February 26, 2019

A tyrant has invaded our home, ordering each member of the family to follow its chaotic marching orders. Armies of pill bottles are in formation on each table and countertop. Walkers and canes stand as sentries by doorways. An oxygen machine guards the bed. Fortresses of supportive pillows are built on beds and in chairs. We all must bow to the Sultan of Seniority.

This morning I realized that no one had explained the pages of medicines and dosages given to GramBea. She sat in front of all the bottles with a pill box and loose pills, flustered and looking to me to help. I’d started to look up some of the names last night for her, since most of the names on the list didn’t match that on the bottle, and so required a good old google to decipher what we were actually looking for. But I’d assumed someone at the rehab center would have gone over the list with us before discharging him. For whatever reason, this did not happen. So when we were caught off guard with an unexpected homecoming yesterday afternoon, medicine turned out to be one of the greatest hurdles. For starters we had to gather them all. Some of his prescriptions turned out to be obscure, so Peter was sent from one pharmacy to another in search of available stock, driving for two hours before managing to get just the immediately urgent ones (less urgent ones are still on order to arrive for pickup in the next few days).

And now we have the joy of sorting them. This morning it took about an hour for me to make sense of it all enough to get a weeks worth of pills sorted out in the pillbox. As I neared the end of the job, feeling as if I was nearing the end of a grueling school exam, PaCharley called me. He was trying to fix the button mismatch on his shirt and began to ask me for help. “While you’re sitting here…” he began. “No!” I said, with too sharp of a tone. But I was too on-edge about the task at hand to apologize. “I can’t interrupt what I’m doing right now, PaCharley,” I continued. “This is too important—that has to wait!” And it was true, not necessarily because anyone would have had to focus exclusively on this task; but with my novice approach, I knew that I couldn’t afford any distractions while in the middle of it. For very good reason, I have never had any temptation to pursue the pharmaceutical professions. Tonight’s education was a bit more along the lines of my leanings: learning how to operate an emergency oxygen tank. I was pleased to realize that it is rather similar to my last quirky oven and its leaky regulator.

I’ve taken to hugging GramBea and telling her she’s my hero (the truth). She usually responds with “I’m amazed we’re still talking to each other!”
Will we survive? Yes. Will we still like each other? Hopefully :-) Will we still love each other? Definitely.

Yesterday I read a quote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It seems appropriate to end, for now, with the words of one who has far better words than I do these days . . .

“Please – Aslan,” said Lucy, “can anything be done to save Edmund?”

“All shall be done,” said Aslan. “But it may be harder than you think.” And then he was silent again for some time. Up to that moment Lucy had been thinking how royal and strong and peaceful his face looked; now it suddenly came into her head that he looked sad as well. (12.21-22)

a real job

February 22, 2019

Yesterday I went to a job fair. Most of the vendors (that’s the word they used for it, though it strikes me as odd—incongruous?—somehow) were promoting entry-level positions. I would approach a table to be greeted with a cheery, “Hi! What are you looking for?” The first time I was asked this question, I was a bit stunned. “Um . . . well. I’m not sure.” “Ah—well, I’m sure we have just the thing for you. We have many exciting jobs just right for young people like you. And we offer on-site training. What are your interests?”
By this point I’d probably be smiling a bit as well—not quite so deer-in-the-headlights anymore. “Well, I’m a librarian. And I’ve been a French teacher for a few years as well. Most recently in West Africa. I’ve been in education for 15 years. But I’m open to new experiences at the moment . . . though I’m not sure I’m really all that well-suited for your server openings. I didn’t do so well as a waitress, as I recall—a lower point in my workforce career . . .”
“Oh! Uh-yeah. Ok. Well, have a good afternoon!” I got the hint that there wouldn’t be any arguments to my bowing out, and away, from the company in question.
There was also a booth for the Army. As I walked past, the two men in uniform greeted me. “Good afternoon, Ma’am. Do you know anyone who might be interested in a career with the U.S. Army? Do you have children who might be?” At this point, I wondered what had instantly aged me from being perceived as a recent high school graduate to a “Ma’am” … and a mother of said graduates! But starting to enjoy myself, I responded simply,
“No–I’m afraid I don’t have any children.”
Perhaps they didn’t want to appear to be making assumptions about my age, as the other one added, “Though maybe we have something you’d be interested in . . . may I ask what that might be?”
“Well,” I began. “I’ve been in international schools for about 10 years now. West Africa. China” I paused before adding my coup-de-force. “Afghanistan.”
Both young men grew wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Then one stammered a bit, collected himself, then smiled widely again. “Welcome home!” The other nodded. I laughed, thanked them, and moved on.
I came away from the job fair with one promise of a follow-up phone call, a handful of lemonheads, a stress ball, a water bottle, 2 pens . . . and, most importantly, an educator’s dream toy: a mini notebook of varied sizes of sticky notes.
That was yesterday. Peter was the driver on duty that day, allowing me the afternoon for that outing.
Today was my day to be on duty. Back in my currently familiar world of beds that have buttons, disposable linens, and beeping machines, it occurred to me that I feel the torn between the responsibility of finding a “grown-up” job that will provide income and insurance and the daily urgent—the ins & outs, and ups & downs involved in that common human experience of aging family members.
Is reality a 9-5 and a daily commute?
Or is reality watching your grandfather tested for mental acuity:
Questions such as, “What day is it today,?”
And tasks such as “Take this piece of paper, and fold it in half. Good. Now put it next to you on your right side. Good.”
The lady testing him today was really impressive, and I told her as much. As she walked out of his room, I called after her, “Thank you. You do a really great job with what you do. Really, thank you.” And I was being quite honest, in that I was impressed by the way she was able to balance a professional nature with gregarious conversation that put on-edge folks a bit more at ease. I was grateful to her.
I was also proud of my grandparents. Proud of my grandmother for her willingness to set things aside and commit to planting herself next to a hospital bed day after day, belying her 92 years as she waves to all her new friends in the facility and smiles widely to greet her “sweetheart.” Proud of my grandfather who, still fully capable in his mental functions, patiently answers each question and throws in a few jokes along the way. Most men in his position would not doubt be more inclined to resent these lines of questioning—by my PaCharley has never met a soul he didn’t like. So now, his lifelong habit of having all the time in the world for anyone who crosses his path is, I think, paying dividends. My grandpa—my “Dad 2”—is no angel. He’s hard-headed as ever, and we are all in the middle of what is proving to be a huge and arduous undertaking of family life.
There have been many moments in which I have wondered: Is this life too much? What is this version of “reality” I’ve entered?
But I have to believe that this is a greater reality than that 9-5. That this reality of the winter season of life is, indeed, a real job.


February 5, 2019

Consumed. That was the only response I could think of today when Uncle G asked how I was doing.
Consumed. By what? I mean, life is easy right now . . . right? It’s not like we have real jobs anymore. All we do is drive my grandmother around. And visit the (growing number of) family members who are hospitalized. And meal plan. And grocery shop. And attempt to set up a house—that we don’t know when we will actually live in. And try to make plans for what the future will look like if/when my grandfather is released and comes home. And try to make plans for/apply for jobs that we can’t imagine fitting into our “schedules” at this point in the game. And . . . And . . .

Gee: somehow life doesn’t seem so easy anymore as we adjust to the “ease” and “simplicity” of this developed Western world again. But you know what? That’s ok. It’s ok. Because when all is said and done, all that really matters is here. Now.

The promise never was one of ease and simplicity anyway. That was not the point. And who really wants that, on the deepest, truest level of the soul anyway? Not me.
What has been promised—to me, at least—is that HE will be gentle with me. He has been gentle with me. He is gentle with me. He will be gentle with me. I know this to be true.
Because it is, we can laugh.

Yesterday my father-in-law had a fall that was pretty nasty, landing him in the hospital for surgery. Since an ambulance had taken him in, we went to the house later to take care of the dogs and chickens. While there, we cleaned up the bloody mess in the bathroom. Or, more accurately, Peter cleaned it up. I made a valiant effort: an effort consisting of staring at in and telling myself I needed to think of where to start, getting instantly woozy, and making a hasty departure to inform my husband that I couldn’t do it.

The following series of text messages between my mom and Peter came a bit later in the day:

Mom: Gary wrote this when he heard you cleaned the bathroom: “Wow. That’s why they are called ‘blood relatives.”
Peter: Does that mean I’m no longer an in-law?
Mom: Maybe we should call you Lou’s blood brother.

*Please excuse me for excusing myself from the scene before properly documenting the crime.