Sunday, July 9, 2017

Visitation

Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door to me in the dorm my freshman year at Baylor.  Back in the 1900's.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much fun we had that year.  

There was that one night when we froze all of "Popnoe's" panties in the kitchenette freezer.  I still have a picture of Deborah holding up that icy blob of undies.  The look on her face was priceless.  The thought of her going to class commando was more than we could bear.  We laughed until our jaws and bellies ached. 

Then, there were the Mr. Pibb "incidents."  Sneaking down the hall in the middle of the night to stack empty Mr. Pibb cans (yes, we collected them) in front of sleeping girls' doors was one of our favorite madcap adventures.  Waking to the sound of crashing cans and startled squeals was deeply satisfying.  The popcorn parties and creative pranks were top notch.  Our grades?  Not so much.  And, it was all so worth it.

One of the sweetest relationships that bloomed out of that crazy year was that between my mother and Laura.  Laura's parents and relatives lived far away.  Mom loved adopting Baylor girls in need of home-cooked meals.  Long after Laura and I graduated from Baylor, their friendship continued.

To say that Meems was fascinated by Laura is a vast understatement.  Laura is a world traveler.  She is a smart business woman.  She has a beautiful, impeccable wardrobe.  AND, she loves gardening.  She and Mom could talk for hours on the phone.  I was so grateful to Laura because I don't particularly enjoy talking on the phone.  The only catch was that after their heart-to-hearts, Mom would then call me and tell me every single tiny thing that she and Laura had discussed.  Through Mom, I kept up with my globe-trotting partner in crime. 

After Baylor, Laura lived in London and New York City and San Francisco.  Once she settled down in DC, Mom began to go visit her.  At least 2 weeks prior to her pilgrimage to Laura's, she would begin laying out her travel wardrobe complete with shoes and accessories on one of the guest beds.  You see, Meems and Laura were both meticulous planners.  "On Tuesday, we're going to go to Wolftrap!  Laura got us seats in the very best section!  I'm going to wear my yellow Chico's outfit with my new white sandals and the earrings I bought on sale last summer at Dillards!  Do you think that will be cute enough, or should I wear my new Sharon Young outfit with the matching button covers?!"  It was Laura who accompanied my mother to her baby brother's funeral in Maryland because I was unable to attend.

When Leonard has lunch with Meems on Mondays and Fridays, they (meaning Leonard) make their "weekly telephone calls."  Laura is on the list of about 10 people.  Because she works for the World Bank, there is no telling where in the world she will be when her telephone rings.  As much as possible, she will answer.  "Laura!  It's Helen and Leonard making our weekly phone calls!"  "Hello, Leonard.  I'm in Vietnam.  It's 2:30 in the morning.  How are you?"  "I'm fine!  Miss Helen!  Say 'hello' to your friend, Laura!  She's talking to us all the way from VIETNAM!"  If, for whatever reason, Laura doesn't receive her weekly call, I'll soon get a text from her.  "R ur mom and Leonard ok?  didn't get my call."

This past Thursday when Laura bent down to greet Meems she asked, "Helen, do you know who I am?"  Mom's face lit up and she replied, "Laura."  Laura beamed and said, "I'm so happy you remember me!"  Mom looked up at her smiling and quipped, "Carolyn told me you were coming."  

For the next two days, Laura spent many hours by Meems' side reminding her of all of the fun times that they have had together over the years.

"I'm so glad you came." 
-Meems 

As usual, Leonard came to have lunch with Mom on Friday.  Laura joined them.  He was thrilled to get to see her.  "Miss Helen, are you enjoying your visitation with your dear friend, Laura?!" he asked.

Meems quickly set him straight.  "It's not a visitation.  That's just for when you die.  This is a visit."

I love the relationship that they've shared.  Two peas in a pod.  Two fashionistas.  Two lovers of art.  Two women who can name every plant in an arboretum.  

Laura, I'm so grateful that you made the trip to "visitate" Meems.  Your loyalty.  I have no words.  Only you and I can know how much that meant to her.  Come back soon, dear friend.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fuh-Lease-La-Dee-Da!

On Sunday, I popped over to see Meems before church.  She was parked in front of the TV in the common room of Aberdeen House.  Her eyes were wide open and as I drew closer to her, a sweet smile of recognition lit up her face.

"Mom, we're going to do something fun this afternoon!"

I decided that I would give her a heads up about the Christmas celebration so that she would have something to look forward to.  Again, she smiled.

"We're going to have gingerbread pancakes!  It's going to be CHRISTMAS!"

"But, I haven't finished my shopping yet..." she whispered.

"It's all taken care of!"

"Do you have my transportation scheduled?"   (She knew that she would need the van to transport her in her wheelchair to my house.)

"Nope!  We're comin' to you!"

Big, bright smile.

I leaned in to give her a hug.

"You're a good, good daughter."  

Day made.

That afternoon, Bryce (middle child), Kelly (niece) and I snuck into Meems' room and set out Christmas.  Her Christmas wreath decorated with her favorite ornaments from her legendary big, fat Christmas tree that required sturdy guy wires attached to two walls was hung on her door.  Then, we unpacked her favorite Santa, her beloved Feliz Navidad hat, and a present for each attendee to open.  (Each attendee provided his/her own gift from his/her own closet.)  I had stuffed each gift into a gift sack.  If you know me well, you know that gift sacks give me a twitch.  Only for Pretend Christmas would I not meticulously wrap each gift.  Twitch.  Twitch.

When Alan arrived with Meems' best friend Leonard in tow, it was time for the Reindeer Games to begin.

Leonard was "all in" for the 6/25 Christmas Celebration.  He was all "Meeeery Christmas!" and "A tie!  Miss Helen got me something I can really use - a beautiful tie!  Why I'm going to wear it next Sunday!  Thank you so much!"  The tie came out of his very own closet.  

We served "silver dollar" gingerbread pancakes dipped in orange marmalade syrup.  I called it "intinction."  Mom's gift (a Corsicana fruitcake she's been reminding me about since early March) was passed around.  Meems and Leo were the only ones that partook of the fruitcake.  We are only one or two generations away from Fruit Cake Extinction.

Then, came the carolers!  Our dear friend, Nanette, and her daughter, Mary, started singing just outside Meems' door.  They strolled in wearing Christmas caroler attire.  Tears came to my eyes.  They are sweet, sweet friends who "get it."

I learned something during our little celebration.  I know that this sounds cliche, but  Christmas CAN be any day of the year.  Sitting snuggly in Meems' small room with some of our loved ones...opening fake gifts...singing a few Christmas carols...munching on snack-sized gingerbread pancakes...  It felt like the most wonderful time of the year.  You wanna hear something funny?  Not funny "ha ha."  Just funny.  During the time that we spent celebrating, Meems was awake and aware and responding appropriately to the situation.  She didn't question the fact that we were eating gingerbread pancakes in June, but she was right there "with us" the whole time.  Bless.  Her.  Heart.

That morning at church, Leonard told me that he thought it was a good idea to have a 6/25 Christmas for Meems so that she could enjoy it while she was still "in the land of the living."  Then, he asked, "Are we going to celebrate New Year's Eve next week?"

We will celebrate any holiday that looms ahead in Mimi Land, Leonard.  And you, my friend, will make the celebration all the more fun.  I can hear it now..."Happppppy New Year!"

Merry Christmas, friends.



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Saturday, June 24, 2017

We Need a Little Christmas.

We need a little Christmas right this very minute.  

A couple of weeks ago before the Grand Silence began, Meems was feeling unsettled about all of her Christmas preparations.

"What do the boys want for Christmas?"

"What do you want for Christmas?"

"What should I get Alan for Christmas?"

"Have you scheduled my ride for gingerbread pancakes?"

"Have you addressed my Christmas cards?"

Read the questions above aloud in your quietest, teeniest, tiniest voice 20 times.  Do it.

Now, you've experienced the urgency of the off-season Christmastide that exists in Mimi Land.

This very morning as I ended my visit, I told her that I would be back this afternoon with some fruitcake.  "I love you, Mom."  I could tell that she was trying to respond.  I leaned in expecting to hear a sweet, tender "I love you, too."  Instead, she asked, "Is that (the fruitcake) my Christmas present?"

As the process of packing up for Heaven progresses with Meems' awareness and wakefulness slowly diminishing, we have decided to have a little Christmas in June.  We can have it again in July, August, September, October, November, and December if time and memory allow.

Tomorrow, Alan is going to whip up a batch of our traditional Christmas morning gingerbread pancakes.  I will make the orange marmalade syrup this afternoon.  And, wrap the gifts.  Yes, wrap the gifts.

But first, I need to head up to the attic to retrieve Mom's Christmas wreath.  If I was a king-sized, super-duper, A1 daughter, I would also bring down a tree, lights, and ornaments.  Sigh.

Here's the plan:  Tomorrow at 2PM, we are going to have Christmas "morning" at 219 Aberdeen House at Wedgewood South.  There will be music and presents and pancakes and love overflowing.  The Corsicana fruitcake that Alan and Bryce ordered online will be tucked into a Christmas gift sack.  Even though Mom has already enjoyed a few slices, she'll be thoroughly surprised and delighted when she opens it.  The good news is that if she opens it again in July, August, September, October, November, and December, this week's fruitcake will still be "fresh."

Who knows?  Some Christmas carolers may come by to serenade her with "Away in a Manger" in 3 part harmony.  It could happen.  It could be you.  Fun times. 

Here's a shout-out to Joel Allard in San Antonio, TX:  
Hey, Joel!  Thanks so much for sharing your gingerbread pancake recipe with Southern Living magazine! Your pancakes have graced our Christmas morning breakfast table for yeeeeeears.  I think of you fondly as I slather a steaming stack with butter and watch the golden brown cascade of orange marmalade syrup trickle down over the layers onto my plate.  Dem's good pancakes!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hey There, Jody


Meems and "Jody"
Something surprising occurred last week.  Meems lost Kelly.  Kelly is no longer.

Kelly - granddaughter, niece, and daughter of my sister, Kathy - has visited Meems on average once a week since moving to Lubbock two years ago.

Meems' dimming mind "tagged" her with the words "Kelly," "granddaughter," "nursing school," and "nurses make good money."

Over time the progression of losing Kelly went something like this:

"When do you graduate from nursing school?"

"September of 2017, Mimi!"
..........

"When do you graduate from nursing school?"

"In September of this year, Mimi!"
..........

"When do you graduate from nursing school?"

"In September, Mimi!"
..........

"Are you my nurse?"

"No, Mimi, I'm your granddaughter, Kelly."
..........

Then, last week:

"Mom, do you know who this pretty girl is?"

She slowly raised her head off of her chest and gave Kelly a prolonged thoughtful look.

"Jody?"

"No, Mimi.  I'm Kelly, your granddaughter."

"Kelly?"

"Yes, Mom.  That's Kathy's daughter, Kelly.  She's your granddaughter."

"Oh."

A few minutes later:

"Mimi, do you remember my name?"

"Jody."

Since then, it's been Jody.  Mom remembers me.  She remembers my son, Bryce.  She remembers my husband, Alan.  But, she has lost her beloved granddaughter.  In exchange, she gained a new friend.  Jody.  We're just goin' with it.

Jody.  Jody.  Jody.




Friday, June 16, 2017

What It Is Is

A year ago at the Naturalizer Store buying
$30 shoes.  They cost way more than that, 
but, I knew that she'd enjoy it more if they
were all on "sale."  She bought 3 pairs.
After the outpouring to love from my blog and fb friends, I realized that I need to explain Meems' situation a bit further.  

What it is is that she is not on the verge of dying.  End of life care for elderly people is quite common. Also, it is a bit different than for those who have a fatal diagnosis.  Mom qualified for Hospice because she has vascular dementia.  Without that, she would not have qualified.  "Failure to thrive" is no longer accepted by Medicare as a diagnosis to qualify for Hospice.

Yesterday.  Helen Van Winkle.
The intense leg pain, weight loss, and extreme sleepiness are what prompted me to reach out for help.  Trips to the doctor or ER are really tiring for her.  I knew that if I took her to the ER there was a good chance that she would have been admitted to the hospital due to her impaired mental capacity.  During Meems' last ER visit which resulted in a week-long hospital stay, a nurse mentioned to me that doctors don't like to release elderly patients who can't wake up nor those who fret about not wanting to get pregnant.  Meems checked both of those boxes during her stay.

This seems to be a common problem with people taking care of aging parents.  To ER, or not to ER.  Oh, the stories we could share.

While Missy Meems is, indeed, receiving "end of life" care, she is not actively dying.  "Actively dying."  I made that up.  It's a descriptive oxymoron.  She does not have diabetes or heart problems or any of the many diseases that plague her peers.  Hip pain, weight loss, and sleepiness are not fatal diagnoses.  She has definitely gone "downhill" over the past couple of weeks.  She will either rally, or she won't. 

One of the Hospice people told me that they cared for one elderly lady for seven years.  Meems only needs care until she gets her picture on the Smuckers jar.  Nine good years.  Nine sweet, egg-eatin' years.



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Man Who Was, and Then He Wasn't

Yesterday was an emotional day for me.  Ninety-one-year-old Meems has been experiencing pain in her legs and hips.  She's been sleeping deeply for the past 4 or 5 days with occasional wakeful moments.  She's lost 8 pounds in 2 weeks.  And then, a few days ago she STOPPED EATING EGGS.  When my little mother stops ordering 2 eggs "over easy" for breakfast every morning, great change is a-brewing.  We Kinzbachs are lovers of eggs - boiled, scrambled, poached, and most definitely "over easy."

But, that pain though.

After a tearful conversation with Shirley, our doctor's right-hand woman, Hospice care seemed to be the logical choice.  Think of Hospice care like little angels hovering over a waning human sprinkling peace and comfort upon his or her head.  While Meems' plan is to live to be 100 years old so that she can see her picture on a Smucker's jar, my plan is that she will get there in a pain-free, bedsore-free, egg eatin' manner.  I want it to RAIN peace and comfort all UP in he-yah.

There was a man in the Old Testament named Enoch.  He was the great-great-great-great-grandson of good old Adam and Eve.  I can never remember his name.  I refer to him as the-man-who-was-and-then-he-wasn't.  Even Siri can't remember his name.  

Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more because God took him away.  Gen 5:22

That's the man I'm talkin' about.  He lived a full, LONG life.  Then, poof he was gone.

That's exactly what I want for my little mother.  A quiet, simple, joyful journey.  No hospital.  No rehab.  No IVs.  No catheters.  She will simply sleep.  She will be.  And, then she won't.

Her eyes now slowly, partially open like sluggish turtle eyes.  This morning, when she roused enough to get a good look at me, she smiled weakly and softly murmured, "Carolyn."  I thought about the joy I felt the first time each of my sons was able to say, "Mama."  There's something about being called by name - verification, acknowledgment, a meeting of the minds.  I "see" you.  (So, so sorry that I can never remember yours.  I love you, AND I can't think of your name.)  

Meems has rallied from her death bed 4 times since she moved to Lubbock in 2010.  Alan has made his "she's lived a long full life you don't want her to hurt" speech 4 times.  During each episode, I've cried like Ricky Shroeder in The Champ.  Brain surgery, a mastectomy, a badly broken hip, and pneumonia have all been unable to take her down.  She's a tough lady.

So many of you, dear friends, have traveled this road before me.  Some of you are still fresh in your grief.  A familiar song.  The smell of hot pancakes.  A Murder She Wrote rerun.  Your tears are at the ready in the corners of your eyes.  Somehow knowing that you're familiar with this journey brings me comfort.  I can't see you, yet I know that you are with me.

All is well for now.  I'm just thinking of Hospice as really good home health care.  I try not to let words like "palliative" and "comfortable" get me distressed or distracted.  

She will be.  And, then she won't.  Angels and men rejoice.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

In Which Aunt Ruby Goes to the Hospital

Here's a funny story that I've been wanting to tell you for quite some time.  First, I needed to nail down some of the particulars, and then, get permission from the original story teller, my precious cousin, Janet.  The maternal branches of my family tree are filled with lavish love, quick humor, and generous laughter.  This story comes from one of those beloved branches. 

My childhood memories of Aunt Ruby are those of her laughter that I thought sounded like bubbles and her total devotion to my Uncle Jimmy.  Her eyes sparkled when she talked about his accomplishments large or small.  After he went to heaven, Aunt Ruby was not a happy camper.  The love of her life for 50-plus years was no longer by her side.  Her one desire was to fly away to be with him.  

The dreaded move to assisted living didn't make the situation any better despite the fact that Janet visited her every day and occasionally took her on little expeditions about town.  Ruby was miserable and did not hesitate to call Janet numerous times night and day to express her unhappiness.

On this particular night, Janet's phone rang at 7:00.  Expecting to hear Ruby's voice on the other end of the line, she snapped to attention when one Ruby's caregivers began to speak.  

"Ms. Williams?"  

"Yes?!" 

"You may want to come down to Tanglewood (the assisted living facility).  Some firemen and police officers are here talking to your mother."

Janet's mind began to race.  There was no mention of a stroke or heart attack or resuscitation.  The firemen and police officers were "talking" to her mother.  What the heck?!

"Your mother told someone (another elderly resident) that she was going to kill herself."

At this time in her life, "I want to die!" was Ruby-speak for "I am unhappy about _______________."  [Fill in the blank with a myriad of possibilities.]  "You NEVER come to see me."  "You NEVER call me."  "I miss Jimmy."  "I want to die" tearfully voiced to the Tanglewood caregivers didn't raise the death wish red flag, but the words "I'm going to kill myself" spoken casually to a fellow octogenarian rang the 911 gong long and loud.  For Pete's sake, how on earth was a wheelchair bound 85-year-old with no access to medications, weapons, sharp knives, or long pieces of rope going to commit Harry Carry in a single-story assisted living facility?  She would have to roll herself down to the front desk at Tanglewood and schedule a ride to Handy Dan to pick up some rope or something really sharp.  That plan would have, indeed, served as a true red flag.

Janet asked to speak to one of the "first responders."  A kindly fireman admitted that at that moment Ruby seemed fine.  She was sitting on the sofa in the lobby just laughing and talking and didn't even remember why cute firemen and policemen had come to visit her.  He said that they would love to "call it a night," but, they were required to take Ruby to the hospital to be formally evaluated.  Janet envisioned her little smiling mother being shoved into the back of a squad car and driven to some sort of psychiatric facility.  She made the drive to Tanglewood in a record-breaking 7 minutes.

No amount of begging or shedding of tears could convince either the firemen nor policemen to let Ruby just put on her jammies and be tucked into bed.  Maybe the resident that reported the alleged suicide proclamation misheard what Ruby said!  I daresay that if asked to repeat the conversation the "reporter" would have asked, "Who's Ruby?"  Isn't "mishearing" and "misremembering" common amongst the elderly residents in an assisted living facility?  No dice.  Rules were rules.  They were duty bound to haul giggling Ruby in.  Eventually, Janet struck a plea bargain.  She promised that she would immediately take her mom to the ER to be evaluated.  

So, off went mother and daughter to the ER.  At 8:00-ish on a school night.  Janet was a third-grade teacher who sorely needed her sleep.  
"Where are we going, Janet?"

"To the hospital?!"

"Why?"

"Because you said you wanted to kill yourself!"

"I said that?!  Well, that's a sin!  I would never do that!"

"I know that.  But, the firemen and policemen don't."  

"But, I feel fine!  Why do I need to see a doctor?!"

"Because you said you were going to kill yourself!"

For the full technicolor-surround-sound experience, repeat the above chorus for the next few hours in a relatively public place akin to an ER waiting room teeming with bored strangers starving for some form of entertainment.  Then, you will need to change the decibel range to simulate the way the conversation changed once Ruby and Janet were situated in a curtained ER cubbyhole with "roommates" packed closely on either side.  Ruby's voice stayed the same volume and Janet's dropped to a desperate stage whisper in an effort to avoid broadcasting her mom's alleged death wish.  "BECAUSE YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF!"

During the empty hours they sat idly in the ER, Ruby remained calm and happy.  Janet's blood pressure rose substantially.  

"BECAUSE YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF!"  "BECAUSE YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF!"  "BECAUSE YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF!"  

"Well, Janet, you know I would never do that because it's a sin."

"But Mom, They don't know that."

A very kind female doctor came in and visited with Ruby.  The doctor and Janet carried on a nonverbal conversation with eyes and eyebrows.  Ruby was summarily dismissed from the hospital.

The kicker.  At 11:30 when a very exhausted Janet was helping ever-so-chipper Ruby out of the car at Tanglewood, Ruby sweetly said, 

"I sure enjoyed getting to spend time with you this evening, honey."  

Janet's first reaction was to roll her eyes.  Then, she realized something.  Her sweet mother had no idea what all the ruckus had been about.  She simply knew that she loved spending time with her daughter.

Now, Janet has a hilarious story to tell and a tender memory of An Evening With Mom in the ER Because A Fellow Tanglewood Resident Thought She Heard Mom Say That She Was Going to Kill Herself.  Priceless.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Picture Day

"Just roll with it" became my mantra that day.  The only remedy for the situation was just rollin' with it.  It started about a month ago.  

"When are you going to take my Christmas picture?"

"Um, Mom, it's only April.  We have lots of time before we even have to think about Christmas!"

Two-minute reverie with eyes half-closed, then...

"When are you going to take my Christmas picture?"

And so on.  And so on.  And so on.

Finally, I decided to give her a concrete, set-in-stone answer.

"How about next Tuesday?!"  (It was just a random day pulled out of my weary brain.)

"Next Tuesday  What's today?"

"Thursday.  Picture day is next Tuesday at 3PM!"  (Random time.  I resist the temptation of telling her how many "sleeps" there are until Picture Day.)

"Good."

Reverie...reverie...reverie...then...

"Will you bring me something red to wear?"

This Christmas card picture has been a nagging item on my Spring/Summer to do list for the past several years.  Come the warmth and green of Spring, Meems directs the whole of her being towards checking "Christmas card" off of her very short list of to-dos.

So, on National Christmas Card Picture Day (which happened to fall on a Tuesday this year), I gathered up some colorful pashminas and headed over to see Mom.

She was dressed in a Springy blue ensemble that wasn't Christmasy at all.  Instead of struggling to change her clothes, I decided that I would just cover her up with a classic Chico's black and white giraffe print jacket.  The boat neck top that she was wearing kept trying to peek out of the jacket, so I cinched up her collar with a purple pashmina.

"Shouldn't I be wearing red?"

"Mom, it's a proven fact that purple is way more flattering than red.  It brings out the pink of your sweet cheeks!"

"Oh."

With the scarf and jacket carefully arranged, I then went in search of a Christmasy background.  Seeing none, I wheeled Meems outside in hopes of getting, at the very least, a green background.  A lot of squinting and clamoring began. 

"I'm hot."


"Hang on, Mom!  I've almost got it!"  (Not true.  The shot was just not working on any level.)

"I'm hot."

I quickly rolled her back into the building where the temperature was about 3 degrees cooler - the place of "I'm cold."  The assisted living center is undergoing renovations, so there was absolutely no picturesque background to be found.  Before declaring total defeat, I backed her wheelchair up to a blank wall and began snapping away.  It was then that I realized that the object of the game was to pacify Mom so that she wouldn't fret about being behind on her yuletide preparations.  

"Oh, that was a cute one!  Open your eyes really big and smile with your teeth!  Got it!"

Meems was pacified.  I told her that I may get Kelly, my niece, to do another photo shoot because she's a way better photographer than me.

"OK."

And, not another word since.  Day by day I'm learning how to help my motherchild cope with dementia.  Explaining and re-explaining doesn't help.  I have blocked the words "I JUST TOLD YOU..." and "DON'T YOU REMEMBER..." from the love language that I speak to my mother.  At the ripe old age of 60, I myself experience those phrases more and more often.  Help me, Jesus!  If I'm repeating a question, that means the information no longer exists on my "hard drive."  Roll with it, people!  

Her parting words to me that afternoon were "Be watching the sales so you can get yourself something nice for Christmas."  Yes, I have a persistent twitch in my left eye.

Funny thing.  If I do buy my gift on sale tomorrow, I will be totally surprised when I unwrap it Christmas morning.  "I love it!  A blouse!  And, such Springy colors!"






Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ninety-One-Derful

Our beloved friend, Leonard, turned 91 yesterday.  He would say it this way:  "I'm 91 today, April the 19th, in the year 2 thousand and 17.  I was born at 3:00 AM on Monday, April the 19th, in the year nineteen twenty-six in Roanoke, Virginia.  They said that I was in a hurry to get here because I wouldn't wait until sunup."  Leonard has been Mom's best friend since she moved here in 2010.  They met at Raider Ranch.  We started giving Leonard rides to church.  Pretty soon, he was joining us for holidays.  Now he is a full-fledged member of the Lackey family.  He gives a beautiful blessing at every meal we share together.

For his birthday, we told him to pick a restaurant - sometimes it's Red Lobster, yesterday it was Cheddars.  He likes fish.  They have some sort of trout dish at Cheddars that suits his palate.  Wherever we go to eat, he always asks, "Do they have trout?  Do they have catfish? Do they  have pork chops?"  Plan D is usually chicken fingers.  For his joyous birthday celebrations, Alan tells Leonard that he can invite some friends.  This is a risky move because Leonard considers everyone he has ever met a friend.  Seriously, you cannot take the man ANYWHERE in town without hearing someone calling out from across a room, "Leonard!"  Alan and I just look at each other and grin shaking our heads.  The man no longer drives and is legally blind.  He lives in a retirement community.  But, somehow, he has developed an ever-growing circle of friends.

When the guest list swelled to 14 yesterday, I looked at Alan with wide eyes.  "You still gonna pick up the bill?!"  "Yup.  It's Leonard's birthday.  But, if someone pushed money into my hand, I might not resist."  I knew that was not true.  He ALWAYS grabs the check first at these shindigs.  Due to the mature ages of most of the invited guests, it was highly probable that someone would back out at the last minute due to "feelin' poorly."  We ended up with a party of 10.

Leonard came into the restaurant carrying a wrinkled plastic grocery sack that bulged with what I thought was "information."  Leonard LOVES information.  He gets about 10 extra bulletins at church on Sundays to mail to his friends in Baltimore so that they can keep up with what he's doing.  When we pick him up on Sundays, he generally has a sack of information for us that might include a program from the symphony or the monthly menu and activity calendar from his independent living facility or a flier that he picked up somewhere along the way.  He is so sweet to keep us informed of his daily activities.  

The bulging bag did not hold information, it was full of BIRTHDAY CARDS.  Thirty to be exact.  They had all been opened and enjoyed.  He simply wanted to "share the love" with us.  When we sat down at the table, he passed down a handwritten list to me so I could "read it later."  As I started to slip it into my purse, my mother-in-law clarified that he wanted me to read the list aloud to all of the birthday party attendees later in the evening.

Meems was in rare form last night.  She was very talkative and confused which made her rather entertaining.  

Last night, she was all...
"Tell Leonard to crawl under the table and come sit by us."

"Did Dobo bring whiskey to the party?"  [Let me explain.  Dobo was my dad's nickname.  Let's just say that he had a "taste for the drink."  While whiskey wasn't his drink of choice, it would not be unusual for him to come "prepared."]

"No, Mom.  Dobo's not coming.  He's dead, remember?"

"Good because I was going to get really mad if he came with whiskey to Leonard's party."  [Leonard is a teetotaler.]

At one point she regaled the lady next to her with the story of the man-eating catfish.  I blamed my niece, Kelly, for that because she ordered fried catfish for dinner.

Today she was all...
Here is the best part of the story.  The birthday cards.  Leonard received several more cards at dinner.  At the end of the meal, he beckoned for Alan to come around to his side of the table.  "Would you read all of my cards aloud for me?"  "You mean the ones that are unopened."  "Yes.  And all of the ones in the bag."  You know how the elderly treasure those long poems and sayings on the fronts of birthday cards?  Leonard is no exception.  I would have said something like, "Why don't I hold them up and tell who each card is from?"  Not Alan.  He is a true blue friend of Leonard.  He took the stack and read each and every card from the outside to the inside down to the last jot and tittle.  ALL THIRTY-FIVE.  EVERY WORD.  My heart almost burst with love for that man.  Leonard sat listening with a sweet smile on his face.  After each card was read, he would tell a little bit about the sender.  "He's been my best friend for 52 years!  He lives in Baltimore!  I talk to him twice a week on the telephone!"

The handwritten list?  It was a list of the 12 people who called to wish him a happy birthday.

Instead of cake, we ordered Leonard's absolute favorite dessert.  He has the same dessert after every meal he eats be it Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or baked trout at Cheddars.  "One scoop of vanilla ice cream."  I should probably give you a heads up.  At Cheddars, they do not keep birthday candles on hand.  Had I known, I would have come prepared.  The manager did bring a couple of chocolate chip cookies and a coupon for chips and salsa to the Birthday Boy - neither of which Leonard will eat.  

Happy Birthday 91st birthday, Sweet Leonard.  You bring so much joy and laughter and grace and into our family.  We cherish your friendship.  You are so loved by so many.  And, trust me on this, if Dobo had risen from his grave and crashed the party with a jug of Jim Beam, Meems would have beat the tar out of him.

My niece, Kelly, wrote the sweet post below...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Meems and Leo Go to a Weddin'

The ladies in Aberdeen house at Meem's assisted living facility had been all a-twitter.  For several months, they had been anticipating the day.  During Bingo last Monday, Meems made several comments about the bride who happened to be "calling" Bingo that day.

"I'd be too nervous to be playing Bingo if I was about to get married!"

"Mom, the wedding isn't until Friday."

"Oh."

Forty-eight seconds later:

"She needs to go get ready for the wedding!"

And, so on...and, so on...

One of Aberdeen's beloved caregivers, April, was getting married to her sweetheart, Eric.  She loves the ladies of Aberdeen well, and they love her back.  One of the more mentally alert ladies gathered cash from each of the other ladies to purchase a Walmart gift certificate for the bride and groom.  The assisted living facility is a "cash free," all-inclusive society meaning that most of the purses bear only Kleenex and lipstick.  Some of the ladies had to dip into the Bingo quarters they had saved up over the months.  (bingo = 3 quarters  blackout = 4 quarters)  Mom has about $39 in quarters tucked away.  Not bad for a legally blind person who has trouble finding the giant numbers on the Bingo cards.  The ladies proudly presented a $200 gift certificate to a very surprised bride one day when they were gathered around the dining tables having lunch.

As the day of the wedding approached, Leonard called me on several occasions to remind me.  "Your mother is going to April's wedding!  Are you going?!"  "Yes, Leonard, I'm going to meet the transportation van at the wedding."  "I didn't get no invitation."  (That's a direct quotation.  Mother has scolded him about his use of double negatives since the day they met.  Leonard was a high school math teacher.  Apparently, grammar is low on his list.)  "Well, Leonard, maybe April just wanted it to be a 'girl thing.'"  "That's probably right."  I knew that he would give his right arm to see Miss April's wedding.  Last Thursday night at about 9:00PM, he called me.  "Am I supposed to go have lunch with your mother tomorrow since they are going to the wedding?  I guess they are going to have to leave for the wedding at 1:00 since it starts at 1:30.  I'm not sure that I'm supposed to go eat with her."  I told him that he could call the facility Friday morning for "clarification." 

Friday dawned misty and cool with promises of afternoon sun.  At lunchtime, I dropped by Aberdeen to see if Meems was having a "sleepy day" in which case she would not be aware that she was even at a wedding.  She was wide awake and finishing up her lunch with Leonard.  One of the caregivers happily announced, "Leonard's going to the wedding, too!" His face lit up with a broad smile.  "I'm going with your mother to Miss April's wedding!!"  My heart sang on his behalf.

The ladies looked like flowers in their nicest pants and cutest blouses.  I spied lipstick and earbobs and the air was sweet with perfumes.  Lunch had been served early so that they could board the wedding van at 1:00.  Last minute trips to the bathroom were made.  At 12:30, motorized wheelchairs, old school wheelchairs, and 4-wheeled walkers began to parade towards the main lobby.  Excitement filled the air.  "The van is here!"  They were goin' to a weddin'!

The wedding was the second for both the bride and groom.  It was held in a tiny chapel nestled in a canyon just outside the Lubbock city limits.  By the time I arrived, some of the ladies were all situated in chairs, their walkers stowed in the back of the room.   Several of the women had chosen aisle seats so that they could see April's smiling face as she walked down the aisle.  Wheelchairs lined the back row.   Seriously, people.  My heart almost burst at the sight of those smiling, softly wrinkled faces.

The wedding was short and sweet.  A friend officiated.  "And now, by the power vested in me by the American Association of Wedding Officiants and the State of Texas..."  After the kiss, the Ladies of Aberdeen clapped their withered hands heartily.  Cupcakes were passed out.  Pictures were taken.  Congratulations were given.  Friday, April  14th, had become a happy memory in the life stories of nine women whose day to day existence is quiet and predictable - except for Bingo days.

Congrats to the bride and groom!  April, I cannot even begin to thank you enough for including the Ladies of Aberdeen and LEONARD!  They were blessed beyond measure to be counted as invited guests to a momentous occasion in the life of someone who treats them with love, dignity, and respect.  I wish you and Eric years of joy and happiness.

Postscript:  Mom asked me at least 3 times during the wedding if we were at Bryce Canyon.  

Those are not Meems' earrings.  She did
not know whose they were or who put
them on her.


She can't finish 1/2 of a grilled cheese
sandwich, but she can polish off a cupcake
after eatin' a turkey dinner.

The real-life groom actually looked
delightfully happy to be gettin' hitched!
Meems, April and Leonard


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Civic Duty

Meems was mostly alert on this particular day.  I asked her questions I knew that she could answer.  

"How are you feeling today?"  

"Good.  I always feel good."  

"Did you have a fun activity this afternoon?"  

"We played Bingo"  

"Did you go to Fun and Fitness this morning?"  

"Yes.  I always go to Fun and Fitness."

Usually, during these days of awareness, she will begin her litany of stories.  The list is growing ever shorter.

"Did I tell you about the time I fell asleep and spilled coffee in my lap?"

"Yes, Mom!  Oh my goodness!  Falling asleep at the breakfast table is hazardous!"

She chuckles and smiles.  On good days, she chuckles and smiles.  On hazy days she simply murmurs "yes."

On this particular day, she asked me whether or not she voted in the election.  First, I needed clarification.  When it comes to 90-year-olds with dementia, clarification is recommended.  Remember back to when your child asked, "Where do babies come from?"  He or she may not be looking for the answer you were dreading giving.  Why put it all out there when a simple "a mommy's belly" will suffice?  Same difference.  So, clarify I did.

"Which election?"

"The one where we pick the president."

I hemmed and hawed around.  Last fall, I tried to keep quiet about the upcoming election.  I wasn't sure that she had the mental competence to make an informed decision.  Also, if I had arranged for her to be transported in the wheelchair accessible van to a polling place, it might have ended up being a day that she couldn't wake up.  On those days, she struggles to lift her heavy eyelids to acknowledge your presence before her.  Answering simple questions is difficult when your eyes keep rolling up under your eyelids in search of the delicious dream that was interrupted.

"Well, Mom, I wasn't sure that you would know exactly who you should vote for..."

Think about it.  Does hauling a 91-year-old with dementia to the grocery store and parking her in front of a voter booth constitute voter fraud?  I suppose that one of the volunteers would have read the ballot to her and operated the machine for her.  When asked who she supported for president, she would most likely ask, "What are my choices?" or randomly say "I fell asleep and spilled coffee in my lap" or, gesturing to me reply, "Ask her.  She's my daughter.  She takes care of me now."

Continuing..."Do you remember who was running for president?"

"No.  I don't remember.  But, I do remember that I always vote Republican."

Boom.  Touche.  

"Well, Mom, we'll be voting for president four years from now when you're 95.  I'll make sure that you get to go vote Republican if that's what you want to do."

"Good.  I've never missed a presidential election until this year."

Boom.  Daughter Guilt.

She can't remember what she had for lunch and sometimes, she thinks that her granddaughter, Kelly, is her niece.  But, she will never forget her civic duty.  Twenty-Twenty, Meems is ready for you!

Visitation

Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...