August 2010


Less than a year ago, Sunday, October 25th, we got into the van and headed out on our last adventure traveling together.  Our first stop was the 60th birthday party of friend John in the Oklahoma City area.  I had not given any indication that we might be coming, so it was a complete surprise.  He had not seen Mary Ann in fourteen years.  We stayed for a few hours, had a great time, and then headed for a motel that was on the way to our next stop.

That stop was a three night, four day stay at what I have no doubt is one of the very best Bed and Breakfast’s in the nation.  It has been featured in Midwest Living and easily measures up to the PR on it.  The name is Lookout Point, Lakeside Inn, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  (www.lookoutpointinn.com)  I have described it more than once in earlier posts. 

There are twelve rooms and a condo from which to choose.  Every room has a balcony or patio overlooking a quiet bay of Lake Hamilton.  There is a secuded feel to it because of how it is situated at the edge of the bay.  The gardens are unbelievable, lush, full of color in both spring and fall, with a large fountain feeding a stream and waterfalls that run through the gardens down to the lake.  One of the rooms is fully handicapped accessible.  We had stayed there a time or two before this. 

The breakfast is always a gourmet meal and the 4pm wine, cheese and freshly baked goods are always a treat, especially on Chocolate Wednesday.  There is original art work everywhere.  Hot Springs is one of the top ranked small cities in the nation in the fine arts.  Owners, Ray and Kristie are gracious hosts.  Kristie is an Ordained Pastor in the United Methodist Church who remains active doing weddings and retreats among other things.  The library there includes a section on Spiritual Formation.  By the way, the library, a separate reading room with a fireplace and a huge sunroom, along with the dining room and large patio eating area fill out the areas available for relaxation and renewal. 

Mary Ann was doing well during our time there.  We got out for ice cream at least once.  We toured some of the first class Art Galleries in the downtown area.  We drove up a winding road right in town, a road that took us up to an overlook providing a breathtaking view extending many miles.  Our last evening was spent sitting in a protected area of the outdoor patio enjoying a gentle rain. 

On our previous trip to Lookout Point, Mary Ann decided that we should head to a place she thought was nearby at which people can search for diamonds and keep what they find.  It was very hot when we were there last.  Mary Ann used the wheel chair almost exclusively.  I was picturing trying to dig around in the hot sun while at the same time having to move the wheel chair through gravel.  When Kristie told us how far away it was, I was much relieved that it would be too far to manage. 

Unfortunately, Kristie mentioned an alternative.  It was a quartz mine in easy driving distance.  It was not long before Mary Ann was sitting in her wheel chair next to a huge mound of mud, while I dug out promising hunks for her to look at and trying to find quartz crystals.  Mary Ann baked in the sun and I sweated in the mud until we managed to find a few little crystals and one big one.  Finally, Mary Ann said she needed to get out of the sun and we called our quartz crystal mining operation to an end.  We brought back a bag of chunks of mud that have crystals in them.  That was almost two years ago, and the bag of hardened hunks of mud is still in the garage waiting to be cleaned. 

On this trip, gratefully,  Mary Ann did not ask to go to the quartz mine.  I think she had baked long enough the last time.  The weather would not have allowed it anyway this time.  It was just a good trip, even with the rain.  We both enjoyed  it in spite of the physical challenges.

On the way back home, we stopped overnight in Eureka Springs.  By the time we arrived at the motel there, the gentle rain had become not so gentle, just about washing Arkansas away.  It poured longer and harder than I can ever remember experiencing before.  In the morning, we discovered that the breakfast that came with the room was being served in a separate building in the lower level.  There was no elevator and a huge flight of cement stairs between us and the food.  I went down to check on the breakfast to see if it would be worth the effort to try to get Mary Ann to it.  There was a very large dining area with long tables laden with all sorts of  breakfast foods, including hot out of the oven Quiches of various kinds. 

It was too good a layout to just try to bring up a couple of morsels to the motel room.  We decided to  try to get Mary Ann down the stairs and into the dining room.  She stood up at the top of the first section of stairs while I moved the wheelchair to the first landing.  Then I went back up and held her tightly as we moved down the stairs.  Remember, people with Parkinson’s can negotiate stairs better than level areas.  The problem, of course, was the issue of the Orthostatic Hypotension that caused her to faint after a time of standing or walking.  Since the last visit to my Brother’s home, Mary Ann had been walking without fainting.  We had increased a medicine (Midodrine) that helped keep her blood pressure up, but often way above safe levels. 

We made the first landing, where she sat for a bit.  Then she stood up, I carried the wheelchair to the bottom of the next section of stairs, came back up and held her tightly again as we completed the descent.  We both ate well, but I kept thinking about how foolish it might have been to come down the steps, since there would have to be a return trip.  Finally, we were the last, and the lady in charge needed to close things up.  While we would have made it back up those stairs one way or another, the lady in charge took us through the kitchen and out another door to the bottom of a steep drive for delivery trucks. 

The drive was so steep it was almost impossible for me to keep my footing and push the chair up to the top.  God is good!  A delivery person arrived just at that time.  Between the two of us, we managed to push her to the top of the drive.  When it came to food, there was not much that would stop us. 

We headed back home.  Mary Ann continued to do well.  That evening, October 30, Mary Ann was fine.  We got up the next morning and she seemed all right.  Later in the day, after she had a long nap, we headed out in the car.  I stopped for coffee.  When I got back to the car, she was not feeling well.  I gave her a nitro pill and headed for the next stop at the store while the pill had a chance to work.  After I got out of the store, she still did not feel well.  She described the feeling as a heaviness in her chest.  That was all I needed to hear.  We stopped at the house to get a couple of things, and I took her right to the Emergency Room.  As suspected, it was congestive heart failure. 

She recieved wonderful care, but the decline was dramatic.  She was there only a few days, but she never regained the ground she lost.  It was the beginning of the last leg of her journey here, our time together.  That journey is recounted in great detail in the posts written almost every day from then until the end.  I am not ready or able to review those months in detail yet. 

We did the best with what we had.  Mary Ann squeezed the most she could out of every day.  She never gave up until she decided it was time to leave.  Then she just stopped eating food and drinking any liquids.  For 23.5 years she pushed to the very edge of the limits the Parkinson’s put on her and then stepped over those limits, beyond what could reasonably be expected of her.  I did everything I could think of and was able to do to provide the best care, the best quality of life within my power to give.   I think we both dealt with what came our way, yes imperfectly, but with dignity and courage, living every day with meaning and purpose.  The strength to do so did not come from us, but the One who made us and never gave up on us.  The One who sits at table with Mary Ann now.   I miss her more than words can say.

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It was a little less than a year ago that we headed off for a major trip again.  This one was to Kentucky to visit Daughter Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn.  When we had done it in one day, it usually took us about eleven hours to get there.  This time, we stopped at a motel at about the halfway point.  We got plentyof rest, had a leisurely morning, and headed on to Louisville around noon.  Mornings always were extended by the time it took for each step in preparation for getting ready to go anywhere.  It was just a part of our reality. 

On other occasions we had stayed in the downstairs at Lisa’s.  Mary Ann’s Orthostatic Hypotension made that a challenge.  When she stood, her blood pressure would drop making her susceptible to fainting.  It was almost comical to see us help Mary Ann up the stairs.  One odd characteristic of Parkinson’s is that while feet may freeze on the level, stairs are no problem to negotiate.  The challenge was to get her up the stairs before the low blood pressure no longer provided an adequate blood supply to her brain to keep her from fainting. With one of us beside her and one in back, we raced up the stairs to a waiting chair.  On some of our visits, every time we arrived at the chair, she would faint.  On some visits she had less difficulty with it.  There was nothing we could come up with that explained why some times were better than others.

By this time last year, the OH was bad enough that it was no longer an option to stay in the downstairs.  We chose to stay in an extended stay motel.  It worked out well.  We took whatever time we needed in the morning at the motel, and ended up at Lisa’s house around noon.  We spent time with the family as long as Mary Ann’s stamina held out, and then headed back to the motel. 

We headed out in the car with the family, often to visit Huber’s winery and garden produce market and bakery (and ice cream parlor) in Southern Indiana near Denis’s family, with whom we visited.  Usually there was a trip to a restaurant.  There was lots of time watching Abigail and Ashlyn doing a variety of things.  There were many hugs, lots of pictures drawn and colored.  We had a good visit.

When we left, rather than coming straight home, we made the relatively short drive to Columbus, Indiana, to visit Brother Dick, Dee and the family.  Dick is a retired Pastor, fourteen years my senior.  We are almost from different generations, but have come to know and love each other as the years have gone by, as has been so with Dave, Gayle and Tish, our other siblings. 

I have described the setting at Dick and Dee’s place a couple of times before.  They live on a five acre plot with trees and ponds and gardens everywhere.  There are bees that provide honey, fish to be caught, vegetables to be picked from the garden and either eaten right away or canned to be eaten later.  Freshly baked bread and home made granola are mainstays.  There are birds constantly at the feeders attached to the rail or sitting on the deck right outside the floor to ceiling windows. 

We enjoyed a wonderful meal.  Then came the miracle.  Mary Ann had declined to the extent that walking more than a few steps had pretty much ceased to be an option — we thought.  When she tried to walk, many times the blood pressure would drop and so would she.  When we arrived at Dick and Dee’s, it was a little challenging to get the wheel chair where it needed to be.  Mary Ann just got up and walked the length of a long hall to the living room.  Then when we looked around the house, she walked and did not fall.  Later, we went over to see the magnificent house their Daughter Jill (our Niece) and her husband had built to house their three boys, by then in junior high and high school.  The house was perfectly outfitted for the boys having friends over to hang out together. 

Dick drove Mary Ann over in the golf cart he and Dee use to get around on the acreage.  We didn’t take the wheel chair.  Mary Ann toured the main floor of that huge house on foot, never falling once.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  After spending the night in a nearby motel, we headed back home the next day.  This time we made  the trip in one day.  For some reason, going home always seemed to go faster.  Part of that sensation was due to the fact that we crossed a time zone creating the illusion that we had taken less time. 

After we got home, the walking continued for weeks.  Before we left, I would jump up every time Mary Ann got up so that I would be ready to catch her before she fell.  I would, of course, try to convince her not to get up without warning me so that I could come and help.  After we returned, I relaxed and stopped jumping up when she stood.  That change made our days much less stressful.  That miracle made our last fall together a pleasant one. 

In the next post on this sight I will describe the subsequent trip to a Bed & Breakfast in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the one that would be our last trip. 

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“How is retirement going?”  the Pastor asked as we were leaving after worshiping at the evening service at  a Lutheran Church in Kansas City a few months into retirement.  I told him that it seemed to be going pretty well, better than I had expected it to be going.  When we got in the car after that interaction, Mary Ann said, “Let’s be honest.  This is not working.  We are both bored silly!” 

First of all, it was a shock to me that so many words came out so clearly.  Mary Ann was never very forthcoming with conversation and especially by that time in the disease process.  She just blurted it out.  By that time I had begun to feel as if things actually were going pretty well.  What I inferred (rightly or wrongly) from what she said was that it was not working for her and she was bored silly.  In fairness, she may have been assuming that I was bored with our situation after moving from many hours away from home working at my job to being at the house pretty much all day long every day. 

It certainly was boring for her.  She couldn’t do any of the things she had done in the past for entertainment other than watch television.  We had been heading out in the car very often to do one thing or the other so that we would not be cloistered in the house, but apparently that was not doing the job.  Since we were together all the time, there was no news to share that the other didn’t already know. 

At first, it sort of hurt my feelings that having just retired early to do full time care of Mary Ann, there seemed to be no appreciation.   For one thing, I needed to accept the fact that I could not fix the situation — I could not do enough to replace all that she was missing.  One thought that came to mind  was trying to increase the visits from Volunteers so that Mary Ann would have someone other than me to talk with (listen to) more often during the week. 

It happened that there were enough of the working folks who could only Volunteer evenings that Scheduler Mary was able to accommodate that need.  We added two evenings a week as options when Volunteers were available.  The Volunteers brought with them their presence and their experiences and their stories.  Sometimes (especially on NCIS days) there was a lot of just sitting together and watching television.  Often Volunteers shared what was going on at work or in their family or extended family, thereby enlarging Mary Ann’s world. 

Sometimes a Volunteer (daytime or evening) would read to her from a novel they brought out each time she visited.  There were occasional outings by Volunteers who happened to be willing and physically able to help Mary Ann in and out of the car as well as handling the wheelchair.  There were trips to Ensley Gardens, a world class garden on the other side of town.  Volunteers would sometimes do food preparation, bringing Mary Ann into the kitchen with them.  In earlier years, Mary Ann had often challenged Volunteers to a game of Scrabble.  She played well and showed no mercy. 

I suppose the greatest challenge was trying to keep Mary Ann’s environment a stimulating one for her.  I felt inadequate to the task.  I didn’t have the creativity or the stamina to do it myself, but with the help of the Volunteers, she had a reasonably good quality of life within the limits placed by the Parkinson’s Disease.  Until the last few months, we got out as often as I could think of  something to do that we could manage, if only to the Library or the grocery store.  Right up until the last hospitalization last October 31st, we were often on the road.  We had just returned from our last major trip the day before, October 30th. 

Descriptions of the last two major trips with come in subsequent posts.

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Maybe not, but darn close.  One of Mary Ann’s challenges after the stroke was negotiating the utensils she ate with.  Getting food on to the fork or spoon and where is was supposed to go was not an easy thing.  How much we take for granted.  We don’t give a second thought to the matter of getting food into our mouth unless we are using chop sticks or trying to eat peas.  For Mary Ann, just eating a few bits of food could be a major challenge. 

To help with the problem, I got a couple of thick plastic plates from Munn’s Medical Supply.  The plates were called Inner Lip Plates (a trademarked name).  They were just that, plates with about a half inch high lip around the center part of the plate.  They provided an edge tall enough to push the food against it allowing the fork or spoon to get under it without pushing it off on to the table. 

After a year or two of using those plates, it dawned on me that we ought to be able to get plates that we could all use when we ate together with the Kids here.  We had on occasion purchased pieces of pottery from Jepson pottery that had an outlet about 45 minutes away.  His studio was only an hour or so away from us in the other direction. 

We had gone for an outing a couple of times and stopped at his Studio.  Actually, we discovered where it was located when we used the GPS on one of our ice cream runs to Emporia (over an hour away) and we drove right by Harveyville, Kansas on the way.  When we were at the studio, I saw some chili bowls that seemed a practical alternative when Mary Ann was eating soup or ice cream.  The sides seemed to be shaped in a way that might make it easier for her.  She picked out some colors that were very nice, she was very talented in the use of color. 

The Fat Cat actually was the fattest cat by far that I have ever seen in my life.  It owned the floor of the Jepson Studio.  It was friendly and not at all hesitant to engage anyone willing to scratch an ear or pet his gigantic back.  I think the answer was something like 27 pounds when I asked how much he weighed. 

We headed to the Jepson Studio again, this time with one of the plastic plates to use as a template.  He made a ceramic plate with the lip, in the colors Mary Ann had chosen.  It was just the ticket.  He made five more so that we could have six adults using the same plates, with no “special” plate for Mary Ann.  They are beautiful.  He made some high sided bowls that work even better than the chili bowls.  The plates and bowls were heavy enough that we did not need to use the piece of non-slip Dycem to keep her plate from sliding around. 

I have written about this in an earlier post.  I include it here as I review the various outings we took, adding quality to our days in spite of the limitations of the Parkinson’s. 

We enjoyed the trips out to Harveyville, but certainly liked best arriving at the final destination at Braum’s in Emporia where we had Pecan Caramel Fudge Sundaes.  Other times we picked up Friend and Thursday Volunteer Jeanne (once including Volunteer Coordinator/Friend Mary) to head out for a ride that took us to Harveyville and then through the Flint Hills to Alma.  A walk up ice cream shop had opened there after a while, so there was extra motivation to go that direction. 

One way or another, we were determined to get out of the house and so as much as we could while we could.  Mary Ann needed to eat plenty of calories, especially after she began losing weight last summer.  Whatever health issues might be associated with ice cream, they were trumped by the need for a little pleasure in a life that did not offer many. 

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Our travels took us first to Greenville, South Carolina when Lisa moved there, then met Denis and they married.  Needless to say, those trips were taken on a plane.  When they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, we could drive there.  It was at least ten hours for us to make the trip, but we could do it.  There was Interstate from within blocks of our house here to within blocks of their house there.  By that time we had dealt with the life-threatening pneumonia after the plane trip to Tucson, so we gave up on traveling by air. 

Then something remarkable happened that shortened the ten hour trip to three minutes.  It went something like this: Denis said to Lisa, “Why don’t we move to Topeka to help out your parents for a couple of years until your Dad retires.”  I don’t know if those were the exact words, but that was the gist of it.  Lisa called.   Mary Ann was ready for them to come.  I wanted them to be sure not to disrupt their lives and careers without thinking it through carefully.  Our goal in raising our children was that they have the best life possible.  They thought about it and did it.  It was their choice to make.  What a gift it was to us. 

Within weeks, Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn were in our downstairs, heading out regularly to look at houses.  They found one three minutes away.   Denis looked for work locally, while continuing to work for his employer in Louisville, traveling some, doing much of his work at the computer.   Denis did so well from here in Kansas that his boss wondered if he shouldn’t move here.  The job continued all two years. 

During that time Lisa and the girls came to the house before I left for work two days of the week.  She took over scheduling the weekday Volunteers for the other days.  She and the girls would take Mary Ann to their house until late afternoon when I joined the family for supper at their home.  After supper, I took Mary Ann back to our house, where often there was another Volunteer who had  been scheduled by Mary for the time I was at an evening meeting.  Of course, there were many other times that Mary Ann would stay with Lisa and the girls or they would come to the house.   Between Mary, who scheduled evenings and weekends (weddings, retreats), Edie who scheduled Sunday mornings (after an early shift by a paid home companion from an agency), Jeanne who came on Thursdays, and Lisa dealing with daytimes, I was able to continue to fulfill my responsibilities as the Senior Pastor of a large and very active congregation.  Lisa’s presence in town, with help from Jeanne and Mary, even allowed me to once or twice a year to have a three day overnight retreat at St. Francis of the Woods Spiritual Renewal Center in Northern Oklahoma. 

Son Micah, Becky and Chloe had moved from three hours away to one hour away not many years before this.   He came over, especially when there was a major Saturday commitment that took me from the house.  During those two years, Mary Ann had the joy of all her Children and Grandchildren nearby.  She spent much time with Lisa and the girls because of my work schedule.  Lisa would often include her in craft activities and food preparation.  Even with all the limitations, Mary Ann had a good quality of life for most of her years. 

Needless to say, it was a sad day when around the time of my retirement, Denis, Lisa and the girls moved back to the Louisville.  The agreement at Denis’s work had been for the time away to be two years only.  Denis also has a huge family (he is the youngest of ten children) who are all clustered very near Louisville.   Lisa, Denis and the girls have a wonderful community of support there. 

We returned to making trips to Louisville for as long as we could travel.  After a while the stairs in their house were too much for Mary Ann to handle, so the last time we visited, we stayed in an extended stay motel.  That worked well.  The last trip there was less than a year ago.  I will say more about that and some other travels in the next posts on this blog site.   

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They are standing outside the bathroom door with their little legs crossed.  Maybe that is exaggerating a bit, but not by much.  Two of our day trips included Granddaughter Chloe.  On the first one, we headed out to the Rolling Hills Zoo outside of Salina.  We spent many hours on the road in doing that round trip.  It was worth it.  The Zoo is very large with spacious areas for the animals.  The habitats are very nicely done, carefully mimicking as much as possible the environment that would be natural to the animals in it. 

It was easy to negotiate.  There was a tram with a spot for the wheel chair.  The paths were wide asphalt walkways that were very user friendly, except for the hills that were rolling up and down between displays.   Chloe loved it.  Mary Ann was not so much of a zoo person, but she seemed to enjoy it too.  It was a warm, but pleasant day.  They had ice cream in the concession area.   Enough said.

On that trip we did not have time to use the other half of our ticket, the one for the large building with displays of stuffed animals, and animated people in appropriate environments.  We had heard from others who had been there that the displays were worth seeing.   We made a second trip out there with Chloe later in the summer of that same year.  It was on the second trip that Mary Ann needed to use the bathroom after we had spent an hour or so walking around the displays.  The women’s rest room was huge.  There was a long wall lined with stalls.  Clearly they were prepared for large groups. 

When we entered the women’s rest room, after getting permission from the woman at the ticket counter, Chloe stayed at the door to keep people out while I helped Mary Ann.  It turned out to be a major intestinal event.  A great deal of time was needed to accomplish the task.  I decided to go out and tell Chloe that it would be a long time and check to see if there was anyone who needed to use the restroom.  There was — more than anyone, lots of anyones.   It was an entire busload of Second Graders, all in need of using the bathroom.  The girls were huddled outside the door. 

I decided to ask Chloe if she would just stand outside of the handicapped stall Mary Ann was using while the girls used the restroom.  Mary Ann just sat there until they were all done and the teacher had given the all clear for me to go back in and help her finish. 

It was the bathroom needs that complicated travel, but after surviving the busload of Second Graders, we were somewhat emboldened to head out in the car. 

Over the years we had made regular trips to Northern Illinois where we both grew up and had family.   As the disease became more difficult to manage, we were not always able to make the ten hour trip.  The last time we made that trip, we broke it up by staying in a motel and taking two days to do it.  My side of the family had gatherings every year or every two years around my Mother’s birthday, even after she was gone.  MaryAnn’s side of the family did not get together often for major reunions since two of her brothers were deceased and the third Brother had alienated himself from the family.  Whenever possible we would get together with Sisters-in-Law and as many Nieces and Nephews as could come.  We enjoyed those gatherings very much, as well as the reunions with my Brothers and Sisters and their families. 

One special treat was getting together with Mary Ann’s three friends from Fifth Grade on.  Sometimes we would get together with spouses also.  It was always wonderfully entertaining to see and hear the four of them together.   Mary Ann laughed more in a few hours with them than she did in the year or years in between the visits.  One way or another, we would be sure that the four of them had some time without any of the Spouses.  I don’t know what they talked about, but that is most certainly in the “better not to know” category. 

The three of them came to visit Mary Ann here a number of times also.  All of us recognized the power of healing those visits had for Mary Ann.  No matter how much she had declined, when they came, some sort of switch flipped and she perked up, became alert and communicative.  The last time they visited was after she had been enrolled in Hospice.  I described that visit in an earlier post.  We all laughed.  She had the closest I had seen to a belly laugh while we  sat at the Baskin & Robbins. 

Whatever toll the Parkinson’s took, it did not take away family and friends.  Travel was not easy, but as long as we could manage it, we headed out.  Some were day trips, some were long trips.  There will be more to come in the next few posts. 

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