Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bacon, Bingo, and Bathroom

Meems spent the last week in the hospital with pneumonia.  I spent the last week in the hospital with Meems.  She didn't sleep well at night.  Ergo, I didn't get any sleep at night.  I began the journey with cute clothes, bright makeup and a chirpy attitude.  As the week wore on, everything changed.

On the 3rd morning (approx 8:30AM) as I was shuffling sleepily to the cafeteria to grab a sausage biscuit, I passed a woman who had apparently just walked off the page of a Vogue picturial themed "A Casual Stroll Through New York City in Stilleto Boots."  A large Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene Neo Neverfull bag (yup, googled it) was slung over her shoulder, and the cadence of her heels tapping on the floor told me that she was a woman on a mission.  I was trundling along in neon pink and green Brooks tennies, an Old Navy red and black buffalo check flannel boyfriend shirt, and wrinkled 2nd day yoga pants that I had slept in the night before.  My bed hair was a crazy mess, and yesterday's eye makeup had migrated to just below my lower lids,  I had not yet brushed my teeth.  After she passed, I waited a few seconds before looking back just to see her walk away.  She was that impressive.  Sadly, she did not give me even the tiniest backward glance.

Then it dawned on me:  

I had entered the 
Legion of Bedraggled Hospital Bedside Sitters.

Yup, I dressed for comfort and versatility.  Daywear had to transition to nightwear by the simple act of removing a bra.  I carried a Land's End tote that weighed 25 pounds:  deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, 3 novels, houseshoes, IPad, purple purse.  My pink and white "fills" were so long, I had trouble navigating the home row on my keyboard.  

One morning, Alan came to "spell" me while I went home to shower.  Numbly, I stepped into the empty elevator feeling pretty happy that I didn't have to make small talk with other passengers.  With inches to spare a man's hand was thrust between the closing doors.  The doors opened, and a fellow Bedraggled Hospital Bedside Sitter invaded my private elevator.  We give each other tired smiles and said nothing.  One floor down, another BHBS joined us.  He was a lively man who said, "Shew-weeee, that couch can give you a sore back!"  Our fellow Legionaare laughed and said, "You got the couch?!  My wife got the couch!  I got the FLOOR!"  My people.  We shared a laugh.  I smiled all the way home.

As I mentioned before, Mom didn't sleep very well in the hospital.  Therefore, I came up with a little night time folly for myself.

The Hospital Night Sitter Drinking Game

Circles and Squares
When - NOT IF - Meems wakes me up to tell me any of the following -
"I need to go to the bathroom" - 1 sip of watered down iced tea
"I want to play Bingo" - 1 sip of flat Diet Pepsi
"Is it almost breakfast time" - 3 sips of lukewarm water from the hospital plastic pitcher
"I want bacon and eggs" - a slug of a mixed drink - 1 part watered down tea, 1 part flat Diet Pepsi
"Carolyn, can you come here?"  "Yes, Mom."  "Good.  I'm thinking of circles and squares" - 1 slug of whatever she's having

"B-9!  B-9!"
The night that she was obsessed with playing Bingo was a long one.  1:00AM - "Is it almost time for Bingo?"  1:26AM - "Will you take me to Bingo?"  2:10AM - "Will you help me play Bingo?"  1:24AM - "Bingo is at 2:00."  All night long.  The next morning, I was praying that she'd go back to thinking of "circles and squares," but Bingo was to be the subject of the day.  Alan called me right after I helped her eat breakfast.  I told him about the night.  "What are you doing now?!" he asked.  "I'm making a #%$@ Bingo card on a piece of paper with a Sharpie!" I replied.  For markers, I used the $4 in quarters that came back as change when I inserted a five dollar bill in the coke machine.  I ain't gonna lie.  It felt like I was winning in Vegas when it started raining quarters.  And, they sure came in handy as Bingo markers.  I called out random numbers and helped her place the quarters.  I actually called out numbers that she didn't have on her card from time to time to keep it real.  "N-82!  N-82!"  She fell asleep before she ever got a Bingo.

I can't go to lunch without my shoes
One day I came back from my trek home to shower and found Alan feeding my mom her lunch.  This picture makes my heart swell with love for my man.  He is so, so sweet to my mother.  Note the red circle.  "She kept saying that she couldn't go to lunch without her shoes on."  

That evening, a male nurse and an aide again transferred her from her bed to the hospital Robochair.  That ain't no Lazyboy.  It's a full on metal and Naugahyde reclining machine.  Transferring Meems to the chair requires an intricate ballet of "hold on to me and 'dance'" and the repositioning of tubes and wires.  Remember the days when you dressed your kids from head to toe in snow clothes?  And then, they said those dreaded words - "I need to go to the bathroom."  With Meems situated in the Robochair and her supper tray settled in front of her, after the first bite I hand-fed her she murmured, "I need to go to the bathroom."  Bit my tongue clear in half.  Bless her heart.

When the doctor came by to see her one last time this morning, Meems looked over at him and said, "I don't want to have another baby."  No uterus.  No problem.

She returned home to her beloved Aberdeen* this afternoon.  She was so happy to be back with her housemates and the staff!  I couldn't have been more thrilled!  Tonight, I'll sleep in my own bed in real pajamas.

I need to give a special shout-out to my niece, Kelly!!  She stayed last night at the hospital so that I could go to my Bible Study AND sleep at home!!!  God bless you, KKB!!!  

*Her "house" within the assisted living facility is called Aberdeen.  The others are Brighton, Cambridge and Dover.  [It's kinda like Gryffindor, Slitheryn and Hufflepuff for elderly muggles.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Funny Valentine

The other day:

"I made you a bookmark."

I actually felt a little tinge of "tickled pink" when she told me about the bookmark.  

"It's on my shelf.  It's for you."

When I picked up my gift, I accidentally smudged the somewhat organized glob of glitter glue she added to the bottom of the design.

"Mom, I need to leave it here to dry overnight!  I'll get it tomorrow when I come see you!"

One minute and 42 seconds later.

"Don't forget to take home your bookmark."

Re-explained the wet glitter glue issue.


Two minutes and 17.5 seconds later.

"Don't forget to take home your bookmark."



"I want you to have the Valentine that's on my door."

She "made" it the day she made the bookmark.  A group of middle school students came and did crafts with the residents.  She had a LOT of help making it.

"Mom, are you sure you want me to have it?!  It's got your name on it!"

"Yes.  It's YOUR Valentine from me."

"That's SO SWEET!  Thank you, Mom!"

"I want YOU to have a Valentine."  

And so, I do.  The bookmark made me smile.  The door sign with her name on it brought huge wet tears to my eyes.  I will treasure it always.

A lovely lady came to play songs for them on the piano prior to their Valentine's party this afternoon.  One of the caregivers referred to her as a "piano-ist."  Worked for me.

While she was banging out oldie goldies on the out-of-tune piano, Mom leaned over to me and said loudly, "I can't believe that they didn't invite ALL of the parents to this.  This is really nice.  They must not have sent out invitations.  You knew about the party because you're here every day."

It's officially official.  I'm the parent now.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

It's Not the Same

I wrote this last fall.  Virginia did not come to our home for Thanksgiving.  Her niece came to Texas for a visit!  And, the Keebler lady passed away just after Christmas.  She is lonely no more!

This world filled with billions of people can be a lonely place for the elderly.  As the pace of walking slows and physical activity diminishes, some of them get left behind.  They just can't keep up.  The clock ticks slowly.  Blaring TVs fill the silence.  It breaks my heart.

Meems, who dozes in her wheelchair most of the day, once told me that she gets lonely when I'm not there.  She is surrounded by loving caregivers and plays Bingo aplenty.  But, according to her, "it's not the same."  Pangs of guilt rack my body when I think about how I only visited her once or twice a week before this last broken hip.  I kept trying to excuse my lack of vigilance with the explanation that the long drive across town to the facility she lived in at the time.  "It's 20 minutes away, so coming and going takes FORTY minutes!  Then, when you add in a 20 minute visit, that's AN HOUR PER VISIT!"  I rounded up the commute time to 20 minutes.  From 15 minutes.  In Lubbock.  On the loop.  With no traffic.

The truth:  I didn't enjoy being in her environment.  She lived in a memory care facility.  Though it was bright and cheery, it was also...well...depressing.  Surrounded by people with Alzheimers and severe dementia, Meems began to retreat inside of herself.  She once told me that most of the people in her unit were "half crazy."  Never mind the fact that she often asked me to bring her some cash so that she could pay for her meals at the "restaurant."  "I need a twenty, a couple of tens and some ones for tipping."  She made a point of reminding me that Obama was the president and that the year was 2015.  Those are a couple of questions on the dementia test.  "I'm not crazy."

So, this last broken hip was actually a blessing in disguise.  The long hospital stay and even longer recovery at a rehab facility made it necessary to give up her room in the memory care unit.  (It's a long-term healthcare policy "thang.")  A room came available at a sister facility  (same owners, same good "vibe") 5 minutes from my house.  Hobbled by her inability to walk unassisted, she was no longer considered an "escape risk."  (Well, she never really was an escape risk because she can't run very fast.)  She now lives amongst your average octogenarians as well as some nonagenarions.*  Some have minds as sharp as tacks.  Others can't find their rooms after supper.  The residents talk more at the supper table than those in memory care.  The alert assist the not-so-alert.  "Helen, you dropped a meatball in your lap."  Meems is beginning to perk up.  She is telling her stories to all who will listen.  Most of them are true.

The ladies in her unit have elevated me to sainthood simply because I pop in to see Meems every day.  Sometimes I'm there for an hour.  Sometimes I do a "drive by" and just run in for a hug.  They have labeled me a "good daughter."  When I hear that, I feel like an imposter because my good-daughtering kicked in late in the game.  Mom is 90 years old.  It has taken me this long to "get it."

The lady who lives across the hall from Mom has no children.  Her only living relatives are an elderly sister that lives in a tiny town about 40 minutes away and can no longer drive "into town" and a niece who lives in Idaho.  I invited her to Thanksgiving at our house.  Her face lit up.  She's thinking about it.  "I need to see what my family is going to do."  Always hopeful.  Another has an only child that rarely visits.  She naps on the couch in her room all day out of boredom.  "Come by and visit me sometime when you are here visiting your mom!" she says, "I've got some chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk in my room!"  I've had the cookies - Keebler Chips Deluxe, Soft and Chewy, stored in a mini-fridge - but usually pass on the chocolate milk.

I have to remind myself not to sit in judgment of the adult children I've never met.  Maybe they pop in the mornings.  I'm an afternoon visitor.  Maybe they are dealing with health problems.  Maybe both of their legs are broken.  I give them a lot of grace because until Mom broke her hip again last January, I was amongst their ranks.  I delegated caregiving to the paid caregivers.  Now I know.  Meems is right.  It's not the same.

I need to run call my mother-in-law.  She lives in a wonderful independent living facility across town (11-minute drive) that pulses with activity. She's made lots of friends and is flourishing.  But, it's not the same.  It's just not the same.

*I googled "What are people in their 90s called."  Nonagenarians.  I think that in the greek translation it means "are you still here!? Because, you're "non" supposed to be."  If you reach the age of 100 you are dubbed "Centenarian."  Centenarian sounds like a honor kind of like Valedictorian.

Here's the best part.  I'm about to turn 60.  Wait for it...wait for it...
I will soon be a SEXAGENARIAN.  Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Curious Case of Helen Kinzbach

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  I hadn't thought about that film much since it came out in 2008 until now.  Benjamin was born a baby in an old man's body.  At the age of 7, he was the size of a small child but looked like a bald, bespectacled 80-year-old man. Throughout his life, his body grew younger and younger while his mind became older and older.  By the end of the story, he was an infant.  It was then that he died.
Helen Cute-as-a-Button 1926.

It occurred to me that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button film should be included as an essential element in the School of Dealing with Aging Parents.  We are born without the ability to feed ourselves.  We have no bladder or bowel control.  Our babbling makes absolutely no sense.  But, we are wrapped in such adorable, giggling packages that people stop to smile at us as we ride in the seats of grocery carts.  "Isn't hers just precious!  Oh, look!  I see 2 toofies!"

At the end of life, the same exact process begins.  Same exact.  But, because the person is wrapped in a wrinkly, withered body that sometimes smells a bit odd, no one stops a 95-year-old's wheelchair in the grocery store and kneels and exclaims, "Oh, he's just precious!  I see 3 toofies!  He looks just like YOU!  Mmmmm!  Don't you just love that old man smell?!"

Nope.  We overlook the aged as they return to "childlike behaviors."  Demanding meals at 8:00, noon, and 5:00, they seem unyielding.  My mother's 90-year-old friend, Leonard, doesn't like Mexican food.  He migrated to Texas from Baltimore when he was in his 80's.  The love of Mexican food wasn't expected of a Marylander.  In Texas, we are hard-wired to salivate when we smell a pan of piping hot, cheesy enchiladas.  Leonard orders from the child's menu at Mexican restaurants.  While we inhale our tacos and burritos, he happily feasts on chicken nuggets and French fries.  I don't know if this is a new behavior for him that can be attributed to the aging process or if he has always been a bit of a picky eater, but Leonard doesn't really like complex dishes like casseroles.  He likes to have the chicken separate from the rice which is separate from the broccoli.  

I raised 3 sons.  I well remember spooning tiny portions of individual items into the sections of their plastic Sesame Street dinner plates.  The boys were well into their twenties before they officially enjoyed eating "mixed up" or "foreign" foods.  They still don't exactly devour my Thanksgiving dressing or green bean casserole, but they politely enjoy portions of each on that special day every year.  Update:  My youngest son reported that he LOVES my Thanksgiving dressing.  He further told me that one of his brothers also loves it.  Good to know.

Nowadays as I sit watching my mother scoop at peas on her plate and coming up with an empty spoon, it reminds me of watching a toddler learn how to operate an eating utensil.  An upside-down fork yields little to no harvest of green beans.  I find myself micromanaging the process just like I did so long ago for my little boys.  "Here, Mom," I say taking the fork from her small wrinkled hand, "let me cut that chicken up for you so it will be easier to eat."  I cut the chicken and stab the first bite.  Sometimes, I gently transfer the fork back to her hand so that she can feed herself.  Other times, I almost make "choo choo" noises as I hold the bite up to her lips.  Either way - she doesn't complain.

There were times in my life with Meems that she drove me absolutely cuh-ray-zee.  There were times when she made me mad.  There were times when she wasn't happy with me either.  She needed a lot of attention, and  I was impatient and pretty focused on my own happiness.  When Meems turned 80, I took myself by the shoulders and said to myself, "Self, Meems is 80-years-old now.  All bets are off when it comes to the words that she says and the things that she does.  From now on, you are going to give her pure, godly GRACE.  GRACE, I tell ya!"  That little self-talk was life changing.

Helen Cute-as-a-Button 2016.
So, as Mom's dementia makes her more childlike, and her sleep pattern shifts back to that of a newborn, I think of her as my much so that just the other day when I was making an appointment for her I told the receptionist that I was Helen Kinzbach's mother.  My "child" needs 24-hour care.  She cannot be left alone - ever.  She likes to have her meals served at regular times with snacks in between.  She will happily tell you that her bedtime is 7:00.  No more staying up until 1:00 AM on a school night to finish sewing my homecoming dress.  Her needs are simple and few:  roll her to the meal table, roll her to bingo, roll her to "Fun 'n' Fitness," roll her to Laughter Yoga (yes, it's a real thing).

Someday I'm going to invent a wheelchair that has a little movie screen suspended over the head of the elderly passenger.  A loop of a lifetime of photos and videos would play 24/7.  The display would communicate to the world the true identity of the aged, seemingly "used up" traveler.  Pictures of babes in arms, weddings, homemade homecoming dresses, adventurous travels, and lifelong occupations would scroll across the screen intermingled with videos of high board swan dives, grandbabies being rocked to sleep, and flowerbed tours.  The stories would be told.  Hidden identities would be revealed.  

There was a man with advanced Alzheimer's in the memory care unit Mom lived in before moving to Wedgewood South.  He couldn't feed himself.  His loud words were garbled.  He sat slumped in his wheelchair.  On the outside, he didn't seem so great.  But, great he was.  He was a war hero from the Greatest Generation.  I can't remember his rank, but it was something like a general with some stars.  He was a big deal.  The adult diapers he wore belied his history of bravery and leadership.  He had returned to the situation into which he had been born - total helplessness.  

The Curious Case of Helen Kinzbach is a sweet tale about a childlike 91-year-old woman who could swim a mile when she was in her 60's and explored nature while carrying her own camping gear in a heavy backpack until she was in her 70's and worked in her flower beds in sweltering Central Texas summer heat during her early 80's.  That little wheelchair-bound lady over in the corner sleeping with her head slumped down to her chest once lived fully alive.

Kneel and speak.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Honor these senior citizens.  And, give them lots and lots of grace.  We will ALL need to be given grace in the years to come.


I love hearing your stories!  Keep 'em coming on the Finding the Funny Facebook page or down below in the comments section!!!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Showin' Up

There are days when Meems is alert and chatty.  There are days when her eyelids are so heavy she cannot lift them for more than a few seconds.  She actually fell asleep one morning while she was drinking coffee.  The Sleepy Coffee Spill story is now a part of her limited catalog of "And To Think" stories.  "And to think, I fell asleep while I was drinking hot coffee at breakfast!"  

We call these days Sleepy Days.  They are becoming more and more frequent.

During my Sleepy Day visits, I enjoy sitting quietly by her side drinking in her sweet softness and the peace that surrounds her.  My heart almost bursts with love for this woman.  My mother.  Momma.  Mimi.  Meems.  During those moments of stillness, I slip down a rabbit hole of fascination.  What is it about this tiny sleeping woman with Kleenex billowing from her left sleeve?  Why am I so attached to this particular human being out of all the human beings on Planet Earth?  Shared genetics do not necessarily produce the deep feeling of love that I feel as I watch her slow, deep breaths.

During one recent Sleepy Day visit, I had an epiphany. 

my mother showed up.

She was the little church lady that attended Sunday School and sang in the choir every Sunday.  She never taught a single Sunday School lesson.  She never sang an offertory solo.  She was just THERE.

band concerts, drill team performances, piano recitals, dance recitals, PTA programs, parades.

She wasn't just THERE.  She was THERE taking pictures.

funerals, weddings, Methodist Missions banquets, pot luck dinners, ice cream socials.

She was THERE.

If Helen Kinzbach ever brought you a warm loaf of Mimi Bread (so named by my sons) when you were ill or sad or appreciated or just because you always bragged on her bread, please step forward and place a dollar on the table.  Let's many dollars are piled up there?  Tens of tens of tens.  Her love of Jesus was deeply kneaded by her tiny hands into the individual yeasty fibers of each loaf.

She was THERE with crusty, tender, warm, sweet bread.

I was pregnant with our second child when our firstborn was a just learning to walk.  Morning sickness turned into bouts of nausea throughout the day.  The mere mention of vomit would send me running in search of my little plastic trash can.  On one particular day as I was piddling around in the kitchen while Jonathan was sitting in his high chair playing with his food, I thought I heard the sound of water hitting the floor.  I turned towards the sound.  My eyes opened wide and my jaw dropped in disbelief.  It wasn't a leaking pipe.  It was a leaking diaper.  My precious son smiling with a circle of Cheerio balanced between his front teeth had exploded. I can hardly type the words to tell you about the volume and odor of...  Ugh.  I'm making myself gag right now.  Mothers of the World, you get the idea.

I raced to the bathroom and ran warm water into the tub.  Then, I gulped in a deep breath and held it as I ran to the kitchen to extricate Jonathan from the obliterated high chair.  Tears were running down my cheeks.  Oh, misery, thy name is Diarrhea!  I held Jonathan away from my body like a dead cat as I ran towards the bathroom.  I stripped off his clothes and diaper and rolled them up into a bath towel gagging and crying all the while.

Once I got him bathed, powdered and in fresh clothes, I carried him to my bedroom.  I placed him on the bed and crawled up next to him crying.  I felt so overwhelmed.  I could not face the mess in the kitchen nor the bathroom.  Life was just too much for me all in the span of about 10 minutes of one day with one poopy toddler.  So, what did I do?  I picked up the phone and called Mom.

She came.  The journey from Waco to my house in Mesquite took about 2 hours.  She arrived with a packed bag in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  I was still crying and gagging.  And, kinda hungry.  Mom took charge.  She cleaned up every glop of poop and washed the poopy clothes.  Soon the piney freshness of clean floated throughout my tiny house.  Then, she brought me a sandwich and a glass of sweet tea on a tray with a carefully folded napkin and a bloom of azalea plucked from my flowerbed and tucked into a tiny vase.

On that Sleepy Day sitting there gazing at my mother, I felt a huge lump rise up in my throat.  That petite, wrinkled bundle of slumber seems like no one special to the casual observer.  

Oh, she's special, my friend.  She lived a lifetime of showing up.  She honored people and God by showing up.  And, I had the privilege of watching her legacy of showing up unfold.  

Thanks, Sleepy One, for being there for me and mine, your church family, and your friends.  Your warm loaves of bread, your willingness to serve, and your STRONG STOMACH will be my beacons as I journey forward in life.  Well, not so much the strong stomach.

Look at the picture above.  See the 5 plates on the wall?  If you're thinking that there must have been 6 plates hanging there, you would be right.  Last fall, one of the plates fell and broke into several pieces.  A caregiver gave my mother the cross for Christmas and placed it where the plate once hung.  A younger me would have twitched at the mere site of the skewed symmetry.  Today's me kinda loves it.  Everything on that wall screams "Helen Kinzbach!"  Gardening.  Fine china.  Jesus.

Remind me someday to tell you about the framed embroidery in the picture that reads, "I'd rather be in my garden."  It's a sweet, sweet story.


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...