Pausing for Gratitude

This morning I awoke with a heart full of gratitude. My life isn’t perfect, but as we say in my native East Tennessee, it’s “purt near” (pretty close to) that. Allow me to explain.

First, my husband and I were fortunate to be able to go on a trip to Spain for two weeks this March, something we’d been saving for for over 2 years. Our daughter has been there since September 2013, assisting teachers at an elementary school. She graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS, in May 2013 with a Spanish major, a concentration in voice (in between a minor and a major; she had to give a junior and senior voice recital), and experience in theater. With all of her college activities and our financial status at the time, we were unable to work it out for her to do a study-abroad program. The one she selected was $12,000 for a semester (and that didn’t include tuition at Millsaps). We simply could not swing that financially. I told her at the time that though she was disappointed, I bet we could find a way for her to go abroad after graduation. She did a lot of investigation and discovered that for a fraction of the cost (around $2,500) she could go to Spain for an entire year with the same program that would have cost $12,000 for a semester.

Our plan was to go visit her the first year she was in Madrid. But in November 2013 my 90-year-old dad (almost 91) was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. We wound up moving him from Canton, NC to our home so he could be with us while undergoing treatment. He responded well to oral and IV chemo and lived with us for 13 months. When he went to the doctor in November 2014, his white blood cell count was in the normal range and the doctor used the word “remission” to describe his condition. He was scheduled for another infusion in January. Meanwhile, my husband (John) had been pushing me to find assisted living for my dad. Daddy had taken a couple of spills at our house…not serious falls that resulted in broken bones, but enough to alarm us a bit.

Ironically, we began our search for assisted living at the busiest time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Daddy had been on a waiting list for a place in Canton, NC since November 2013 (he and I had visited a few places around Halloween and he decided that he liked one of them, so he paid a deposit to be placed on the waiting list). He got two calls from the admissions director while he was in Nashville, one in November, I believe, and another in March. At that time he was not strong enough (nor had he undergone enough treatment) to make the move, so he had to decline.

In early December 2014 John and I had narrowed down our choices to three assisted living facilities in Nashville. I visited one near our church the day of our Feast of Lights (our church’s big Advent concert) dress rehearsal and went home to tell Daddy about it. He was not impressed when I told him it was a high-rise, even though it was located near my work and church and he would have had a great view of downtown Nashville.

In the meantime, John visited an assisted living center a couple of miles from our house and was impressed with it. I went one day after work to check it out, and I too was impressed. We found out a guy who had gone to our previous church was a resident of this senior living community, and he seemed pretty happy with it. I called his daughter to see how her experience of dealing with the assisted living had been, and she told me she was happy with the way they had cared for her dad. We made arrangements for John to take my dad there for lunch one weekday and let him see the senior living community.

The same day John and my dad visited this assisted living near our home, I opened my gmail and discovered and e-mail from the admissions director of the assisted living facility in Canton where my dad had originally wanted to live. I couldn’t help but think the timing was more than just coincidence. When I told my dad later that day (after inquiring about how his visit went to the assisted living near our house and receiving a halfhearted reply that it was “nice”) about the e-mail, his eyes lit up. We talked some more and decided that we would move him back to North Carolina (though I had reservations about being 5 hours away from him).

On December 26 John and I left to take Daddy back to Canton. We spent the weekend at the house where he and his wife (who’s 96 and in a nursing home) had lived since their marriage in 1994. We went to Daddy’s church, First Baptist of Canton, on Sunday. Then on Monday the 29th we moved him to his new home.

So we got back to our life in Nashville and resumed our 3rd interval of the empty nest. We have had only short times of “empty nest” since our younger child went to college in 2009 and our son graduated from college the same year. The first period was from August to December of that year; then Daniel graduated and moved back home for two years. After he moved out in January 2013 into an apartment of his own (YAY! got that young adult launched!), John and I enjoyed a few months of empty nest until Julie’s graduation from college in May. She stayed in Jackson a couple of weeks after graduation so she could participate in her church’s musical production of some big work that I have since forgotten (maybe Mendelssohn’s Elijah?). Anyway, this little chick boomeranged back to our home in late May, and she lived with us until she departed for Spain in September.

All along I’ve had big plans…to turn Julie’s room into a guest room, to invite people to come visit (we’ve never had a spare bedroom because John’s office is in Daniel’s old bedroom), to redecorate our living room, to remodel our kitchen…well, actually, I just wanted new flooring in our kitchen, but that project has grown to a remodel thanks to John’s imagination.

But those plans have had to go by the wayside, because it seems that some surprise always intrudes. In this case it was my dad’s illness. So the next interval of empty nest lasted from mid-September until the end of November, when my dad moved here and took up residence in Julie’s bedroom.

Things got interesting last September when Julie came home for a 3-week visit. We prepared her for the fact that she would not have her own bedroom. We created a makeshift bedroom in our dining room, and she dealt with that quite well. It was good for her to get to spend time with her “Pepaw” (as she & Daniel call their granddad), and her 3-week visit was just long enough.

After my dad moved back to North Carolina, I noticed that over the next few weeks I started to feel more energetic. Now this is something I really appreciate, because I have two autoimmune disorders (I am the queen of weird diseases). For about the previous year and a half, maybe longer, I had been feeling exhausted and just barely getting by thanks to naps and walking and doing yoga.

Gradually I began to sense my spirits lifting. I started walking with a new spring in my step. I spent more time looking up and out at the beauty around me. It occurred to me that a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This does not mean that everything is perfect in regard to my dad’s health or my own. But for now things are good. Daddy is 92, and I realize he probably won’t be around much longer. While we were in Spain, he had a “spell” when his legs just gave out (collapsed), and the assisted living place called me to report that he had fallen in the bathroom. Turns out he fell twice more that day. My stepsister also called the next day or so to apprise me of the situation. I worried about Daddy, I prayed for him, and I decided there wasn’t a whole lot I could do from Spain besides pray. He improved this time. He has been doing physical therapy, and he is now able to walk again. My stepsister has taken him to a new oncologist, and they are watching him (without treating him with chemo) for now. Our oncologist in Nashville (actually the nurse practitioner, who has been marvelous about supporting us over the past 16 months) said that surveillance is not a bad practice for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

I feel like I have a new lease on life right now. I am grateful to have the energy to clean house. Never thought I would appreciate that! And while John and I were in Spain, I had the energy to walk and walk…at least two days I clocked over 11,000 steps on my pedometer. I returned home to spring in Nashville, indeed a glorious sight, with redbuds, daffodils, tulips, and dogwoods in bloom. I hear birds singing outside our window, and our cat welcomed us home with extra affection. Our son, Daniel, took great care of Lily the cat (I call her Lily Bo Peep because she has a little sheep toy that she just loves) while we were gone. He is now off on an adventure of his own, a road trip to Washington, DC and Philadelphia.

I believe it’s a good practice to pause every now and then (actually, this should be a FREQUENT practice…because it does one’s heart good) to say thank you to God for this marvelous, challenging, wondrous life. Thank you, Lord. My heart is full of love and gratitude for you, especially in the wake of Easter.

Praise be to God for the glorious gifts with which he blesses us each day!