Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Changing Seasons
My husband Dave’s birthday is on or just after the first day of Fall.  Perhaps that is why his mother began baking him plum sauce cake for a birthday cake.  Certainly the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves fill the house with an aroma that speaks Autumn’s name.
Originally Dave, who has been living and working in Arizona since June of 2012, had planned to drive to his brother’s in Temecula, CA on his birthday to see his parents while they were visiting there.  I had planned to mail the cake there.  Then Dave’s mother died on August 17th.  She’d been unwell for some time, but seemed to be coming back in inches.  Dave had gone to see her and his dad just the week before.  I am grateful that this first injury occurred while he happened to be at home surrounded by our household.
I remember when I first met Dave’s parents.  I told them that I was happy to meet the people who’d raised such a nice son and on top of that raised seven of them!  My four paled by comparison.  I went on to discover that all of the boys were not just nice, but extraordinary in their humor, sense, and hearts. I still believe that they are marvelous people because they were raised by marvelous people.  They’ve only to look at each other and see what gifts their parents gave to them—each other.  As an only child, I believe I know what that means.
Dave, the second of the seven, had joked that had he been a girl there would have only been two Haeck offspring.  Dottie laughed and said, “Noooo, that’s not true.  I just love children.”  That is the truth.  She loved children so much that besides raising her own seven she did daycare for neighborhood children.  Some of them attended her memorial and spoke with such love of this little woman.
Early in our marriage Dottie gave me the recipe for plum sauce cake neatly printed on old fashioned recipe cards—we didn’t have a computer then.  Today as I looked at those cards and measured and mixed Dave’s cake I felt her presence and although I know that this cake will be little compensation for losing a mother, much less losing both parents—for today, one month after Dottie’s passing, Dave’s dad joined her, her name on his lips. 
I am grieved that Dave is 1,500 miles from those who love him this night when he is feeling so, so, alone.  I cannot hug or comfort him—only bake a cake that I’ll put in the mail tomorrow for his birthday on Sunday.  I know from experience the cake won’t make Dave’s heart heal for nothing ever truly heals these losses. As the seasons of the Earth are changing so is the season of Dave's life and I hope that in the cake he’ll taste the memories of other birthdays when everyone he loved was still alive.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Taking Care of Business Every Day
If you are a Baby Boomer and are lucky enough to still have living parents, chances are their health and welfare is becoming more and more your responsibility. I am a 62-year-old only child of a mother who will be 91 a less than a week and I live 150 miles from her.  Hopefully within the next year my husband, daughter and I will be moving nearer, but in the meantime we are dealing with the issues that come up with having a parent age.  From this distance it’s a little like juggling cats against the backdrop of working as Special Education Para educator, having an adult child with Special , and having a husband living and working 1,500 miles away for the last year and a half.  I have what is known as a "commuter marriage."  Every day requires the planning of a general.  Fortunately I have some officers in the form of a son and daughter-in-law who live with us and another son and daughter-in-law twenty minutes away.  Many family caregivers are not so fortunate.
So far my mother has remained relatively independent, living alone in her own subsidized apartment with a minimum of help.  She does not desire to go into an assisted living arrangement and we are doing whatever we can to keep her where she is for as long as possible.  “Other people die in this building.  Why can’t I,” she has asked.  Keeping track of her deductible expenses to keep her qualified for her low rent has fallen to me as well as bill paying, although we've managed to make most of that automatic.
In 1985 my mother had a serious bout of cellulitis fueled by MRSA.  To this day we don’t know how she contracted it, but it rears its ugly head from time to time and I have to be prepared to get her seen by a doctor when it happens and monitor her recovery.  If the doctor doesn’t order home health and a visiting nurse, I ask.  My mother is not a good reporter and will sugar coat things on the phone so I want trained eyes to see her blisters and whether or not they are getting better.  That’s the fun we’ve been having right now—organizing a visiting nurse.
The health is a big issue and in addition to home health I pay for a medic alert device and it’s been worth every penny.  After doing some research on the Internet I chose Get Help Now because they didn’t require a long term contract.  With an elderly person you could sign up for three years and be stuck with a couple of years contract when they pass.  We are on a six month contract which seems far more reasonable.
When my mother began to take multiple medications at first I counted pills.  This was nerve wracking especially when she attempted to do it and I found mistakes that either of us had made.  Then I discovered that for very little extra the pharmacy will blister pack her medications.  She gets two cards each month, one for the morning and one for the evening.  That was a good sized stone lifted off of me!
Some things as small and yet as huge as garbage can be daunting.  My mother, with some effort, can get her garbage out of the kitchen can and on a good day onto her walker to take down in the apartment building elevator, but lifting the lid of the big green dumpster is a no-go.  It’s not all that easy for me!  She asked a neighbor if we could pay her to take out the garbage and so for a pittance she puts the bag in the hall and it disappears.  The neighbor needs the money and my mother definitely needs the help.  Without this arrangement Mother could not remain in her own place.
Laundry is another problem.  My mother has toppled over in the laundry room.  Through a local agency that assists the old and infirm we hire someone to spend 1.5 hrs. per week at my mom’s, mostly doing laundry.  If need by we’ve stretched her fixed income to cover 2 hrs. but it is a stretch.  This week the chore person is taking my mother to the doctor so the laundry will be waiting for me when I make my bi-weekly run to the coast to shop and do whatever else she needs.  I don’t mind.  I’m glad that my mother doesn’t have to take dial-a-ride to the doctor because sometimes she has to wait as long as an hour to get a ride home which is tiring.
With both my mother and my daughter letting them make decisions is crucial so that they maintain a sense of autonomy.  In other words I pick my battles to build political capital for times when I have to insist. “Are you going to have a shower this morning or wait until tonight?” vs. “No, is not an option.”  In my job I have seen what not letting an individual feel that they have any control over their life can do.  You end up with behaviors you don’t want and contention that makes life unpleasant for everyone concerned.  It’s all part of my juggling act.  I will be so grateful when my husband’s time away from home is done and I have him as a helpmate.  Both my mother and daughter react differently to him which makes me laugh, but whatever gets the job done.
Recently my husband’s parents became in need of 24 hour care.  Instead of seeing his parents go into an institution or adult family home, which they most definitely did not want, one of my brothers-in-law and his wife stepped up to the plate and left their lives on hold to care for my in-laws.  Their care has been nothing short of extraordinary.  They kept them first in the parents’ own apartment and then took them into their own home where they could be assisted by their own adult son.  With a dying mother and a father suffering from short term memory loss they have had their hands full, but they have cared for them with patience and love they would not receive from strangers in an institution.  I stand in awe of them and wonder if I could do the same.
Many nights I lose sleep wondering about those I love.  Tonight I will sleep well as my mother has organized her own ride to the doctor tomorrow to get wound care.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of My Life
Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life--trite, but true.  Tomorrow is the first day of my last school year working as a Special Education para educator.  I have mixed emotions as I like my job.  Actually, I have the best job in school district because I work with the best student in the best high school.  I have amiable workmates who are the cherries on my work sundae.  So why not keep working?  The reasons are multiple.
Unfortunately, retiring and collecting both my Social Security and my retirement will actually give me a raise.  I have always joked and said that if I kept working much longer the district would expect me to pay them.  I wasn’t far off the mark.  I will be 63 in February so am already eligible to collect SS.  When I first began working with my student when he was a freshman I told him that I wouldn’t retire on him, that we’d graduate together.  He has come to be very dear to me and makes each day a joy.  He says that between the two of us we make one good brain.  That makes me laugh.  I am his hands; he is the brains in our outfit and very forbearing to tolerate spending the better part of 6.5 hours of his days with an old lady.  In some other life he could have been my grandson.  Tomorrow he begins his senior year which means nine more months to help him prepare to make his way in the world.  He will always need and have help, but it’s time for him to spread his wings and find his path, even if it is in a wheelchair.
For over a year I have been living in a commuter marriage.  In June 2012 my husband Dave and I determined that it was necessary for him to return to work for Lockheed Martin to help pay some debts.  He had retired when Lockheed closed their Seattle Flight Service, but had offered him jobs in other facilities over the years.  Finally it seemed an offer that couldn’t be refused, especially when we discovered that he could rent a room from an old friend from his FAA Bakersfield days who happened to be working at the Prescott, AZ facility that offered Dave the job.  The year plus of having a commuter marriage, which I discovered is not all that uncommon (not a good commentary on American life), has been a year of learning for both of us.  Dave admits that in the beginning there was a certain amount of excitement with regards to living somewhere new for a while.  That wore off somewhat rapidly when he realized that life was going on at home without him where grandchildren were growing and changing and I was learning to do without him.  That has not always been easy.  He is home for a few days to attend his mother’s funeral and admitted that he doesn’t want me to get along too well without him.  Anxious to feel needed he had not even unpacked before he started doing chores around the house as if he’d never left.  We get by without him, but I am the first to admit that life is much smoother with him.  Originally Dave’s move to Prescott had an end date of his 62nd birthday (SS) this month, but a little raise has enticed him to stay into October to sell back his annual leave at the higher rate and get two more pay checks so it’s home before Halloween now with the plan for him to do some projects on our Gig Harbor house with an eye for selling it. Then we can move to our other house in Ilwaco, WA which will presumably be cheaper to live in.
The move to Ilwaco will also put me within six blocks of my nearly 92 year old mother who so far is remaining in her own apartment.  Every time I have to come away from Ilwaco I worry about her despite the fact that we pay for a chore person once a week, one of the neighbors to take out the garbage and for a medic alert system.  This week we are burying Dave’s mother whose birthday would have been Friday, just 11 days before my mother’s.  I don’t think I will ever regret spending more time with mine.
The last, but most important, reason for me to want to quit my job is my own Special Needs daughter.  Amy is 42.5 years old and has Down’s Syndrome.  The average life expectancy for people with an extra 21st chromosome is 50.  I feel the clock ticking.  She can be frustrating and stubborn and loves me more than anyone ever will.  She is a gift with whom I want to spend as much time as possible.  There have been times during Dave’s absence that she’s been alone for 7 hours a day at home, although for the most part my daughter-in-law has been at home with her.  While she’s happiest with her own company and knows she can reach me at any time by calling my cell phone and I am only ten minutes away, those have been anxiety ridden hours.  Dave is not Amy’s biological father, but she has him wrapped around her tiny pinkie and one of the things that made me fall in love with Dave was a remark he made when we were first “keeping company.”  He said, “It’s nice.  You’ll always have Amy.”  Who could not love a man that thinks it’s not only okay to have my child always with me, but desirable and then was willing to take on a ready-made family that included her three brothers and grandmother.  Perhaps I’m lucky that he didn’t run away and join the circus before 21 years had passed!
So tomorrow begins the first day of the rest of my life and my last first day of school.  How exciting is that?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Power of the Past
I will be wearing her cameo and remembering her smile
My husband would tell you that I am entirely too attached to “things.”  Dave is not particularly sentimental.  I think I balance his deficit.  I like old things which becomes more important daily as we become old ourselves.  I love our 132 year old house.  I like that it had a history when we bought it more than 20 years ago and I like that we’ve added to that history by marking on the kitchen door jamb the height of the children and grandchildren as they have grown.  I love old kitchen utensils.  When I use them I think about the women who may have owned them before and the families they fed.  I can see them in kitchens of the ‘40s, ‘30s and ‘20s and envision laughing, hungry families.
I attach even more importance to the things I have that have belonged to people I love.  I have many things that belonged to my father—his WWII medals, his pipe, a bracelet he crafted while in the Navy with his name and ID number.  The things that hold the most significance for me are the pieces of jewelry that have belonged to the significant women in my life.  From them I draw strength because they were, for the most part, strong women.  From my paternal grandmother I have a few pieces of costume jewelry. From my step-mother I have the engagement ring my father gave her in 1972.  From my mother-in-law I have a painted cameo she gave me several years ago.  It had been hers.  I wore it the last time I saw her as her health was failing and I saw her eyes rest on it and she smiled.  She knew I wore it for her.

Sometimes when I have an important appointment that I don’t want to keep, that scares me, I will put on several pieces of my heirloom jewelry and carry these women with me as I do battle with the world.  These things become talismans.  On September 6th and 7th our family will be memorializing my mother-in-law, Dottie Haeck.  This sweet tiny lady raised seven boys and kept her sanity.  They are each of them delightful and successful human beings!  What a wonderful legacy she leaves behind.  I will be wearing her cameo and remembering her smile during the coming weekend as we celebrate her life and bid her farewell.