on a cobblestone street in a tiny town in Germany during a Viking River Cruise.  She broke one wrist and sprained the other.  That would not have been a good thing for us at the moment.  All I had was a  split lip, chipped tooth (I look stunning), scraped hands and a knee that was really hurting for awhile.  I was a bloody mess but essentially I was fine.  Incredibly lucky…I know.

Saw the dentist…new crown on Thursday.  Stopped by to drop off some things for Jerry at rehab and then went home to ice my lip and knee and sulk and feel sorry for myself for awhile.  I thought I’d take a nap but didn’t fall asleep so I went over to Pinebrook to beat Jerry at five rounds of Gin Rummy.

So,honestly, we’re doing okay.  And next week is Spring Break.  Ryan, Anne and Grace are coming on the weekend and Erin and her gang will be here Monday night.  Beach, pool, kayaking…It certainly won’t be quiet around here.  But, oh my, what joy those little people bring!

 

 

Louise Penny


811sqbhadjlJerry has settled in at Pinebrook Center for rehab.  The therapists are great and he’s working hard, determined to get well and get home as soon as possible.  It’s the swallowing that’s really holding him back.  Once he can eat, or at least get most of his nourishment by food rather than a feeding tube, he’ll be home.  No clue when that will be but the staff is pretty  optimistic that he’ll be out in a couple weeks.  Hope they’re right.

In the meantime, it is so nice to have him in Venice.  I’m getting back pieces of my life…heading to the beach early to walk and do yoga, stopping for breakfast with friends before I head over to Pinebrook, leaving in the middle of the day to begin to take care of things that a piling up around the house ( I think I could write “Dust me” on every piece of furniture in this place) or run errands in town.  I usually go back late afternoon and stay until after the dinner hour (obviously he’s not having dinner but everyone else is) I still come home and am in bed by 7:30, sometimes reading, sometimes watching TV or You Tube, sometimes sleeping but doing fine.   It’s working, anyway.  And Jerry continues to stay cheerful and positive…

So why did I call this post “Louise Penny”?  I guess it’s because Louise is helping both of us through these days.  In January when we drove to Texas, I downloaded the first three books of her series on Armand Gamache and that magical village of Three Pines.  We listened to them coming and going. It was wonderful.  I had read a few of her later ones but never gone back to the beginning.   I liked the later ones but now, knowing the characters as well as I do, I LOVE the books.  They’re like comfort food–mac and cheese and chicken soup for the soul.

Now Jerry is listening to them on his iPod when he’s tired and doesn’t want to read…he can just sit or lie back and relax and escape into another world filled with some very special people that I think we’ve both come to love as if they are real.  And I listened to the books on the way back and forth to the hospital and sometimes when I took my walks in the afternoon when I was dying for fresh air and sunshine.

In the last couple of days, I’ve discovered interviews with Louise Penny on You Tube.  She’s beautiful, inside and out, and  honest about her own life and her process for writing her books.  She’s wise and witty and humble and incredibly funny.  I’ve been watching the interviews before I go to sleep at night.  They just make me appreciate this woman’s talent even more.

Sufficient to say, if you haven’t tried a Louise Penny and you’re looking for something to read, start with Still Life, her very first one.  The books are treasures and I need to write to thank her for being with us these past few months, but especially this February.

Love to you all..

For all you Catholics out there, people came from Epiphany Cathedral and offered us ashes (It’s Ash Wednesday, folks)  We said sure.  Doesn’t he look holy?

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