Honoring the Holy Spaces Among Us

Honoring the Holy Spaces Among Us

I have just come away from a 4-day writing retreat called “Wild With Words.” It was an inspiring, at times frightening, introspective, rollicking, revealing, holy time for me.

There were 12 of us in the room most of the time. At one point I counted 14. We came from all walks of life –a young mother of a nine-year-old and a nineteen-month-old; a director of church music; several female clergypersons; a corrections officer at a women’s prison; a woman whose husband recently suffered a stroke; a businesswoman seeking direction for the next chapter of her life; a retired engineer; a former executive at a Methodist agency who transplanted herself from New York to Nashville; a retired teacher; a 40ish man who confided he’d gained a lot from attending a Twelve-Steps program; and me, a wannabe writer who lets her editor hat take over too often.

What a week. Our able, sensitive leader (Martha Brunell) was full of ideas for writing prompts, clever ways of getting us to think about all sorts of subjects (mostly it was the luck of the draw from cards, slips of paper, sticky-note hearts,  Snapple caps), and encouragement for us to follow wherever our pens took us and to write in this safe space. The cardinal rule was that we would honor each person’s voice and refrain from analyzing or critiquing each other’s work. I have participated in a similar workshop led by my friend Amy Lyles Wilson, whose motto is that it is the sharing of our stories that saves us. Indeed.

I’ve got to tell you that I think this week may have saved my life and rejuvenated me for the writing I do every day in my marketing job. It was also quite therapeutic, as I ventured into some memories and confronted sometimes painful territory that I didn’t realize I was carrying around with me.

In the midst of it all was the holy spaces I felt touching each other. We came out of our solitude and shared parts of who we really are. The result was a sense of community among us, and I’m excited that the workshop/retreat participants who live in Nashville are planning to continue our journey of discovery together. Who knows what adventures that may bring!

I am grateful for some time away from my daily routine, for my employer allowing me this much-needed space, for my supportive spouse who didn’t complain about spending time alone at breakfast and dinner and who welcomed me with open arms when I came dragging home, exhausted, around 8:30-9:00 p.m. Now if I can just get rid of this damned insomnia…but meanwhile I’m surrendering to it and using it as an opportunity to get my thoughts on paper.

I wish for all of you times to get away from the daily grind, whether it is at a retreat or just a walk in nature. We all need time and space to recalibrate ourselves, get in touch with what really matters to us, and live our lives from that holy space. Oh, and along the way, we just might encounter other kindred spirits who are also trying to figure out their purpose in this journey called life.

In closing, I share one of my favorite quotes from Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” 
 Rumi, Essential Rumi

A Return to the 1960s

A Return to the 1960s

I’ve been mulling around what it would be like to return to the 1960s, though it was a tumultuous time in U.S. history. Being a child of the 1970s, here are  some things I remember from the late 1960s. I don’t think I want to go back there, because it was a confusing time in which to grow up.

1. Flower power. I remember having a clipboard in 7th grade that I plastered with neon orange and pink flowers, and I drew peace symbols everywhere. I loved that clipboard and carried it with me everywhere. The idea of “flower children,” with simple values of peace, love, and rock-n-roll appealed to me. I didn’t really know about the Summer of Love or the sexual revolution, nor did I care about that as a young adolescent. It just seemed to me that the song “Are You Going to San Francisco?” was a great anthem exemplifying the flower children. “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” … “peace and love, brotherhood” — those sounded like wonderful ideas to me at the time.

2. Antidisestablishmentarianism. Wow, what a big word. I remember my parents discussing how young people were out of control in their rebellion against The Establishment (their motto: Never trust anyone over 30). Something inside me resonated with this restlessness against the powers that be, though I never would have had the courage to stand up to my parents and basically tell them that their middle-class values were sending them straight to hell. (Now, looking back as a parent myself, I know why as a young adolescent I was attracted to this idea. It wasn’t too much fun being on the flip side of adolescent rebellion.)

3. The Jesus movement. Again, as an onlooker observing this movement from afar, I thought it was a “groovy” thing. People returned to the way things were done in the early church, even going so far as to live on communes (yes, they copied the hippies) and sharing their possessions. A new spirit of excitement about Jesus and an emphasis on Jesus’ humanity appealed to me as a young adolescent. Suddenly it was cool to like Jesus and to try to be like him. And as we all know, when you’re an adolescent, everything is about fitting in with your peers. That the Jesus movement would lead to the “one way” mentality in many Christians didn’t strike me at the time. I saw Jesus as my friend and as an example to follow. I still do, though I would like to think I’ve matured in my faith, and I am more impressed with Jesus the Teacher and Jesus the Son of God, but mainly how Jesus treated others.

4. The sexual revolution. I remember hearing a lot of arguments about the Pill and how it led to a promiscuous culture. Nowadays I look back on people like Gloria Steinem and other feminists and admire them for the courage they had to take a stand, even if some of what they stood for was not ideas I particularly agree with. I do think it should be up to women to be responsible for their own bodies, and I dislike the government trying to interfere and dictate what they do with their bodies. If someone chooses to have sex, they should be able to have access to protection against the consequences of sex (pregnancy, STDs, etc.). It’s nobody’s damn business what a woman does with her body. I myself chose to practice abstinence, but again, it’s nobody’s business to try to dictate the very personal area of sexuality. I am uncomfortable when anyone tries to push sexuality into the open. I don’t care what other people do in bed, just so they’re not in my face with it.

5. The erosion of trust in political figures. This didn’t appeal to me, but it was a fact of American culture during the ’60s. I remember Richard Nixon standing in front of TV cameras, waving his hands in a victory sign and declaring, “I am not a crook!” as his jowls shook and his body language conveyed the exact opposite. I also got sick to death of hearing about Watergate, and it was disillusioning to realize that the party in power would break into the opposite political party’s headquarters just to win an election.

6. Long-haired, unkempt young people. I remember guys growing their hair long (and I adore the song that talks about someone going for a job interview with his hair in a hat, and after he gets the job, he takes his hat off and says, “Imagine that!”) and what a controversy that aroused in their parents. I have evolved in my thinking about men with long hair. I remember a beautiful young man who lived on our street in the 1980s and how pretty his hair was. I was envious of his lustrous, curly locks… and now I don’t give a second thought to guys with long hair. That’s their business. Tattoos don’t bother me; neither do nose, ear, chin, lip, and eyebrow piercings. I do have a little problem with people who put plugs in their tongues and their ear lobes, mainly because the former makes them talk funny, and the latter — well, let’s just say there will be a lot of old people running around with extremely long ear lobes someday. But it’s a form of self-expression, and who am I to judge them? I’ve found that when I take time to talk to people who are decked out like this, for the most part they’ve been very nice and polite to me.

I still don’t think this world is going to hell in a handbasket. Youth culture is always going to go against the culture of older generations. In time, it seems, everything becomes balanced (or at least maybe we adjust to the ideas that people are different from us and it’s okay). Then we’re on to the next trend.

My concern about this generation is its rebellion toward “organized religion” and its culture of atheism. I suspect that much of it is a reaction to disappointing encounters with judgmental Christians who preach a gospel of fear (you’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways) rather than love.

These are my rambling thoughts at 5:30-6:20 a.m. Disclaimer: I’ve had only one cup of coffee. You may not agree with anything I’ve said. That’s okay. I’m open to talking about any ideas with you. Perhaps if we can learn to listen to each other respectfully, we can have some interesting dialogue.

[Perhaps you wonder why I chose a photo of a whale to go with this post. I don’t know. I have a limited number of images in my media library, and sometimes I just like this image of the whale submerging.]

Something’s Afoot in the Trudel Home

A more appropriate title for this post is “Something’s Always Afoot in the Trudel Home.” The latest news is we have nine 10-gallon buckets in our dining room, supporting a door that is laid on top of them. What’s a slightly obsessive-compulsive person to do?

John plans to start his garden in our dining room. Remember my previous post, “Perfection Is Overrated”? Well, this situation is about to drive me over the edge.

I know it’s a work in progress. We’ve had many works in progress in our home over 32 1/2 years of marriage. One was our dining nook in our previous house. John removed the doors to our cabinets to paint them. Mysteriously, they never reappeared. So we were before our time: we had open cabinets to show all of our stuff that people normally hide behind closed doors.

This is what it is like to live with a person who has ADD. God has a sense of humor, I am convinced, in making certain matches. I grew up in a somewhat cluttered home. My mother was a schoolteacher but she was not a perfectionist. I, being the only child, am a recovering perfectionist. Some days are better than others. I don’t know why I am quite so perfectionistic. It could be because my dad, an accountant, was always precise about numbers and other details. (I didn’t inherit his talent for math.) It could be because my parents had high expectations of me. It could be because…gasp! I’m anal.

I love John. I love his creative mind. He amazes me with his problem-solving ability and the way he thinks outside the box. But he also drives me crazy at times.

Recipe for insanity for a person who’s slightly (or maybe very) OCD:

1. Fall in love with someone with ADD.

2. Feel overly responsible for keeping things where they belong (having been taught, “A place for everything and everything in its place” even though said person’s mother did not exactly practice this proverb).

3. Marry someone who doesn’t remember where he last laid things down. (I spent years trying to help him find things. I give up.)

4. Have children, both of whom inherited the ADD tendencies.

5. Work full-time and attempt to cook and keep the house clean and semi-organized.

I guess that’s enough. Let’s just say that the bare buckets with dried paint on them are not inspiring me at all. I want to cover them with something. John plans to put a tarp over them. I told him at least we were trendy with the distressed look of the door.

Will the garden ever happen? Stay tuned and see…

Perfection Is Overrated

For years I have been hesitant to hold any social gatherings at my house, thinking it’s such a wreck and so small that it doesn’t lend itself to an easy flow for traffic. Our former house, a bungalow near Centennial Park, was set up perfectly for parties, and we did quite a few (mostly kids’ birthday parties after we had children, but there was a day when we invited Sunday school classes over to our house for dinner parties, etc.). Our living room and dining room were huge; the rest of the house, not so much.

When we moved to our current house in 2004, I was drawn in by the wood paneling in the kitchen (takes me back to younger days), captivated by the arch between our living room and the dining room, loved the red flocked wallpaper look of the dining room (which we have never used as a dining room but as a multipurpose room…at one point it became our guest bedroom, so we blocked the arch with the china hutch…I never liked it that way, but it provided a little privacy for anyone unlucky enough to stay overnight at our house. We had a full house then with both our children at home and no guest bedroom. The guest bedroom morphed into John’s office for a couple of years, then back into a guest bedroom.)

This weekend we moved our china hutch back into its proper place in the dining room. We have a little bit of work to do in the dining room to make it look more like a dining room rather than just a room with random furniture placed about. I think the arch from the living room to that room will make us pay attention to the looks of the dining room, and eventually we’ll get it where we want it.

We had a game night on Sunday (it being a holiday weekend) and invited 3 couples over. One couple couldn’t come due to wanting to watch 2 football games. That turned out to be just as well, as our kitchen table seats only 6 comfortably.

Here are some signs that I am letting go of much of my perfectionism:

* I decided to take a chance and invite people to our house, knowing that it wouldn’t be quite like I wanted it to be, but realizing that if we didn’t start stepping out in courage and inviting people over, we would miss many opportunities for deeper relationships.
* I didn’t think through the menu very well, considering our dishes. I decided that chicken tortilla soup would be a good entree, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time available on Sunday to cook, considering that our choir sang for a 2:00 memorial service, and it was one of those occasions I felt I needed to be part of.
* As John and I scurried about the house, straightening up, dusting, vacuuming, etc., I realized the kitchen floor needed mopping. This was about an hour before guests were due to arrive. So I did a quick swipe of the kitchen floor (as John went around with a broom and worked on sticky spots).
* Our first guests arrived before I had finished setting the table. As I pulled out the dishes, I realized, to my horror, that we had only 5 matching plates but an overabundance of soup bowls. Also not enough matching silverware (we have a conglomeration of my stainless, my mom & dad’s stainless, and some other stainless collected over the years). Oh well, no big deal. Then there came the matter of glassware. We had two crystal glasses in our cabinet and four crystal glasses that almost matched in our china hutch. Again, I figured no big deal. At least they were the same color: clear.
* The first to arrive helped set the table, sort out the most matching silverware (from our dishwasher and the silverware drawer), and generally prepare the layout for our very formal (ha-ha) dinner.
* I realized later in the evening that I had asked one guest to bring an apricot cake, thinking that was her specialty, since I’d bought one at a cake walk at work. Then after conversation I realized that she had never made an apricot cake, and she probably wondered why in the world I asked her to bring one. (This communication took place by e-mail, so she didn’t ask me if she could bring another dessert.) Oh well, that was okay…I also had never made the soup that we served for dinner. It turned out to be a little bland, but it was passable. Guess I should forget about trying new, untested recipes (and adding my own twist) with dinner parties.
* John and I had just a few “words” before the party. He said, “This is why we don’t invite people to our house more often.” To which I replied, “I’m not bent out of shape; I’m just ‘focused’ on what we need to do.” We had our typical exchange of “do this,” both of us trying to be in charge. It was rather comical, in retrospect. After 32 1/2 years we still struggle over who’s the boss when it comes to certain situations. If I’d learn to bite my tongue and say “Yes, dear” (and I have done that on a few occasions lately), there would be less tension. But John also can say those words, even through gritted teeth. Enough about the intricacies of marital communication!
* Despite all the bobbles, I think everyone who came over had a good time. We played the original edition of Trivial Pursuit. I thought I would be on the winning team, joining two women with PhDs. At first we were ahead, getting the first wedge in our playing piece. But alas, the other team got the EASY questions AND luck was on their side. Next time we will get the box with the easy questions!
* I was amused by one guest who borders on OCD. Before we started playing, she wanted to rearrange all the cards in the boxes because they were turned every which way. (I told her she could come over and help me organize our house anytime.) We did get all the cards turned the same way (I guess the random turning of the cards before was just a sign of our family, of which three members have ADD), and life was good. I thought I would burst into laughter watching this same guest when someone on the other team put a wedge in the playing piece upside down (something that has bugged me greatly in the past). I was waiting to see how long it would be before she mentioned it. I think it drove her crazy for about 10 minutes before she finally said something. That was comical!
Now that we have our house somewhat in order (there’s always progress to be made), maybe we’ll start inviting folks over more often. It’s good for people to see how the other half lives…those who don’t have the trendiest furniture, decorations, and just barely manage to keep their heads above water when it comes to having a neat and tidy house. My motto for 2015 is “Never postpone joy.”

The Secret to a Long and Happy Marriage

A couple of weeks ago I attended the bridal shower of a friend who is the same age as my son. (My motto is “Make younger friends in case all of your older ones die off.” Just kidding.) At the shower one of the planners asked everyone to ponder a question: What advice did someone give you before your marriage that has been helpful, or what advice would you offer Angela from your own experience?

I mentally gulped as I considered what words of wisdom I would offer. First, I felt a little insecure offering advice. My mother always used to say, “Unasked-for advice is half scandal.” Well, this advice wasn’t unasked for, but mercy, advising someone about marriage is such a dangerous thing. What would I say to any young bride-to-be?

I decided to be honest. When John and I were engaged, I really wondered whether we would make it as a couple. You see, we used to fight every Thursday night. Every. Single. Week. So I told this story, not quite as long as I make it here:

I used to worry about John and me. When we were engaged, we had a fight every Thursday night. (At this point I saw a few people at the shower squirm a bit, like they were thinking, “Oh no. What is she going to say?”)

John belonged to a square dance club, and he took me square dancing on Thursdays. Being a sweet, innocent, young thang of only 23 years, I went along with his wishes and grudgingly went square dancing. I’m not sure I disguised my lack of enthusiasm very well, especially after I got a STUPID yellow dress to wear square dancing. I’m sure John loved the dress because it showed off my long legs, but I hated, hated, hated it. I felt conspicuous every time we danced. I have always felt klutzy, and on Thursday nights during our engagement, probably never felt more klutzy at any other time of my life.

The reason we fought was twofold: I was immature, and I was tired. I am by nature an introvert, though many people see me as an extravert. At that time, I had not yet learned to limit my activities and take care of myself. I undertook too many responsibilities at church, and by Thursdays I was just plum tuckered out, to use a good, old-fashioned Southern idiom. On Wednesday nights, I worked with children in choir, teenagers in missions, and attended adult choir practice. So by Thursday I was ready to stay home for the night.

I tried to be a good sport, but I really disliked square dancing. I felt stupid doing it, trying to make my body twirl and remember all the things I was supposed to do as the caller instructed, “Do si do, turn your partner, promenade now!”

The first thing I did after John and I were married was say, “Now I don’t have to square dance any more.” And we didn’t. Perhaps this was selfish on my part (John still wistfully remembers our square dancing days, and I still have his name tag from Flat Rock Square Dance club in my memory box), but I just call it realistic.

My next piece of advice? Well, I thought that since I was attending a shower where everyone present was connected by the common bond of being Christian, it might be good to offer some scriptural advice. Again I was my usual frank self.

“We tried to follow the scriptural admonition, ‘Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’ But I found that sometimes we did go to bed mad at each other. There were some things we just couldn’t work out by staying up and talking about them.” (More squirming by shower attendees.) An aside to the reader: I believe in and trust the power of scripture and try to obey as much of God’s Word as possible, but I also think God gave us brains for a reason. God knows that I can’t reason very well when I’m tired. My sweet, wise, and very patient husband also knows that sometimes it’s just best to keep your trap shut.

So John and I have had conflict, but somehow we’ve always managed to resolve our conflicts, even if it took awhile. One thing I wish we had done differently is arguing in front of our children. I grew up in a home where my parents never fought in front of me, but boy could I feel the freeze-out if they’d had a disagreement. John grew up in a home where his parents let it all hang out. You can see which parental pattern we chose to follow. I wish I’d had enough self-restraint and maturity to whisper, “Let’s talk about this later” when John and I were having a “discussion.” But at least our children saw us engage in conflict and then resolve it. I hope they have learned a thing or two from watching us. I hope they will be a little less public with their disagreement than we were.

One thing I’ve learned over the years (now I’m not recalling what I said at the shower but just writing my thoughts) is that there is no ideal couple. The couples I have watched whom I thought were “the perfect couple”…well, some of them have divorced.

God only knows how my and John’s marriage has survived for nearly 33 years. Well, I do know how it has survived: by God’s grace and a little fairy dust sprinkled in. Sometimes I have been the strong one; sometimes John has been the strong one. We have certainly had our  hard times…raising children, dealing with the deaths of three of our parents, financial struggles, depression. There were times when I had to act as if I loved John. (I read somewhere that if you act like you love someone, even if you don’t feel like you love the person at that moment, the feeling will follow.) When the chips have been down, we were a team. I think some of the toughest times in our marriage have also been the times when our love has kept us together.

So what’s the secret to a long and happy marriage? I wouldn’t presume to tell you. It’s essential to be able to trust each other and to forgive. But as I said previously, it’s all quite mysterious to me…and it all depends on God’s grace, plus a little fairy dust.

Moments That Make Me Smile

During winter days with endless gray, cloudy skies, I struggle to stay positive. Sometimes I think I suffer from seasonal affective disorder, because I can barely abide January and February in Tennessee. I noticed how my spirits lifted yesterday when I went outside in the sunshine around 3:15 p.m. (after being inside for a daylong meeting).

Anyway, to cope with seasonal depression and otherwise down moments, I keep a file of humor and moments that make me smile. I return to this file (one literal, in my desk at work, the other just a collection of memories in my head) again and again to bolster my spirits.

In no particular order, here are some moments that make me smile:

* Two jokes my mother used to tell over and over. “Did you hear about the old woman who peed in the ocean? She said, ‘Every little bit helps.’ ” and “What did the old gray mare do as the farmer was feeding her, when he asked her, ‘How many oats would you like?’ She lifted up her tail and said, ‘A few.’ ”

* Our son, Daniel, when he was very young (maybe 3), responding to John when John told him, “Watch your head” (meaning “Watch out, son, you’re going to hit your head”): “But Daddy, I can’t watch my own head!”

* My dad bringing ice cream out of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant one hot summer’s day to me, at least two cousins, and my mom and aunts. I don’t know why we were outside and he was the only one to carry the ice cream out (maybe my memory is inaccurate), but I remember how the ice cream was running down his arms, and I remember the smile on his face as he struggled to carry all those ice cream cones.

* John bursting into tears at our wedding during the part of the vows that says, “and all my worldly goods” … and my brother-in-law reaching over to pat him on the shoulder.

* Listening to the recording of our wedding and hearing the two officiating ministers hum very loudly on the hymn sung by the congregation: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” They knew the first stanza, but that was all.

* Julie as a toddler, running toward me with her arms outspread and reaching up

* Watching Julie and Daniel jump the waves at the beach

* The photos that John took of our family at Clearwater Beach, FL … and how many of them showed this one older woman’s huge butt

* Driving Daniel and some of his friends down West End Avenue when they were in middle school … and how they rolled down the window and hollered “SPANDEX!” at no one in particular. (This was one of the times I realized how totally goofy middle schoolers are.)

* A sleepover we had when Daniel was in second grade … how we had pizza that night, the boys were sprawled all over our living room floor and making armpit fart noises, and then later the aroma of real farts and how they giggled helplessly

* My cousin Joe getting pulled over by a cop when we were on our way to trombone and clarinet lessons with Mr. & Mrs. Edgar Allen Poe. He was speeding on Center Street in Kingsport…I remember the flashing lights (were they blue or red at that time?) and how tense he was as the policeman talked to him and told him how fast he’d been going. I also remember Joe being teased later by our aunt Reb, “Weren’t you glad when they freed you?”

* Reb trying to help my papaw up the steps into their house (I was a teenager at the time), and how he was fighting her (he was senile) and she got mad at him and said, “Bitch!” I corrected her and said, “No, Reb, the word is bastard!” (We never spoke like that in my family. My mother wouldn’t even let me say “golly” or “gee” when I was growing up.)

* Riding around Jefferson City, TN with my roommate and suite mates in my little gray Chevette…while I was still learning to drive a stick shift. I kept stalling out whenever we’d have to stop at a red light, and it was kind of scary on the hills around Carson-Newman College (now University)

* My aunt Reb and cousin Sue trying to teach me how to drive said Chevette during Christmas holidays

* My dad’s consternation over my lack of knowledge about driving a stick shift AFTER he’d bought the car. (Shouldn’t he have wondered whether something was going on when we test drove the car and I declined to drive?) He drove the car away from the dealership, and we stopped at the Kings-Giant Plaza in Kingsport so I could take the wheel. When we immediately stalled out, he practically hollered, “Anne, I thought you could drive a straight shift!” To which I replied, “And when did you think I would learn?”

* My dear friend Kent letting me drive his brown Capri at Cherokee Dam. This was the first and only time I’d driven a manual transmission, and as I recall, it was a whole lot easier to drive than my Chevette

* My friend Eddie Calcote asking me one day in high school Spanish class, “Anne, I haven’t heard you talk about your grandfather lately. How is he?” To which I replied drily, “Dead!” We both collapsed into laughter.

* The stories I heard at the (then) Baptist Sunday School Board about errors that nearly made it into print. One was in the 3rd-4th grade Sunday school curriculum and was in a story about King Solomon rebuilding the temple. “And all the people bowed before Solomon’s erection.” Oops!

* How an appraisal reader tactfully pointed out that perhaps we didn’t want to use the word “Snafu” in one of our publications. I didn’t know the origin of that word. I laughed out loud when I looked up the dictionary definition.

* My friend Ginny and I laughing about a woman in her 50s (when we were in our 20s) farting when she passed by Ginny’s desk. (I also laugh when I think about the unwritten rule that many women observe: Never admit that you fart, and if you do fart, just ignore it and hope no one will notice.)

* Just this week, a colleague explaining why she keeps geranium fragrance in her office: to cover up the scent of her farts. She said this in front of me and a guy who usually blushes at such revelations. I said, “Andrew, you didn’t even blush.” He replied, “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this!”

* The time I had to give an impromptu speech in Callies (Calliopean Literary Society, a fancy name for what was really a sorority) about how I’d gotten poison ivy on my ear and side of my face. (From making out with a guy behind the football stadium)

* How hearing the song “There’s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles brings back memories of a drunken night in college. My roommate and suite mates saved the day by coming to rescue me and another girl from what I thought was going to be a big party. When my friends came to fetch us, I was lying on the couch singing at the top of my lungs, “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight!” How true those words were, only it wasn’t a heartache. Never got sicker in my life.

* Our kitty Snowflake cuddling up with me on the couch whenever I had a migraine or was otherwise sick. I called her my angel kitty.

* Flashback to when I was about four years old: my mom and I stopped at what is now Pratt’s Barn (Restaurant?) in Kingsport. There was a grocery store and gas station with a huge Indian statue out front. My mom was getting gas (in the days when someone pumped your gas for you), and I went to satisfy my curiosity, peeping up under the Indian statue’s loin cloth. I said, “Mommy, Mommy, there’s a wasp’s nest up his bumpy!” My mom tried to ignore me, so I got louder and louder… I still remember how embarrassed she was.

* Also when I was about three or four, my dad brought home a doll for me. It was bigger than me. My mom kind of pooh-poohed him for getting such a big doll. I loved that doll fiercely. Her name was Marcella.

* John and me on our first trip to Europe in 1985. On a train from Munich to Florence, we decided to play dumb Americans. (It wasn’t very hard!) We had tried to reserve a sleeping berth on a train, but it was a holiday weekend and all of the overnight compartments were sold out. A kind German family allowed us to stay with them in their compartment. Whew. We made it by the conductor without incident. I remember consulting my German-English dictionary to try to have conversation with them. (John and I “ich spreike kein deutsche” could only understand a few words. They asked us if we had any bambinos. I got tickled when they used an Italian word to communicate with us.)

Oh, there are so many memories. These are a few of the moments that make me smile. Thank God for laughter, life, and the rich experiences with family and friends!

Adventures in Caregiving

I entered 2015 with the idea that I will not make New Year’s resolutions because I didn’t keep mine last year…one of which was to write something, whether it be a note or blog, every day. I’ve since read why New Year’s resolutions don’t really work. We are creatures of habit, we have good intentions, but life often gets in the way, and that certainly proved true last year for me.

On November 24, 2013 my dad came to live with us after being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a common disease in elderly people. John and I had to do a good bit of talking to convince him to move in with us, but he finally agreed. We had no idea what the future held when Daddy came here. I told him to pack enough clothes for the winter at least, and a few things for spring. He brought mostly winter clothes; I think he had in his mind all along that he would return to North Carolina.

Dad’s treatment began on December 3 with an infusion of rituxan (rituximab?). John and I took turns sitting with him during his first treatment. I didn’t have much vacation left at work, so I needed to be there as much as possible, but I knew it was important to be with Daddy too (more so than being at work). Daddy did fairly well except he began shivering uncontrollably after he got up to go to the bathroom. The nurses were attentive and gave him something to stop the shivering. He was a real trouper and didn’t have any ill side effects other than fatigue from the treatment. We were blessed to have a nurse practitioner from our church who worked at the doctor’s office; she did the initial assessment of my dad and was supportive through the whole time he was undergoing treatment.

Daddy took two chemo pills daily along with the infusions, which were once a month in the beginning. As his body started responding to the treatment, the infusions were cut back to once every two months, and the chlorambucil tablets were reduced to one a day. In his last PET scan, there was no evidence of leukemia, and I was gratified to see that Daddy had gained nearly 20 pounds since coming to Nashville. (He was practically skin and bones when he came here.)

Along the way I began to appreciate my husband more each day. Self-employed, his schedule is a little more flexible than mine, so he assumed most of the responsibility of taking Daddy to doctor visits, which became quite frequent, especially after Daddy complained of back and leg pain, had a scan, and the oncologist determined that his pain had nothing to do with his leukemia. We set up a primary care physician for Dad, and monthly visits ensued.

I would like to say that the year (13 months) Daddy stayed with us were a breeze, but they weren’t. He was a good patient and usually was pleasant to be around (a real blessing). John and I had added responsibilities, like picking up medications and buying certain grocery items for Dad, and I undertook the weekly bath routine. Daddy took care of daily sponge baths, but the all-over bath on Saturdays required assistance. Some weeks I nearly forgot, or I was exhausted by the time Saturday night rolled around.

There were time I had to go into “bossy daughter” mode, and Daddy usually accepted what I said. He got a little depressed from being housebound and isolated. We tried early on taking him to church with us on Sundays, but that proved to be too taxing. Daddy’s back and legs hurt after sitting for a couple of hours, and moving him from our Sunday school class to the sanctuary was quite a feat.

John was my support and reality check throughout the year. Around September he started pushing me to start looking for assisted living. I was reluctant, feeling a bit guilty about leaving my dad’s care (or the brunt of it) up to others, but really the whole situation was starting to take a toll on my mental and physical health. Not to mention the pressures on John’s and my relationship.

Then when my dad took a couple of spills at our house in November 2014, we got serious about looking for assisted living. Daddy had been on the waiting list for assisted living in Canton, NC, where he had lived for the past 20 years, but it looked like we might be waiting a while on that. So the week of Thanksgiving I started looking around Nashville for a place for Dad (using, ironically, a website called A Place for Mom). I had a helpful representative there who immediately called me as soon as I registered on the website, and she suggested some places near our home to check out as possibilities. The search began the week after Thanksgiving, and we soon narrowed it down to two places, one 2 miles from our home and the other about a mile from my workplace.

On December 16 John took my dad to eat at the assisted living place two miles from our home. We were about to decide on that facility for him, but fate (or providence) intervened. As I was going into Google mail to get to my Google documents that day, I saw an e-mail from Silver Bluff Village, the facility where Dad had put down a deposit in November 2013 to get on the waiting list. My heart sank. I thought, “Well, I must tell him about this,” and I knew what he would decide. So that night I asked him carefully about his impressions of the senior living facility he’d visited. He said, “It was okay. The food was pretty good.” Then I asked about the atmosphere of the assisted living place. He said, sounding like an obedient child, “It seemed like a nice place.”

Then I told him about the e-mail I’d received from the admissions director at Silver Bluff. Immediately his eyes lit up, and I knew what the outcome would be. That night I e-mailed her back and told her Daddy was interested in the available apartment.

So on December 26 we left Nashville, spent the weekend in his wife’s house in Canton, and then we moved him to Silver Bluff on December 29. He was so excited to see the mountains of North Carolina once again, and our visit to his church on Sunday showed me what a community he has there. All these women were hugging him, and I thought, “Hey, there’s nothing better for a 92-year-old man than to be hugged by younger women!”

Daddy’s last words to John and me as we left about 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday were, “I’ll miss you and John waiting on me!” He also said he loved us, and he told John for the first time in our 32 years of marriage, “I love you. You’re a good son-in-law.” That is undoubtedly true.

Now the adventure continues…keeping in touch with him and trying not to worry. He is happy with the food at his assisted living. He’s having to walk more (with his trusty walker) to get to the dining room and activities room. He has accepted his new situation with grace and a positive attitude, despite the stress of having to march to someone else’s routine. I am happy that he is back with people his age and that my stepsister and stepbrother are nearby. We will have our challenges, I expect, but for now life is very, very good.