Back to Joy

When I started the journey of going to Florida from Georgia every two weeks, it was January, 2012. Hospice had taken Mom as a patient and I thought I would be making the trip for two or three months at the most. I was preparing myself for her death and my loss.

Six months passed and she was still with us, but continuing to decline. I grieved each time I left my husband, contemplated lost time to play with my grandchildren and being with other family and friends. I grieved for Mom’s loss of function and pending death when I left her. I was grateful for the time I had with Mom, my sister and cousins, but the two weeks in Florida were becoming long, lonely and difficult. I had one foot in one bucket and one in another and they seemed to be moving apart. I was losing my balance.

By September, I was a mess. It took me three days when I arrived home to recover from the trip. Three days before I had to go back, I was depressed and miserable. I realized that the support of my husband, children and grandchildren, sister, cousins and friends was not enough. So, I made an appointment with Dr. B.

I met Dr. B. about 16 years ago when I was going through the transition of moving from being a mother with dependent children and managing my husband’s office to “What am I going to do for the rest of my life?” Her insight was helpful, then, as I moved out of the medical field to a job at a nature science center and into a different role with my adult children. Though I had not seen her since that time, we connected as we had done all those years ago. She has taken the pressure off of my husband who I know has grown tired of all my moaning and groaning, though he is a very good listener. I can cry and vent all I want to without feeling guilty. She has helped me come out of the dark and move into the light once again.

Thirteen months later and Mom is still with us. I am grateful. She delights in her great-grandchildren, staying awake to not miss a moment with them.  She loves when friends and family come to visit and when my sister or I take her for a daily ride. She eats very little, can’t talk, can’t hear, can’t walk, but she has a lively spark in her eyes. So, I continue to make the trip to Florida to be with her for two weeks each month.  At least, I will until June.

Another woman has brought joy to the journey, Rosie. I wrote about her in a previous blog. She lovingly cared for my aunt and uncle until they died. She wraps us all within a cloak of love that comes only from the Divine. She is clear about her mission in life and that is to care for older people who need her. She is a professional with a heart. It took me months to call her because I couldn’t let go of Mom’s care. An honest friend told me that I am not honoring Mom if I continue to wear myself out and become resentful. That pushed me down the road to call Rosie. And Rosie let me know that it was time to dry the tears and that she would work out a way to be there for Mom one week a month. “God will work out all the details.“ I believe her. Mom always brightens when she sees Rosie. Finding the right person to stand shoulder to shoulder with you on the caregiving journey blesses everyone.

Beginning in June, I will joyfully go one week each month to be with Mom. My sister will continue to stay with her for two weeks at a time. She will be loved always by everyone who cares for her. My balance has been restored. The road we are on in this life is rarely straight. It is full of unexpected crooks and turns cluttered with stuff. I like it like that. Keeps it interesting. Through all of this I have learned once again that love is what counts, joy gives us a bounce in our step, and kindness that we give will be returned to us. Thanks to all who have showered us with kindness.  It is my plan to move forward, love more, fear less and squeeze every drop of joy from this crooked road called life.

Words

I decided it was time to return to blogging after being away for 8 months. I found this entry written in June, 2012, but never published.

I am in the space between.  I am not taking care of Mom and I am not at home where chores wait. I am allowing my thoughts to roll in and out like the ocean waves I am watching.  Nothing is sticking for long, which is a good thing–cleansing, even. 

2012 July Chumuckla 045

I finished reading Then, Again by Diane Keaton yesterday.  Her mother wrote in 85 journals over her lifetime.  Diane wrote the book as a legacy honoring her relationship with her mother who died from Alzheimer’s Disease.  She uses entries from her mother’s journal, her journal, letters, and recorded phone messages.  I recommend it. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth wrote.  Whether we agree with someone or not, listening to or reading another’s words can bring understanding and respect in spite of our differences.

Words anchor our relationships.  When they slip away from someone we love, it is inevitable that we feel unhinged.  It has been over 6 years since Mom experienced several strokes and loss of words. I miss her spoken and written words. I miss her fussing at us about leaving the door open between the kitchen and backroom and not wiping our feet, tracking in sand.  I miss her praying the blessing at dinner time and playing “pretend” with the grandkids. I miss seeing her singing in the choir at church. I miss her cards and letters. Each one found from the past is cherished. I hear her voice in my heart.

Words that we hear or read can be doorways to adventures, love, friendships, acts of kindness, finding ways to make this world a better place to live, experiencing the Divine, and anything you might imagine. Books have been an important part of my caregiving journey. Some are for escape from the sameness of each day. Some are for knowledge to make the journey with fewer bumps in the road.

Golden Friendships

Friends stopping by to visit this past week enriched my life.  Helen came on Monday.  We laughed together.  Laughter is definitely good medicine.  My spirits are lifted by her presence in my life.  I took her on a tour of the Napkinection workshop in my basement.  It is a great space that meets my needs.  I can close the door, keep the grandchildren out of the beads and the rest of the world  out of my space when I want to retreat.

Helen and I put together this turquoise Napkinection.  It has two silver metal spacer beads between each turquoise bead.  Mom is happy to be our model.

Dave’s dad, Minter Westfall, was an entomologist, specializing in dragonflies and damselflies.  Carol, his daughter made these dragonfly napkins for us years ago.  We continue to enjoy using them.  The colors complement this Napkinection.   On Thursday, Ivy came for lunch.   She suggested that all of us wear Napkinections to show support for Mom.  I like that idea.  Next time she comes, I’ll have one for each of us.  Ivy inspires me.  She is an artist, poet, photographer, and writer.  Her book of poetry  and photographs will soon be published.  It is touching and beautifully done–The Fleeting Moment.  I can’t wait to have my copy in hand.

Isolation is a problem that caregivers have to deal with as their lives are consumed with their daily task of caring for another.  Good friends who stick by you through thick and thin are worth their weight in gold.

Blogs are another way friends can touch friends.  My friend, Kathy, writes on her blog, www. sharingshaymont.com about decorating ideas.  I love her Fourth of July hat.  She found it in her basement, painted it red, wrapped it with red, white and blue ribbon and placed it on her door.  It looked very festive for the holiday.   Her daughter has a blog about saving money, www.thepurposefulpurse.blogspot.com.  Both blogs have useful ways that caregivers and families can boost morale and savings.

Figs and Peaches

Mom has been here a little over a week.  She adapts very quickly to our routine.  It takes me a little longer to get back in the caregiving swing.  Constant scrolling of my mental list keeps me on task: Mom’s bath; underwear before pants; socks; shoes; undershirt; sweater; breakfast; pills; brush teeth; situate in lift chair; turn on Good Morning America; take Mom to the bathroom; get Mom a drink and snack; change channel to Let’s Make a Deal; bathroom; lunch and the beat goes on…..

Yesterday, I made fig preserves from figs picked from my neighbor’s tree (with permission) across the street from my house while Mom watched morning TV.  It is the biggest, healthiest tree I have ever seen and it is loaded with figs.  There are figs for the blackbirds, the deer, friends, family and Alyce, my kind neighbor.  She is very generous with her figs.

The recipe I used is from The Classic 1000 Italian Recipes.  Conserva di Fichi begins by combining 3 cups of sugar, 3/4 cup of water and 1tbsp grated lemon rind in a large saucepan and cooking it for 5 minutes.  Then, I added 3lbs. of sliced fresh figs and lemon slices from 1/2 lemon.  The figs and lemon simmered for 20 minutes.  The pan was covered and allowed to stand overnight.  The next day the mixture simmered another 20 minutes until thick.  The citrus scent from the lemon made my mouth water.  The balance of sweet and sour is perfect.  1/2 cup of Cognac and 3 cups of sliced almonds, which I toasted in 350 degree oven, were added and simmered one more minute.  Yum, yum!  I filled 7 jelly jars and sealed them in a water bath for 15 minutes.  The recipe reads “Serve spooned on Milk Sponge Cake, topped with cream, or spread on Ciabatta bread for a snack.”  I think it will also be wonderful served with goat cheese or Brie and on ice cream.  Alyce was happy to received the first jar.  The succulent figs will be enjoyed for the rest of the year.  The preserves with almonds and Cognac are a nice departure from the traditional southern fig preserves.

Mom’s health has improved over the past few weeks while she was in Florida.  She had two badly decayed teeth filled.  She is even enthusiastic about food.  Helen, my good friend, gave her some peaches when we stopped for a visit on our afternoon ride.  She said “Oh, boy!”  Just to hear those two words made me very happy.  Aphasia leaves many gaps in our conversations, but delight can be read on her face.  The flesh of the “Lauren” peach is white.  It is the one in front of the picture.

Being in the kitchen, working with the fruit of the earth, is meditative for me.  It is a journey down a side road that holds new adventures.  I can be a better caregiver if I can participate in activities that provide diversion while accomplishing my mental list.

Blooming

Mom comes today.  I slept great last night.  Her room is arranged.  I’ll bring in a vase of Black-eyed Susans that popped up in a flower bed down hill from where they were originally planted.  She will smile when she sees the flowers.  I will smile when I see her.

Her huge yard was full of bright pink Azaleas and various colors of Day Lilies.  She had some deep yellow Day Lilies  that my sister used for her wedding flowers.  Mom and other ladies from Chumuckla Methodist Church arranged them in white wicker baskets on a stand.  They were stunning behind the bride and groom in 1972.

When she can, Mom spends much of her time outside.  She sits on our deck or out front in the driveway.  Lately, she has wanted me to park in the drive facing the woods, while she stays in the car for a little while after we arrive home from our errands.  I leave all the windows down, find a shady spot and take her a glass of ice water.  Though she cannot speak, the look of contentment on her face tells me she is enjoying looking at the trees, shrubs and flowers.  I wonder if she is thinking about her garden, all the years of digging in the dirt, pulling the weeds, watering all that was in need.

Coming from Florida today, she is like the Black-Eyed Susans, transplanted from her original home there to another area.  As always, she will make the best of it, smiling and blooming where she is planted.  I hope I can remember to be as gracious as I journey down the garden path.

Take Joy

Mom returns to my house next week.  My caregiving juices have started to flow, less sleep at night, more tired during the day.  I dreamed very vividly last night that I got up in the night and discovered Mom sitting on the couch, sound asleep, wearing a light blue house coat, with her chin on her chest, snoring.  I was astounded that I had forgotten to put her in her bed.  With her sweet disposition, she didn’t make a fuss.  She made the best of the situation and peacefully went to sleep where she was.  I woke up, startled, but smiling.

I would like to dump this small lump of anxiety that I am caring around.  I’ve tried all the tricks of the trade, prayer, yoga, walking, whining, and wine.  Today, I am accepting it for what it is.  I’ll get to know it.  Ask it how it’s doing.  Already, I feel better.  Breathe deeply.  It is part of me.  Breathe deeper.   Acceptance.

Creating brings me back to my center.  I will go down to my workroom and start on the five Napkinections that I plan to make this week.  I will post them in my Etsy store by Friday.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow;

behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy.

Take joy.

Fra Giovanni,  A.D. 1513

Blackberry Cobbler Connections

Yesterday, I made blackberry cobbler with my daughter and granddaughter.  My son-in-law, Kevin picked the blackberries, plump and filled with the sweet taste of sunny days, with Olivia and Grayson on the edge of a field near their house.  We measured out eight cups and added some from my yard to make about ten cups.  The ones from my yard grew on a thornless bush and measured almost an inch long.  They were bitter compared to the wild ones, but tasted fine in the cobbler.

To the berries, we added about a cup of sugar, 3T cornstarch, 2T light brown sugar, 1t finely grated fresh ginger, a pinch of salt and 1T of fresh lemon juice.  Kimberly measured the ingredients.  Olivia dumped them in the bowl.  I read the recipe from Martha Stewart Living magazine, August 2005, to keep us on track and fetched the ingredients.

Olivia helped squeeze the lemon on a glass lemon “squeezer” that belonged to my dad’s mother, Dessie.  It felt good touching that with Olivia as we twisted the lemon and thinking how pleased Grandmother would be to know we remembered her as I told her great-great-granddaughter the story of it belonging to her.

Kimberly whisked together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2t baking powder and 1/3 cup granulated sugar.  Flour has a way of flying with a three-year old involved.  I cut up a stick of butter into the flour mixture.  Kimberly cut it in with a pastry blender that belonged to my mom’s mother, Kittie, who we called MaMa.  So, another story to tell.  Connections made.

Olivia, by this time, decided she wanted to create her own dessert with graham crackers.  I took a ramekin off the shelf.  She crumbled a graham cracker into it.  Sugar was the next requested ingredient, so 1 scant teaspoon was added.  I remembered that I had some whipped cream in the refrigerator, always fun.  She helped me squirt a nice swirl onto the mixture which she then, added about 10 blueberries.  Pleased as could be with her creation, she offered everyone a taste.  We all raved…

A cup of cream and a half teaspoon of vanilla were added to the flour and butter mixture for the cobbler.  The berries were poured into a 2 quart glass dish and topped with the flour mixture in 10 dollops which were smoothed over the berries, brushed with cream and sprinkled with sugar.  Baked at 375 degrees for about an hour, it was lovely, golden goodness oozing with thick berry juice.  I must remember my camera next time.

I dished it  into bowls and topped it with vanilla ice cream that created rivulets of cream as it melted over the warm berries and tender crust.  It was truly a family effort that connected all of us from the field into our very satisfied tummies.  Happy July 4th.