Friday, April 21, 2017

Life Goes On

 
Flowers from Mom's funeral, wilting in the chaos.


Yes, life does go on, though the fact seems like a slap in the face to those who mourn.   There is no cause for sleeplessness now,  but insomnia still lingers and my nights are restless.  Failing at reforming my bad habits, I find myself putting off bedtime until exhaustion sets in; writing out funeral thank you cards until writer's cramp puts me out of commission.  

As I write each note, I stop and search for the right words, stretching my cramped hand.  How do I thank the people who have helped and are still helping me cope with my loss?  Our wonderful sons for being there when I needed them most; our family and friends who called me and listened to my repetitive worry and (shameful) complaining, buoying me up with laughter and prayers and cards; crockpots of stew and soup even before Mom passed away; help with moving Mom and our bedroom, visits to keep Mom company while I went for a walk or the grocery store; sitting with her when the end was near, comfort and care and concern and love.   What would I have done without any of you?  I found myself laughing and crying all at once, remembering Ann and me making a 2:30 AM run to the bank's ATM last Monday night, like Thelma and Louise on a tear.  

Oh, the memories, the gratitude.  The cards will be written soon; I'll find the right words.  I'm tired.  But I cannot sleep.

Still awake, I drift into the living room and end up mindlessly playing an old video game over and over until I'm nearly unable to open my hand from the cramped position on the mouse.  Hoisting myself out of my chair, I stare bleary-eyed at the clock on the table and groan...not 3 AM again....what am I doing?  And why?

Heading to the bathroom, I wash my face and try not to meet my eyes in the mirror.  I remember the first time I stared into my own eyes back on the farm as a youngster; it was the eeriest sensation to not recognize the person staring back at me; surreal.  How little I knew myself then, how little I know myself now.  

Breaking the gaze of the much older stranger which is me in the mirror, my eye falls on the little yellow dish which used to hold Mom's dentures, perched on the right side of the sink.  I haven't had the heart to remove it yet, along with her old, white comb with the missing teeth resting on the counter, ready for her touch.

Leaving the bathroom, I get ready to climb the flight of stairs to Joel's old room.  Funny how our old bedroom feels like Mom's room, even though she was only here for a few months.  I don't know when we'll move back downstairs; the hassle of moving the waterbed isn't something we need right now.  I haven't gone through her clothes yet.  All the picture boards from the funeral and her coloring books, markers, painting equipment, everything else pertaining to Mom is in that room; waiting.  

Before I go upstairs, I glance in the doorway at the happy trio of St. Bernard stuffed dogs Mom always kept on her bed, now perched in her Lazy Boy with her favorite pillow.   I washed all of her bedding this week, except for the flowered comforter which will need warmer weather to dry on the wash line. 


Has it really been two weeks since she was here?



Blinking back more tears, I go up the stairs.

 I try to carefully open our bedroom door, but it squeaks no matter how slowly I turn the knob which then rouses Carl from his well-deserved slumber.  Continuing with my annoying sleep preparations, I fumble around with the CPAP machine, filling the water chamber, plugging my cellphone in for charging, putting my spectacles on the headboard, and sticking the Farmall bandana on my hair to protect it from the harness of the CPAP mask.  Finally, I stuff neon green ear plugs in and hit the button on the CPAP and sigh as my back reacts to being horizontal. 

After all my jostling and rustling around, Carl is now wide awake and groans as he tosses back the covers and makes his way around the bed enroute to the bathroom.   

"3 AM?  What were you doing?  Why don't you come to bed earlier?" he scolds me when he returns.  

I try to answer him, but the CPAP makes conversation impossible, so I grumble something unintelligible and roll over with a sigh.  Carl falls asleep immediately.  I remain still, waiting for sleep to claim my weary mind.  When it doesn't arrive, I try the old relaxation techniques we learned in Lamaze class over thirty years ago; stretch and relax your toes, now your ankles, now your legs, now your knees, and so on and so forth until I'm all the way up to the hair on my head and I'm still wide awake, listening to my pulse in my ears.  In hindsight, I should start with relaxing my hair first.

Five AM arrives and Carl's alarm clock is screeching.  He groans again, hoisting himself out of bed one more time and heading out the door to his job of forty years.  

"I love you," he says to me, as he says every morning.  

"M mmm mmm mmm," I say through my sleep mask, which translates to 'I love you, too,' followed by "Mmm mmmmm," which translates to, 'Be careful.'  I cannot open my mouth with the mask on because the CPAP will take my breath away, hence the mumbling.  I never fail to tell Carl to be careful; metal fabrication is dangerous work, and the huge press he operates defies description; I'm always happy to see him come home punctually at 3:30 PM like clockwork.

Shortly after Carl leaves for work, the birds begin their raucous singing long before the sun rises, giddy at the promise of a new day.  I've never been a morning person and the first robin to announce dawn is like a strident alarm clock clamoring at me to get up.  No matter how many earplugs I have crammed into my head, the chirping breaks any attempt at further sleep.  My mind is racing.
 
Grief is a harsh taskmaster.

But life does go on..........

I've got a lot on my plate; I'm the executor of the estate, there are bills to be paid, accounts to settle, lawyers to see, Mom's house to look after.  It's also Spring, and I have a greenhouse of annuals half-planted and shoddily attended to, hard to say how my flowers will look this year.  

 Ann helped me plant the first round of annuals on Saturday, thank goodness she did.  I wouldn't have gotten this far without her help.  I'm always grateful for the greenhouse bottom heat system Carl built;  in less than two days, the seedlings were germinated.


The back yard is still a mess from the septic installation and, of all things! we've decided (ok, taking ownership of this hare-brained idea, I've decided) to move the gazebo from the back yard to the front of the house where the Tardig stood.  Um.....I know, can I do anything else to make life more difficult?  


I came up with this idea last fall.  Carl and I started working out the kinks in March, hauling the Tardig out of the garden with neighbor Dale's help.  


The poor Tardig, napping on the lawn.......waiting for a new home around here somewhere.
Carl staking out the territory for the Gazebo.
 No, I didn't forget about Castle Aaargh, I know, I know......don't we have another iron in the fire there, too?  
 
Daffodils with Aaargh looming in the background.......

But in my defense, remember, the back yard is completely torn up, so we (ok, mostly me) decided this would be the perfect opportunity to make sweeping changes of an epic proportion.  Our beyond-kind neighbors own a lifting apparatus and are willing to drive over here with it and hoist the gazebo skyward for us next week which will save us from trying to move the structure with a hay wagon and a lot of luck.  Needless to say, we will still need a lot of luck; we built the silly thing in 1982 when we were twenty-four years old.  What did we know?  

Carl, April 20, setting tie downs for the base in the drizzle.
 Joel took me to a Lyme appointment the week before Mom died, and helped me purchase a used cement mixer from a Craigslist ad.  Carl put a new switch on the mixer and we're ready to roll.

 
   Mom had been excited about the prospect of the change, too.   After she died, the plan almost died with her, but looking back, I know she would want us to continue on in her memory.  She was always practical, always up for the next adventure.  She was very proud of this garden of ours; of hers.  She was a huge part of this garden, adding to the beauty by her painting and her diligent weeding.  Always loving.  Oh, how I miss her.......she would have been cheering us on. 

I can hear her in my mind, 'Work will never let you down. Find something to do.'

 Yes, life does go on.  I know Mom wouldn't want it any other way. 

I want to thank every one for their kind comments on Mom's passing.  I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you for your care and concern.  

Mom was always amazed at how many people we've met through the blog, she would marvel when I read your comments aloud to her every morning. Then, in turn, I would read your blog posts to her and we'd have a delightful time.  The problem was, I was using my cellphone as a browser, so commenting was difficult, but rest assured, we were reading your posts, too.

"Where are they from?  Florida?! (Dear Rainey, my lone Florida reader) Washington State?!  Australia!? Iowa?  Nebraska!  Alaska!? England!? Michigan?!" as the list of states and countries grew, Mom was stunned.  

"How did they find out about you?  You must be famous.  Look how many people commented!  How does it all work?"  

"No, we're far from famous.  But see, we bought a computer and hooked up to the internet and it's worldwide and I started this little gardening/diary blog in '08 and people started to read it and....." and Mom would glaze over.  "I don't understand the internet, it's all jibberish to me."

"That's ok, Mom.  I don't understand how the internet works either; it's complicated.  I guess you can look at it like computerized pen pals."

"Well, it's just wonderful how so many people came to be your friends from so far away. Do you think you'll ever meet any of them?"

"Yes, I have had bloggers from Iowa, Texas, Arkansas, Minnesota, and Michigan come for a visit. But even if we never meet in person, all of the bloggers I have met feel like family to me."

"You are very fortunate," Mom said, solemnly.  

Yes, I am.  Thank you all, I've run out of words to express my gratitude.  (And we all know that doesn't happen very often.)

Thank you.  

 

 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mom

One week ago today, April 7, 2017, Mom passed away.  

 The past week has been a whirlwind of activity.  Today is the first time I've had a chance to sit down and process her death.  Right now, I would say I'm first starting to feel the effects of truly losing my mom.  

I had a pile of dishes to do and I was thinking it would be a perfect time to call her.  We could talk and the dishes would fly by as I shared my day with her.  I know many of my friends who have lost their mothers have said the same thing; the phone was in their hand and suddenly they remembered, no, I cannot call Mom.  The realization cuts like a knife.

Since the last time I wrote on Monday, April 3, Mom was doing very well.  We were getting into a routine, she'd been on excursions with us to hardware and grocery stores, greenhouses and hobby shops; we'd even worked a few more kinks out of the alarm system.  Her appetite was much improved and she was thrilled to have her pine cones to paint.

I was out in the greenhouse last Thursday, filling flats with soil.  Mom was in the house, busily painting.  I'd hoped to bring her to the greenhouse with me, but after we discussed the idea, Mom said she'd rather paint.  And paint she did.  She was sad when she ran out of the first five gallon pail of pine cones and elated when I brought in two more, full to the top.  

"Oh!  Wonderful!  I'd better get busy!" and she quickly selected a new color of paint for her next cone.

I went back out to the greenhouse with a light heart.  Peace had descended on me on Thursday; Mom had improved enough to be able to walk behind her transport chair for short trips as long as it was later on in the day after the sleep medication had worn off.  Of course, at night I still had to watch her like a hawk, but during the day if she wanted to stand up and even walk a little, she was able to do so.  I did run in and check on her every ten minutes or so, though. 

When I washed clothes last week, I hauled the laundry baskets up to Mom and put them on top of the five gallon pail of pine cones so she could reach them.  Mom sorted out the underwear and socks into orderly piles for me to hang on the wash lines outside while I went down to retrieve another load.  She wanted to help me in any way she could.  

Carl and I, and even the hospice nurses and counselor all thought she was doing very well, she had regained some of her eyesight and even her appetite had been improving.  Every dish I prepared for her was a treat; she would take a little taste and declare, "Delicious, oh, this is marvelous!  Where did you learn to cook like this?" 

I would smile at her and shake my head, she was so easy to please.  


"I learned from the best, Mom.  I learned from you!" 


"Oh, I never could cook like this," she'd say.  

What a sweetheart.  Mom's cooking was extraordinary, especially in light of the other work that filled her days...but she would never take any credit or praise for her skills.

On Thursday night, Mom and Carl were seated at the kitchen table, watching 'Hogan's Heroes'.  I finished up the supper dishes and when the show was over, walked with Mom to the bathroom to get her ready for bed.  We were finally getting the hang of changing her clothes; odd when you haven't dressed anyone for years how difficult it can be to relearn.  Mom hadn't had anyone dress her in over ninety years, so we both had more than a few giggles over the process.  

Snug in her pajamas, she went to the sink to wash her face while I put toothpaste on her toothbrush.  She was so tickled with her toothbrush; I hadn't brought hers from home, so I gave her a brand-new hot pink one from my dentist's office.  You would have thought I gave her a precious ruby or something, she was in awe of the humble toothbrush, marveling at it's beauty.  This was my sweet mother; she saw beauty in everything.

Mom carefully brushed her dentures, putting them into her little yellow container to soak until morning.  Then she carefully dried her hands on the towel and solemnly picked up her old white comb with the missing teeth and combed her hair.  Peering into the mirror, she said, "I can't believe that's really me.  I look so old!  Ok, what's next?" she asked, and I gave her my hands and led her to bed.

I tucked her in and gave her a kiss.  "I love you, Mom.  If you need anything, please let me know, I'll come right away," I looked at her one last time before I shut her door.

"Thank you, Karen," Mom said, as she said every night.  She was always thanking me for every little thing I did; she was extremely grateful to us for taking care of her.  "I'm so happy to be here and not in the nursing home."

"I'm happy you're here, too, Mom," I said, through a sudden flood of tears.

I ashamedly admit I did lose my patience with her over the getting out of bed alone thing, but that was all due to the fact we did not want her to fall and break a bone.  I did not want her to go to a nursing home; we've been inseparable and with her sweet personality, there was no reason to be parted.  If she would have gone to a nursing home, I would have been sitting there every day, and this way, we were both in our element here on the farm. 

Do I regret scolding her for getting up alone at night?  Yes.  Yes, I do. Very much, but it was from a place of love and not anger.  I wanted her to be safe.

After I shut Mom's bedroom door, I did some work on the computer, tidied up a little and got ready for bed at eleven pm.  I checked on Mom with my phone and saw she was sitting up in bed.  

"Mom, what's wrong?" I asked.

"It feels like something is standing on my chest," she said, rocking back and forth in the bed.

"Is it your stomach?" 

"No, it's higher up, right here," she said as she pressed her chest.  

I called hospice and they told me to give her some morphine and anti-anxiety med and see how she responded.  


While waiting for the medication to take effect, I went and got the book we'd been reading about the little girl who had lost her mother and Mom was able to lie back for a bit as I read aloud to her.  I could tell she was still in pain, though, and called hospice again.  They told me to give her morphine every hour until she was at ease.

Mom wanted to sit up in a chair, so I helped her move.  She was now very unsteady as the drugs were taking effect.  Sadly, the pain was not under control, though.  I gently rubbed her back and covered her with blankets and her heating pad.  She was still so grateful, thanking me for everything.

We had a long, long night, and I made a few more calls to hospice who assured me our nurse, Cheryl, would be there in the morning.  After yet another dose of morphine, Mom wanted to lie down again, so I helped her go from the chair to her bed.  She was shocked by her inability to walk a few steps and I carried her the rest of the way.  As soon as I had her seated, she was exhausted and then sick to her stomach.  As I was cleaning up the bed, there was a knock on the door and Cheryl arrived.  It was 7 AM.

The rest of the day was a blur.  Ann came over at 9 AM and made dinner for Carl and I.  Since it was Friday, Carl was home at twelve thirty.  Carl was very worried, too.  I'd talked to him when he went to work at 5 AM and he was shocked to see how badly things were going then.  He was sorry to hear nothing was improving.

But still, we all clung to hope; this acute bout of pain was the same as the day we had signed on to hospice.  Out of nowhere and intense, but she had rallied the last time when no one had held out much hope.  Maybe she would this time, too.  

Cheryl and I administered every pain medication we could think of, she sent me to the store for Tums in case it was indigestion, we tried so many different things.  Even with morphine every hour, Mom was hurting.  We moved her to the living room and she sat on the couch with us, rocking to and fro.  She did not moan at all, she was very quiet; as always, she was trying not to be a bother or draw attention to herself.  

Finally, Mom seemed to be a little more at ease and we moved her carefully into her Lazy Boy.  I could tilt the head rest back a little so she could relax.  Cheryl took the opportunity to see her other patients, but said she would be back.  In the meantime, I was to continue with the morphine every hour as long as Mom was uncomfortable.

As soon as Cheryl left, Mom relaxed a little more than she had; though she seemed calm all the time, I knew her well enough to understand her wish to be alone.  We are very much alike.  She would try her best to make other people at ease even while suffering.  

I gave Mom her last dose of pain medication at 3 PM, and even though she was so heavily medicated, she did her best to take them.  I offered her a drink of water and she obediently sipped from her straw.  I oh so gently pushed back her hair from her forehead and crooned to her.

I called Cheryl at 3:30 PM and asked her if she could come back because it seemed Mom's tummy was distended.  She arrived and we carried Mom to the bedroom.  I assisted Cheryl with the catheter, but there was no output.  Mom was finally unconscious. 

We had taken the hospital bed down less than a week after Mom lived with us; now I asked Joel (who had arrived from work) to help Carl put it back up again.  Mom was very uncomfortable lying down and the hospital bed's head could be elevated.  The room was rearranged and between Joel, Cheryl and myself we transferred Mom from Joel's old bed to the hospital bed, raising her head.  I could hear the death rattle starting, but the nurse said I should get some rest as this could take some time.  I told Mom I loved her.

I asked Joel to take me for a ride; it was a gorgeous day and though I could barely see through my tear-swollen eyes, it was wonderful to be out in the fresh air.   Though I guess my leaving then seemed odd; many people have told me over the years that their loved ones needed permission to die; that sometimes they hold on for their loved ones.  I did not want Mom to die without me being there, but I did not want her to stay to please me.   

When we came back home, David was here, so Joel went home.  Mom's breathing was now coming in deep, long attempts at inhalation, followed by sudden cessations.  I could count up to forty-five seconds at a time between breaths, holding my own to match her.  Suddenly, she would exhale and my heart would start again.  

At seven pm, a certified nursing assistant arrived and shortly thereafter, our good friend Briana came with food for us.  Briana sat on the bed opposite of Mom with me and gave me strength.  When she left, the nurse encouraged me to eat something and to get some sleep.  I left Mom in her care and ate a little of the delicious food Briana had brought.   I had a headache the likes of which I've never had before, and every time my eyes welled up with tears, the pain was worse.  

Finally, at 8:15 PM I decided to go upstairs and try to take a nap.  I went and checked on Mom again, nothing was changed.  I left the room and had one foot on the stairs when I turned around and went back to her room.  Something in me sensed the end was near.

David went with me and we were both on our knees next to Mom's bed.  I took her poor, cold, work-worn hand in mine and wept anew when I saw her fingernails were turning blue.  She was so cold; but the nurses said it would make her passing more difficult to pile blankets on.  

Her breathing was worse now; the gaps in between were longer.  I told her how much I loved her, how we all loved her, and that it was okay, oh, Mom, it is okay, you can go.  I will be fine, you've been the best Mama anyone could ever ask for, please, please, rest.  I'm sorry for losing my patience, I have always, always loved you.....please forgive me.......and I love you....I love you................

And then her breathing stopped.  The pulse in her neck beat a few more times, and it was over at 8:30 PM.  

David and I clung to each other, sobbing.  Carl hugged us both.  

96 years of love.  Oh....I'm selfish......I wanted even more.

In the hours that followed, things were like a foggy dream.  Another nurse arrived to pronounce Mom's death, calls were made to coroner and the funeral home; while this went on, I knelt on the floor next to Mom's bed, holding her hand.  Dave stayed with me, hugging me tight.

I will write another post soon about the wonderfully caring friends and family who have supported us through this most difficult time, and yes, that extends to my blog family, too.   

I am ending this post with my mother's eulogy.  I wrote this eulogy over the course of two nights; burning a lot of midnight oil, because I cannot write much of anything if there is any noise in the room.  Writing in solitude from midnight to 3 AM both nights was what I needed.

I did not think I could read the eulogy at Mom's funeral because I was/am a wreck.  There was some discussion of having someone else read it, but that didn't pan out.   Ann was here both nights and she suggested I try to read it.  "It won't be the same coming from someone else."

In the end, I did deliver the speech and made it through with only a few pauses, though I almost broke down entirely when I arrived at the podium.  I bit my cheek hard, and plunged in.  

Here it is, a woefully incomplete tribute to the Mother I loved so very much...........   
 Mom's Eulogy
      
I had the privilege to be my mother's best friend for fifty-nine years.  Thinking back, I either saw or spoke to her almost every day of my life.   We were close. In what is probably a record of some sort between most mothers and daughters, I never had a fight with Mom.  We were partners in farming, in life, and at times, in crime. 

 
The last few months of her life were spent with Carl and I at our home.  My biggest worry was getting to her in time to assist her when she needed to get up in the middle of the night.  However, Mom's  biggest concern was not bothering me at all because she wanted me to sleep.  Enlisting the help of our sons, Joel and Dave, we had more alarms, cameras, doorbells and whistles on Mom's bedroom than Fort Knox, but she still outfoxed me quite a few times.  Luckily, she never fell.                                                       


She was the sweetest patient anyone could ask for, thanking me several times a day for taking care of her.  Even under the effects of morphine she'd joke when Carl would hold her hands as he walked with her, saying,"One, two, cha, cha, cha."  And she marveled at my modest attempts at cooking, declaring each dish a  culinary sensation.  "This is delicious!"  

But Mom had a long life before I came along.  She was the youngest of four children born three miles from here on County Highway C on the family farm.  Mom's mother, Jessie, was very ill as she had contracted tuberculosis while caring for her mother-in-law.   Mom never knew the exact timeline of her mother's illness; Jessie was thirty-three when Mom was born and, sadly,  only forty-one when she died. My mother had lost her own mother at the tender age of eight.  She had only a few memories of her mother holding her up so she could see the birds outside of the window and of having her hair combed. 


 Mom's siblings were Clarence, Earl, and Eileen. When their mother passed away, Mom was eight years old.  She didn't feel the loss of her mother as keenly as her brothers and sister did since she hadn't known her very well.  On the day Jessie died the children were summoned to the doorway of her bedroom to say goodbye.  Mom remembered her brother Earl started to cry and she looked up at him in surprise.  Not knowing why he was sad, she offered him her handkerchief. 


Her sister, Eileen, was thirteen years old and tried her best to keep the household running which included assigning Mom chores to do.  Mom, disliking having her older sister boss her around, would always hightail it out to the outhouse whenever there were dishes to dry.  Sadly, that tactic didn't work very well because the dishes were always there awaiting her return.  Mom  felt badly about giving Eileen a hard time in later years, "After all, she was just a kid, too."


When her father decided to sell the farm and move to Seymour after his wife passed away, Mom and Eileen were sent to live with neighbors.  Mom often spoke of all the different places she lived, washing dishes for a lady who made wedding cakes in her home (Oh!  The dishes!  Mountains of them!) Then she was sent to wash milk cans and scrub floors at another farm which also included babysitting for scores of unruly children. 


When they lived in the country, Mom walked three miles to school one way.  In the winter, farmers would take turns hitching up a horse-drawn sleigh and put warm bricks on the floorboards.  The kids would cover up in straw and ride to and from school, jumping off at their houses along the way.  


After the family moved to Seymour, the walk to school was about the same.  Since there were no school lunch programs back then and no mother at home to prepare anything, her father used to give her a nickel and tell her to buy something to eat.  A nickel, in those days, bought a lot of candy.  Mom said she was popular with all of her friends as she would spread the wealth around.
After graduating from the eighth grade, as was customary at the time, Mom decided against going to high school.  She stayed home for a year, but being bored, went back to school and graduated in 1940.


Sometime around 1939, a farmer named Joe Van Wyk met Mom at the gas station across the street from her home.  He took to driving her home from school in his Model T.  Dad was eight years older than Mom, twenty-five to her seventeen, which was quite a stretch, but they started dating casually.


After graduation in 1940, her home economics teacher asked Mom if she would be interested in taking a class she was teaching.  Mom fibbed and said she was hoping to get a job in Milwaukee instead.  The teacher said she just happened to know of a couple looking for a nanny for their five year old girl in Milwaukee.  Mom didn't really want to take the job, but felt she had no choice.


Milwaukee was a nightmare for her as she was very homesick.  The little girl she had to care for was spoiled, and would defy Mom at every turn.  She didn't want to eat the food that was  prepared for her, and she screamed whenever Mom tried to brush  her hair.  Finally, the child's mother stepped in and laid down the law and from that point on, the child behaved somewhat better.


In due time, Mom met a guy named Harold in Milwaukee and went to a movie with him.  Mom wasn't impressed with Harold, but being lonely, agreed to a second date.  Apparently, being a fast operator, Harold felt the second date was an appropriate time to push his luck.  Mom did not agree and the relationship ended.


However, word got back to Seymour from far away Milwaukee that Mom was dating someone.  Apparently, what Mom thought had been a casual relationship meant more to my father then she thought.  She was shocked when she was in bed one night and her employer came up to tell her Joe was there to see her.  Dad had milked cows earlier that night and jumped into  his Model T to drive to Milwaukee and propose marriage.  Mom accepted.  It was by now 2 AM and my father had a one hundred mile drive ahead of him.  After a grand total of two hundred miles and five flat tires, Dad arrived home just in time for morning milking.


Mom spent the rest of the summer in Milwaukee and arrived back home in Seymour in the fall.  On December 20, 1941, Mom and Dad were married at her sister Eileen's house.


Mom's new home was on my Dad's family farm in a four bedroom, two-story house.  Grandma Maggie and Grandpa Jake lived downstairs and Mom and Dad took residence upstairs.  Mom's first duty as a new bride was to put sheets on the bed. 


"It was late and I was tired and cold, and the last thing I wanted to do was make a bed."


The next morning Dad was jostling her, "I've already milked the cows and you're still sleeping.  Are you going to make some breakfast today?"


That was the last time she slept in for over forty years.


Sadly, Mom's first son, Joey, died at birth.  In 1945, her son, Robert was born, bringing her great joy.


For the next ten years, Mom lived above her in-laws with no running water and no indoor plumbing.  Every ounce of water she needed to cook and wash with had to be carried up two flights of stairs and back down again to be disposed of.  


 The only bathroom was the outhouse, so any time they needed to use the toilet, down the stairs they went and out the door in all kinds of weather.  Every time I go up to Mom's house, I think of her trudging up those worn wooden stairs day in and day out after a long day of farm work.  Could I have done it?  I think we know the answer.


But I will always remember Mom telling me about the day when everything had gone wrong and she flung herself down on their bed and gave in to her pent up emotions.  "I cried and cried and made such a fool of myself," she said.  "I don't know how long my jag lasted, but when I was done, I was ashamed.  Crying didn't do anything for me except give me sore eyes.  It didn't change a thing.  I had to get up and find something to do.  Work will never let you down; when you're miserable, find something to do."  Words to live by. 


The city girl became a farmer overnight.  Mom woke up every day of the week at 5AM.  She proceeded to the basement where she put on her barn shoes and filled two five gallon stainless steel milk pails with blistering hot water from our kerosene water heater.   Carrying the pails, she traipsed up the stairs and trudged out to the barn  to rinse the milking machines before the morning milking.


Then, if it was winter, my 5' tall mother climbed one of the 40' silos in the dark to pitch down frozen silage for the 30 cow herd.  She had a pickax up in the silo to chop into the frozen feed and a silage fork to throw it down the chute.  When she had enough feed for the day, she climbed down the chute again and proceeded to fill a wheelbarrow with silage and wheel the feed to the waiting cows.  The trip had to be repeated at least six times per side of the south and north side of the barn.  After the silage was fed, she went to the haymow and threw down hay for the day and also slid a 50 lb. bag of ground feed down the loft steps to the feed cart.  The cows were then given their grain for the day.


After the feeding was done, she scraped and spread lime on the alley and scraped down the cow's stalls.   Next, she brought in the milk cans to the feed room and set up the milk strainer.


We did have an automatic milking machine but my father did not trust a cow was completely 'milked out' by the automatic milkers so after the milker was taken off, both Mom and Dad got their milking stools and sat down to 'strip' each cow by hand.  They would invariably get another half-cup or so of milk from each cow after a few minutes of hand stripping. 


If you've never milked a cow by hand, I have news for you....it's hard work.  My hands would fall asleep after only a few minutes.  Mom stripped cows for over 40 years.  She would end up having surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in her 70's.  The doctor said it was the worst case he'd ever seen.  After the surgery, she did have instant relief from the nightly pain she experienced which was a wonderful thing.  I can recall her walking the floors at night because her arms ached so much.
 

The milk had to be carried by hand to the milk cans in the feed room.  We kept two five gallon milk pails in the alley for this purpose so the person carrying the milk would have a balanced load.  The milk was dumped into the strainer and when a milk can was full, it was rolled out the door and into the milk-house where we hoisted it into a water tank of cold water for cooling.  Then the next can would have the strainer placed on it and so on.

After all the cows were milked, it was time to feed the calves.  After that chore was done, my mother would go back to the house to get another two pails of hot water (we didn't have a hot water heater in the barn) and rinse the milking machines.  Then the milkers were put in a tank to soak.


Dad would back the old Chevy pickup up to the milk house to load the seven or eight cans of milk in the back and drive the three miles to the cheese factory.  


While we were gone, Mom headed to the house one more time (by now, around 7:30-8:00 AM) to make a large breakfast consisting of fried eggs, toast and bacon and cereal.  After we ate, she stacked the dishes and headed back to the basement for more water.  It was time to wash the milking machines which took at least another hour.  Sanitation was very important.  When she finished washing the milkers, she threw down straw from the straw mow to get ready for barn cleaning.  

However, on Sundays, she left Dad to his own devices with pitching cow manure by hand as she hurried to the house to wash up so she could get ready for late church at 10AM.  She would put on a dress and high heels and we'd climb into the old 1964 Buick Special and try not to be noticed when we walked in just a bit late.  She did her best.

When we came home from church, I headed out to help Dad clean the barn.   Mom would immediately set in to making a huge Sunday dinner, usually roast beef or chicken or scalloped potatoes and ham.  She would have it all on the table by noon (don't ask me how) and we would eat a meal fit for a king's table, complete with a homemade cake and cookies.  After dinner, she and I washed the breakfast and dinner dishes.  By the time the dish washing was done, it was around 2:30 PM.


Sunday was a set aside as a day of REST.  She had no rest coming from me, however, as Sunday afternoon was the one day she set aside to play with me.  I was thirteen years younger than my brother and was born when my mother was 38 years old and my father was 45.  My mother felt sorry for me as I had no siblings or other kids in the neighborhood to play with, so we had a standing date on Sunday afternoon from 3PM to 4:30PM to have fun.   We waded in the creek or sledded down the barnhill or played baseball or hide and seek.
 

'Baseball' consisted of me standing on the barn hill while Mom tossed me the ball and I hit it, or missed it, more likely.  When I missed, the ball rolled back down the hill to Mom who would pitch it back to me.  If I got a hit, I was so happy, and would drop the bat and run and get the ball to give it back to Mom.  Looking back on those years, I asked Mom if it annoyed her to give up her only free time in the week to play with me.  She said, "Oh, no.  I enjoyed every minute of it."
 

By 4:30PM, it was time for her to make supper again so we could eat by 5 and get out to the barn at least by 6PM.  The same routine she had followed in the morning with the hot water hauled out to the barn was repeated and all the same steps for the feeding and milking were once again carried out.  By 7 or 8PM we would be done with the night chores and after pushing the hay in to the cows, we could bid them a good night until 5AM the next morning.
 

When she came in at night from milking on Sunday night, we always had popcorn with butter, which was a tradition.   We did virtually no field work on Sundays, short of chopping feed for the cows which is a necessity.  

On the other six days of the week, Mom's 'down time' between morning milking and evening chores were filled with housework. 
On Mondays, she washed clothes with her Speed Queen wringer washer and hung the laundry to dry outside, yes, even in the winter.  I can still see all the frozen bib overalls propped up against the heat register.   She also did all the firing up of the huge octopus furnace we had in the basement. 


On Tuesdays, she baked bread.  On Wednesdays, she ironed.  On Thursdays, she baked desserts.  On Fridays, she bought groceries.  On Saturdays, she cleaned house, scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees.  

Of course, during the summer, she did all of the above AND had to help with the field work, baling hay, etc.The field work was where I excelled....sad to say, I was not much of a help to my mother in the house, I was a tomboy and my father's right-hand man. 

My mother often fell asleep stirring things on the stove.  She would lean up against the wall and I saw her slump more than once and catch herself before she fell.  She tended a large vegetable garden and canned vegetables, made jelly and jam, raised chickens for meat and cleaned her house without fail every Saturday.   


Even with all of the farm work, she managed to keep a beautiful flower bed that ran the length of the driveway and went all the way around the house.  I owe my love of gardening to her.

The farming went on until the barn was destroyed by a tornado in 1981 when Mom was in her early sixties.  Life was a little easier then, she didn't have to work as hard physically, but that didn't mean she put her feet up.  Sadness visited her life once more, when Bob was tragically killed in 1995 at the age of fifty, and again in 2001 with the passing of her husband, Joe, age 88.

She was a devoted grandmother to her grandchildren, first to my brother Bob's daughter, Brenda, and sons, Robert and Neil, and later on to my  sons, Joel and David.  Mom would get down on the floor and play with her grand and great grandchildren with joy. 

She also enjoyed playing Sheepshead and was a savvy player.  Just this past Christmas, Mom was the big winner, taking our pennies home with her. 


Above all, Mom loved creating art.  Though she could sew and dabbled with stained glass and woodworking, her latest and greatest passion in life was painting.  She loved to do paint by number kits, but she excelled at free hand painting.  Butterflies and flowers, fish and birds, bumblebees and puppy dogs came to life on rain barrels, picket fences, and mailboxes.  Concrete and wrought iron statuary were given a makeover with new coats of paint.  We were always on the lookout for something new for Mom to paint.  Thankfully, friends and family helped by finding things to keep Mom hard at work. 


When her health began to fail, she still took comfort in her art, devoting countless hours a day to painting.  Her passion for artwork extended until the very last day of her life. 


Mom was so pleased with the outpouring of love and concern from family, neighbors and friends who came to visit her.  Your kindness will never be forgotten.  In closing:



Lucille Vernice Van Wyk

                             August 21, 1920-April 7, 2017

There were 96 years  in between those two dates. 


What filled those ninety-six years? Love. Work.  Hardship. Heartbreak.  Joy.  Peace, and an unbreakable spirit and determination to humbly play the hand she was dealt in life as she did in Sheepshead.

 
Yes, Mom definitely lived a long life.  


They say only the good die young, but in her case, I have to disagree; the good die old, too.

Mom, I will always love you.














 

Monday, April 3, 2017

What's Next? Part 17 Spring Planning

April has arrived already.  Where has the time gone?  After supper I go out for a short walk at night while Carl sits with Mom.  The sunsets have been very pretty (when the sun shines, which isn't often.)


 I'm not a morning person, and I know I miss spectacular sunrises as a consequence, but being a creature of the night has its perks, too.

   My seeds arrived a month ago and I'm getting anxious to get things growing.  Around here, our last expected frost date is June 1, so I still have time to get my annual flower seeds planted.  Joel helped Carl get the greenhouse components out of Mom's old machine shed last Wednesday.  We were also treated to a visit from Joel and Audrey mid-week.  Mom just lights up when she sees Audrey.
Playing the organ with Great Grandma!






 Mom's been spending time coloring pictures since she's been living here, but I know she was missing her painting projects.  Her eyesight isn't clear enough to work on very detailed statuary, so I remembered the pine cones I'd saved last fall for a possible wreath project.  I retrieved her paints and prepared some pine cones for her by cutting the cones down to size with my Felco pruners.  Mom was thrilled to be able to paint again and I'm happy to see her hard at work.



 We're going to make a wreath and maybe glue some to styrofoam balls and make hanging decorations.

On Saturday, Carl and I assembled the greenhouse while Mom was working on painting pine cones in the house.  I can see her from the driveway, so it worked out fairly well.  In between times, I would go in and ask her if she needed anything.  She's able to walk behind her wheelchair for short trips which is a good thing, but I like to know when she's up and about to be on the safe side.  We're still looking at options to alert me to Mom's movements when I'm outside since she's loathe to notify me using the doorbell button. 
Some frisky (pesky!) raccoons somehow managed to destroy the plumbing fittings for the hot water trays, so Carl has to repair the lines.   I'm going to start filling flats with soil and will probably plant my seeds in the kitchen so Mom won't be alone.  She'd love to help plant, but her eyesight isn't quite good enough for the job.  Maybe she'll be able to plant the marigolds; they are quite large.
On Sunday, the three of us went to Fleet Farm for wire for an upcoming bizarre project which I'll write about if it comes to fruition, and chicken feed.  Mom seems to like riding around in the stores.  On our way home, we stopped at Stein's and bought seedling mix soil and some new flats.  

I was awed by a display of orchids; I've never tried growing them, but they are tempting.
  I managed to avoid purchasing the exotic orchids, but the lily just had to come home with us.
 There's no doubt about these bulbs growing, they're already out of the package.  There's always room for lilies around here.


But even if I don't get any flower seeds planted this year, at least I'll have Mom's work to display.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

What's Next? Part 16: Precious Commodities

 Mom has been living with us for over a month now.  Back on Valentine's Day, even the hospice nurses weren't certain she would survive, but she has defied the odds.  Her eyesight still isn't great, but she can see to color somewhat.  She's still having a hard time with the loss, though.  Her fine motor control is not where she wants it to be and she is sometimes frustrated.  She signs and dates her coloring projects, often putting an addendum on the bottom, "What a mess!"


The TV is on almost all day long which is a big change for me.  For Mom's sake, I'm becoming accustomed to it; however it does get on my nerves quite a bit. I am a fan of old Westerns on the retro channel, so it's not all bad. The biggest problem with the incessant TV is the repetitive commercials selling everything from replacement windows to handy-dandy kitchen gadgets.  (But WAIT!  If you call us right now, we'll DOUBLE your order!!  That's right!  We'll send you two pieces of junk for the price of ONE!  Call NOW!!

And when did Tom Selleck start promoting reverse mortgages?  (I still don't understand reverse mortgages, but I do like Tom Selleck, so the commercial is a little easier to take, but after seeing it a dozen times a day, ugh.)
Mom and I watch the old classic Westerns such as Bonanza, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, to name a few.  One thing I've noticed is how many of the episodes revolve around the stars being lost/abandoned/kidnapped in the desert with very little to no water.  A bad guy shoots a hole in the hero's canteen or poisons the spring and oh, how precious water becomes as the stars trudge through the sand in the hot, hot sun.  

Growing up on the farm and having had many episodes of the farm well pump going kaput, I have always had a great appreciation for water.  It is still kinda hard for me to dump a stale glass of water down the drain; I usually try to use it to water plants or something.  The old saying, 'You never miss the water until the well runs dry' isn't  true when it comes to me; I try to never take water for granted. 

However, a precious commodity I hadn't thought much about in years is sleep.  I am guilty of having taken it for granted.   Not since my children were babies have I had so little shut eye.   I'm a night owl by nature, but alas, even owls have to sleep sometime. 

Mom's nights are fragmented; especially the first few weeks.  She   managed to sleep for about two hours and then the rest of the night was a free-for-all.  Last week was especially bad; I was up every hour and a half, running down the stairs, trying to get to her before she fell on her way to the bathroom.  


No matter how many times I tell her to stay in bed until I come to help her, she tries to sneak off on her own.  I know she thinks she's being kind to me by not being a bother, but the end result is I'm trying to sleep with one ear open at all times which after a few nights doesn't work.  Hyper-vigilance doesn't promote REM sleep; let's face it, I'm not getting any younger.  

I still marvel at adult children who take care of their elderly parents when they themselves are only twenty or so years younger.  How do they do it?  Mom was thirty-eight when I was born, so I'm quite young in comparison to my friends whose parents were only in their twenties when they were born.  I cannot imagine being in my seventies and trying to care for my ninety-six year old mother.  It is hard enough at fifty-nine.

Me, Circa 1976, age 18--no wrinkles, no gray hair
If we could only get some sleep, our new life would be so much easier.  And if we are going to engage in all-night insomnia fests, if Mom would only tell me when she needs to get up I wouldn't have to be a night watchman.

Last Wednesday I must have fallen into a deeper sleep than usual and I missed Mom getting up.  The creaking floor alerted me through the baby monitor and I was flying down the stairs as fast as I could claw the CPAP off my head.  (We should have installed a fire pole so I could simply slide down into her bedroom.)

I was so, so tired; we'd been up at least ten times that night, and I hollered, "WHY, WHY won't you just TELL me when you need to get up??!  PLEASE!??  All you have to do is SAY something and I'll answer you on the monitor and come right downstairs.  You have to WAIT for me so you don't fall down! Can you PLEASE try to remember?  At this rate you'll be burying me!!"  I begged, angry and tearful.  And tired.  

And instantly ashamed.  I've never yelled at my mother in my life.  We didn't have the typical mother/daughter relationship when I was growing up.  Since Dad was very strict, I've never thrown a temper tantrum, never stormed out of the room crying, never shouted, "I hate you!" or any other nonsensical teenage rebellion crap.  Mom and I were partners in farming and trying to stay one step ahead of the frequent insanity that characterized life with Dad.  I have seen or talked to my mother almost every day of my life which definitely has to be some sort of record.

So, imagine my shame when I found myself unreasonably angry with Mom the other morning.  It was part sleep deprivation, part self-pity, part desperation.  The nurses have cautioned both of us on the misery a broken hip would be; she might not be a candidate for surgery, so she would have to suffer seated in a wheelchair.  Nobody wants this to happen, so I have to stay vigilant at all times.  

 Mom remembers for the most part to ask me for help during the day, but at night, all bets are off. During the first few weeks of living here, at night when I tucked her in, I would say, "Ok, now.....when you need to get up to use the bathroom, what do you do?"

"I don't know," she'd say, gazing up at me.

"See this button?  All you have to do is push it," I'd say.

"Ok, now I'll remember.  I promise to be good."

"You're always good," I said, "But don't forget to push the button."

"I'll push the button," she always replied.

 The 'button' was the first way I had for her to summon me when this all started.  Dave had purchased a wireless doorbell with a receiver I can carry in my pocket while Mom has the coordinating button to push.  We'd taped the button to her bed rail and she was supposed to push it when she needed help.  Of course, she never did because she could never remember where it was or how to push the button.  We had a few close calls when she managed to climb over the rails on the hospital bed, but ironically bumped the button by mistake.

Another device I had Dave pick up for me was a bed alarm, a simple magnet on a string with a clip to attach to the patient's nightclothes.  When the patient sits up in bed or tries to exit the string would disconnect the two magnets and an extremely loud smoke alarm-ish noise will sound until someone turns off the switch.  Amazingly, the first night we used the alarm, Mom unhooked the string from her pajamas.  She was very sick at that time I was flabbergasted; how did she figure out how to unhook it?  She was so out of it when we clipped it on, I didn't think she was even aware of the alarm.  I was wrong.  

Back to the drawing board.

Enter the next phase of our Keep Mom Safe campaign, the baby monitor.  Now all Mom has to do is say something, anything, to wake me up.  Sorry to say, more than three weeks in, she has yet to say a word in the night to summon me.  Luckily, the monitor is very sensitive and picks up even the slightest rustle of the bedclothes. I have the receiver for the monitor right above my head and do my best to hear her moving around, but at some point I admit I'm not sleeping lightly enough to always hear everything.  

Or, on the other hand, I think I hear something and my heart is in my throat until I open her door and see she is asleep.  I soon grew tired of going up and down the stairs over and over again, and would turn on my cellphone and check the camera.  The only problem with using my cellphone is I had to grab my phone in the dark, turn it on, select the camera app and wait for the program to load.  Well, by that time, if Mom was up, she could have fallen.  

On Thursday night, I left my phone up and running and fell asleep with it on in bed beside me so all I had to do was grab it and check on her.  But silly me didn't have Wifi turned on and the phone was racking up minutes the entire time.  Oh, great.

One of the nurses suggested I sleep in the same bed as Mom.  True, it would probably be the safest option, but I don't think either one of us would rest very well.  I love the windows open and fresh air, and Mom needs it as warm as possible.  With my hot flashes, I'd never survive, plus my CPAP would definitely keep her awake (plus scare her to death when she'd see me in that torture mask.)

So the next incarnation of safety equipment was a motion detector.  I was at my IV appointment for Lyme disease last week Wednesday and while Joel was waiting for me, he ordered the unit which arrived on Friday.  The sensor is a bit touchy and was going off continually with false alarms which meant I was on my phone almost all night trying to figure out what was going on.  However, the motion sensor did alert me to Mom sitting up several times, so it was worth it. 

I complained to Dave about having to use my phone all the time, so last Sunday he decided to hook an old computer monitor into the security camera which enables me to have a live feed of Mom's bedroom right next to my bed.  The first night I left the display on, but it was hard to sleep with the light on.  I soon found the monitor will immediately display her room the second I hit the button, so now I can sleep a lot more soundly.  We're still having some false alarms on the motion detector, but all I need to do is glance at the monitor to know if it's time to run down the stairs or not.

I'm still using the string/magnet alarm, too. I have the alarm taped to her bed post and the string attached to her dresser; if she gets up and avoids tripping the motion detector, the noise will wake me up. 
One morning I saw her sitting up in bed and the string actually deterred her from trying to get up before I got there.  Phew.

 
After discussing Mom's sleeplessness with the hospice nurses, Mom was prescribed some meds at night and thank goodness, that has helped immensely.  Since Monday night, she's only gotten up about two to three times a night.  Carl takes her to the restroom in the morning at five a.m. for me if I haven't been downstairs recently.


Being able to sleep for three hours straight is heavenly and makes me a better caregiver.



 I'll never take sleep for granted again.  

 



 





  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What's Next? Part 15 Captive Audience

Monday morning Mom was seated in the kitchen after breakfast, sad because she couldn't color.  I turned the TV on, but since she's not able to see, she is not able to keep up with the story line.  

"I can't see, did I tell you that?" Mom asked me again.  

"I know, and I'm so sorry, Mom," I replied.  

"Do you think my eyesight will come back?"  

"I hope so."

Wracking my brain for something Mom could do despite her vision I had an idea:

 I don't know if anyone remembers the little 'Magnus Chord Organs' that were sold in the 1960's? (Here's a link to someone playing one: Magnus Chord Organ) My mother had bought me one when I was a child and we both played it every day.


Back in 1983, I wanted to surprise my mother with something special.  I purchased a very large, real wood organ with a wooden music bench from an acquaintance at work.  The organ had belonged to my co-worker's deceased grandfather and was his prized possession.  He had been sad to think no one in the family wanted the instrument and had mourned the fact repeatedly before he died.   In due time, the old gentleman passed away.  His granddaughter was thrilled when I said I'd like to buy it and for $150 it was all mine. I wasn't sure if I'd made a good deal or not; it is a tube type, not electronic, and I had my doubts about how (or if) any of the tubes could be replaced in case of burnout.  Nonetheless, I took a chance. 

We had to take the trailer into town to pick my purchase up about two weeks before Christmas.  Between the two of us, we wrestled it into the house carefully, and then wondered where in the world we could hide it.   Mom used to come visit us now and then and I wanted it to be a surprise; the only place she wouldn't go was our bedroom, right up against the foot of our waterbed, but we kept our bedroom door locked just in case.  I well remember the hassle of trying to climb around the organ to get to our closet and dress for work.  

We were both glad when Christmas Day arrived.  While Mom was at church, Carl and I loaded up the organ and drove up to Mom's.  Dad was home at the time and for once, didn't grumble about the fuss we were creating as we struggled to carry it up the steps and into their living room.  I covered the organ with a pretty sheet and put a huge red bow on the very top.   

When Mom came home from church, Carl and I were sitting in the living room, grinning like Cheshire cats.  Dad was seated in his Lazy Boy, reading the paper.   Mom knew something was up. When she removed the bow and the sheet, she stood speechless, staring.  I wasn't sure if she was happy or not at first; she was almost afraid to touch the keys.  

"You bought this for me?" she whispered incredulously.  "This is far too expensive.  I can't read music, you know that," Mom said as she continued to stare in awe.  I saw the start of tears in her eyes and found myself fighting back my own. 

"Well, are you going to stand there looking at it all day or are you going to try it out?" my father gruffly asked.  I think he was close to shedding a few tears, too.  

Carl helped her move the piano bench out and showed her how to turn on the switch.  In no time she was shyly playing, wincing whenever she made a mistake, apologizing profusely.  Carl and I left her alone in her living room and set about getting dinner ready.  Mom played for a little while but then hurriedly came in the kitchen when Dad grumbled, "Are we going to eat today?"

She played the organ many times a day for the next thirty years.  It was the best $150 I ever spent.  And the tubes never burned out, either.

When we moved Mom here last month, I was worried about her not having her organ, but there is no room in our house.  (Too much stained glass, alas.)  But I had purchased an electronic keyboard over a decade ago that had been stashed in our bedroom closet for quite some time. 

When I first put the portable keyboard on her lap last week, she began to cry.  "I never thought I could do this again," she said through her tears.  Tears come much more easily nowadays; Mom was always the stoic type, indeed I'd only seen her cry twice; once when I had the unfortunate task of telling her my brother had been killed and the second time when my dad put her beloved German Shepherd, Sparky, down.  She mourned both of those losses for months, but only allowed herself the luxury of tears once each.  

Over the years, Mom had told me crying served no good purpose.  She'd been an unhappy young bride on the farm, living upstairs in her in-law's house with no running water and no indoor plumbing.  Every ounce of water she needed to cook and wash with had to be carried up two flights of stairs and back down again to be disposed of.  

Her mother-in-law, Maggie, wasn't unkind to Mom, but she was also not inclined to be helpful either, and when my brother Bob was born, he was too noisy for the old people downstairs.  They would complain his crying kept them awake at night.  Mom took him to the barn with her in the mornings and the evenings just as she did with me thirteen years later.   As Bobby grew older, he liked to go down the steps and see Grandma and Grandpa.  Unfortunately, they soon grew tired of the rambunctious youngster and summoned my mother.  When Mom came down to get her son, her mother-in-law said, "Your place is upstairs.  I suggest you go there and keep him with you."

The only bathroom was the outhouse, so any time they needed to use the toilet, down the stairs they went and out the door in all kinds of weather.  Every time I go up to Mom's house, I think of her trudging up those worn wooden stairs day in and day out after a long day of farm work.  To think she lived above her not-too-friendly in-laws for over a decade boggles my mind.  Could I have endured it?  I think we all know the answer.  

But I remember well Mom telling me about the day when everything had gone wrong and she flung herself down on their bed and gave in to her pent up emotions.  "I cried and cried, I made a real fool of myself," she said.  "I don't know how long it lasted, but when I was done, I was ashamed of myself.  Crying didn't do anything for me except give me sore eyes.  It didn't change a thing.  I had to get up and find something to do.  Work will never let you down; when you're miserable, find something to do."  For the rest of her life, Mom vowed never to cry over spilt milk or much of anything else, either. 

But when I put the keyboard in her lap, she teared up immediately.  I wondered if I'd done the right thing; I didn't want to make her feel worse.  

"Would you please give me a tissue?" she asked, wiping her eyes.  She tentatively touched the white keys and was startled when the organ responded.  "What if I break it?" she asked.  

"You can't break it," I said, "And if for some silly reason it quits working, I can buy another one."

"Oh no!  I'll be careful!" Mom said and soon the strains of 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful' came pouring out.  

She was so happy to be playing her beloved hymns.   At least she's still able to play the organ by ear, one perk of never learning to read sheet music. 
The vision loss is the hardest thing for her to bear, and for me, too.  Mom held her finger up to me right before breakfast which is her way of summoning me for urgent help, "I need to tell you something...... I can't see," her voice trembling.

"I know you can't see," I said. 

"I think I should go to the doctor," Mom said.

"We did go to a doctor last week Thursday.  In fact, we saw two doctors," I said.  "The doctor gave you a shot in both of your eyes and we have to wait for your eye to get better,"  I sighed.

"I did?  I don't remember that.  I wonder what is wrong with my eyes, do you know?" Mom fussed.

"You had a blood vessel rupture in your right eye," I said, for the tenth time in an hour.  (I'm not trying to be sarcastic but simply stating how much this problem is on both of our minds and how hard it is to tell her repeatedly there's not much we can do about her vision but wait and, ironically, see.)

"Do I have cancer?" she asked me next.  

"No, you don't have cancer," I tell her.  She asked the new nurse who came on Monday the same question.  The nurse kindly went through her health history and diagnoses with her and reassured her she doesn't have cancer.  

"So the reason I can't see isn't because I have cancer?" Mom asked.

"No."

"Then why can't I see?" Mom asked.

The nurse went over the same information again, and Mom stared off into the distance.  The nurse said, "You are very quiet, Lucille.  Is there anything you want to ask me?"

"Yes, why can't I see?"

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As I write this post, Mom is sitting ten feet away from me in the sunshine with my keyboard on her lap.  The range of music she knows is stunning, even if she'd snort in derision if I told her so.  I don't think she even realizes I'm sitting here, and that's ok.  She's still very camera-shy; I don't think that will ever change.

She had a good night last night and ate a hearty supper of beef stew, rye bread and chocolate chip cookie.  We're trying to settle into a routine.  Carl takes her to the bathroom at 5 AM (if I haven't been up slightly earlier with her) and she's usually up for the day around 8, at least this week.  We head for the bathroom and get dressed and then off to the breakfast table.  We eat and then I read aloud to her while we wait for 'The Price Is Right'.  While she watches her program, I go into the living room and do my walking video for an hour.  Then we reconvene and have our dinner.  

This afternoon she had no wish to try coloring any more and started to mourn her loss of vision again.  She said TV holds no interest since she can't see the screen very well, and I could tell she was miserable, so I wheeled her to the living room and put her in her Lazy Boy.  She asked to be turned to face the window and look out the window at the birds, but her voice trailed off when she remembered she cannot see the birds...



I grabbed the book we've been enjoying together and sat next to her, reading aloud.  This brings back memories to me, too, some fairly guilty ones, really.......when I was a small child, books were my saving grace.  I learned to read at a very young age and once I realized books could take me from a place of misery, I was addicted.  I could be anywhere in the world and still be in the present when I was needed.  


When I was very young, around six or so, my brother was still living at home; he left home at nineteen when he joined the army during the Viet Nam war.   He hated my reading habit, too.  Especially when Dad was at the tavern and it was just the three of us in the barn at night.  Spoiled little me would ensconce myself on my little milk stool and sit in the alley right next to Mom who would be stripping out a cow after the milker was taken off.  While she pulled patiently on the cow's teats, I would be reading to her from some old school books my father's old maid schoolteacher sister had left behind.  The books were tattered and in terrible shape from being in the barn, but that didn't matter.  They had old stories in them about Icarus (in my naivete', I pronounced it 'I-car-us') flying too close to the sun and his father scolding him.  Then there was one about Rip Van Winkle falling asleep in the woods and waking up years later.......and all of these old stories I would try to read aloud to Mom while she worked.  

My brother would always yell at me, "Go somewhere else!  We're trying to get some work done here!"  I knew Bob was jealous because he wanted to talk to Mom and I was taking up all of her time.  I would stick my tongue out at my teenage brother and then he'd push me off my stool. 

I'd cry and whine and Mom would be ready to pull her hair out.  "Karen, why don't you go read to the cows?" she'd ask.  I'd wipe my eyes, take my stool and my book and try to read to the cows up in front, but the light was too poor.  

Dad also greatly disliked my habit, "She's always got her nose buried in a book," he'd grouse.  Though I didn't like to displease him, I never did give up reading, I'd take a clean bread bag and put a big, thick, library book in it and take it with me on the tractor.  I'd read the book while I was waiting for Dad to get a load of oats when my only job was to drive down to where he was parked and bring the empty wagon.  The old combine was always cantankerous and sometimes an hour would elapse before he'd need me.  The book would keep me company while I sat and swatted horse flies in the hot sun.  

I looked forward to every Friday in the summertime; Mom would go to the grocery store and drop me off at the public library and I'd come out with five, six, sometimes seven books in my arms.  Though I didn't own the books, I felt so rich having them in my lap on the way home.  I'd pick each one up to admire; they were very precious to me.

So now, over fifty years later, we've come full circle again; Mom is a captive audience to my reading aloud.   

 My fervent hope is she's enjoying it this time around.  

I know I am.