Whatever else I did or didn’t do, I knew enough never to say that!  I never said it for one thing, because it would be silly to claim I was doing the Lord’s work if I was not fulfilling my Call as Husband and Father.  Being a Husband and a Father is doing the Lord’s work.  Working for the church is just the way I chose to live out my Vocation, no more or less important than anyone else’s Vocation.  Every Christian is Called to live his/her Christianity in every dimension of their life and work. 

Another reason for not saying those words, “But Mary Ann, I’m Doing the Lord’s Work,” is that, assuming they were spoken to suggest my stuff was more important than her stuff, the Mizel wit would cut me down to size with a sharp blade. There was no room for pretense with Mary Ann.  I was her husband, she was my wife.  My job happened to be to serve as a Pastor of a congregation.  She kept me from becoming self-important.  The result was that I was more genuine in the way I did Ministry.  My relationship with people was more real on account of pretense being an unacceptable option. 

That is a gift Mary Ann gave me that impacted my work.  The battle with Parkinson’s had a powerful impact on the way I did ministry and how that ministry was received.   Certainly, there was an impact on my time and energy.  I had to delegate, accept help, find efficient ways to accomplish the ministry so that the Congregation got from me the job they had Called me to do.  Being up multiple times during the night, pretty much every night, for the last eight or so years in the Ministry, had an impact.  The Leadership of the Congregation insisted on my taking care of myself to keep functioning effectively.  The Staff helped in every way possible.  

One gift was that we had to function as a team, each helping the other be as effective as possible.  Members seemed more willing to take on tasks, realizing that the help was very much needed.  As time went by, the challenge of the Parkinson’s resulted in a structure at work that could remain functional and healthy even when Mary Ann was in the hospital and I needed to be there full time day and night.  That actually turned out to be a strength as we dealt with vacant Staff positions at various times during those years. 

I am inferring from observations mostly and occasional comments, another gift our situation gave to my ministry.  There was an authenticity when I was preaching and doing Pastoral Care that seemed to come from the awareness that we were living through very difficult times.  Whether or not others perceived it, I felt freer to talk more boldly about people dealing with challenges since what I said (at least in my mind) could not be easily dismissed as shallow platitudes.  Even if no one else was aware of it, I felt more deeply than in years past the weight of what message of the day had to say to real life situations. 

The place it seemed to me to make the most difference was in hospital visitations and counseling situations.  Those who were suffering from medical problems seemed to talk with me and listen to me as someone having a common experience with which we were both struggling, both finding strength from our faith.  Again, there was an authenticity in our communication that was rooted in the fact that we were all in the same sort of circumstances.  The words I came to say spoke to me as well as to them.  Those who were struggling with painful relationship issues or bouts of depression, could not easily dismiss my counsel, since it came from personal experience in dealing with issues that could be depressing and destroy a relationship.  It was not easy for people to just feel sorry for themselves in front of me and tell me that I didn’t understand what they were going through. 

Of course, I also learned to be far more understanding when folks were going through tough times struggling to survive.  Having seen the boundaries of my capacity to cope with our situation, I could empathize with those living on the edge.  I knew what it felt like.  I knew what it was like to need help and be forced to accept that I could not make it without reaching out to others, accepting their help. 

Now that the Parkinson’s and its allies have done their worst and taken Mary Ann from life here, from those who knew her and loved her, from our Children and Grandchildren, from me, there is another gift that has come.  It is a tough one to accept, but I have no choice.  I now understand just how hard it is to lose a Spouse after decades of marriage.  I understand what it feels like to have a heart broken by losing the one who filled life with meaning and purpose, the one the Lord called me to love and care for these many years.

I also know more clearly than ever that there is healing and new life for her that is now more than she has ever known before.  I  know, not just intellectually, but experientially that because she has new life, I am free to live again, to start a new life.  I am free to incorporate into my life the impact she has had on me in the 48 years I have loved her, along with the unconditional love of a Lord who refuses to give up on me, plus the impact of so many who have touched my life in the years in the Ministry — I am free to say yes to the Call to Live.   Only a Lord who brought Resurrection out of suffering and death could bring out of twenty-three and a half years of battling a disease, so many good gifts.

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The package was pretty ugly — Parkinson’s Disease, but the gift was beautiful.  Actually, God gave the gift.  Actually the gift was already there, Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s provided a tool for opening the package, pulling out the gift and letting people see it. 

Sometimes harsh judgments are made about churches and church folks.  There are the caricatures of people who attend church regularly as hypocrites and self-righteous, harsh, judgmental and unloving people.  Of course all those things are true to a certain extent, just as they are true of the general population, whether they happen to go to church or not. 

What actually has been so in my experience with congregations, ones I have served in forty years of ministry and many I have heard about from fellow clergy is exactly the opposite.  I have seen true community in action in my years in the ministry.  By true community, I mean people who are connected in a way that frees them to express that connection in action — people who help one another. 

Community was expressed in a former congregation by surrounding a handicapped member with support in every way, functioning as family for her.  When the bombing in Oklahoma City took one of the members of that congregation, her husband was surrounded with loving and caring actions.  When the bombing happened, I saw first hand an entire city express community, as crime ceased for a time, people came together to support one another, doing anything and everything they could to help those suffering, to support the ones who were doing the hands on rescue work.

The congregation I served the last twelve and a half years in my role as Pastor of a congregation had always expressed community in one way or another.  People visited and cared for those who were going through difficult times, especially due to health or aging.  The gift that came with Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s was an opportunity, an opportunity to go public with those expressions of community. 

Mary Ann’s circumstances provided some very clearly identifiable needs.  The needs were concrete.  I could not continue to serve as Pastor of the congregation without those needs being filled.  The response was a natural one for people who understood and lived in community with one another, quietly going about the business of supporting one another in times of need.  My vantage point may have skewed my view of reality, but it seemed to me that Mary Ann’s and my needs, so public, and the response to them, helped crystallize the self-image of the congregation.  What had always been so gained a higher profile and became visible.   That visibility became a witness to the poeple in the congregation and others who learned about it. 

I think the truth of the matter is that people in community with one another find much satisfaction in helping each other if they can figure out what to do that will actually help.  People surrounded our household with the basic needs of companionship for Mary Ann with all that demanded in terms of help with personal needs and whatever came up.  There was sometimes food brought over, grocery shopping done when we were homebound or Mary Ann was hospitalized.  There were sometimes basic household needs covered, chores done, ironing done.  Margaret, Carol (single-handedly for over six years), Mary, Edie, Daughter Lisa, all who coordinated  clusters of Volunteers, gave them instructions on what to do, answered their questions.  A free online scheduler just for that purpose helped organize times and tasks.  It is available at no charge to any individual who needs it: www.lotsahelpinghands.com

The specific gift Mary Ann gave the congregation was opening herself to allowing people into her life to help her.  Community can’t be experienced fully without people’s willingness to allow themselves to become vulnerable to others.  There is a risk when allowing people to help.  Will you become indebted to them?  How will you pay them back?  If you don’t pay them back, will they somehow own a little piece of you?  We simply had no choice.  There was so much help that there was no way we could ever repay all the people.  We occasionally made small symbolic efforts and saying thank you.  Mary Ann enjoyed doing an open house every once in a while, Volunteers helping with it.  She sometimes made or designed token gifts intended to say thank you.  There was just no way to do enough.  We simply had to allow the help with no possibility of ever repaying or saying enough thank you’s. 

The good news is that people helped because they chose to do so.  They helped because they have been wired by their Creator to do so.  They helped because there was meaning and satisfaction and fulfillment in doing so.  By helping, they actually had a part in the Pastoral ministry to the congregation.   Because they were doing what they were doing I could do what I was Called to do as my part in the community. 

Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s freed the true community that already existed to float to the surface and become more visible, defining the congregation in its own eyes and the eyes of those who heard about it.   

By making these observations about the gifts that came into our lives and the lives of many others on account of the Parkinson’s, I am in no way lessening the horror of what Mary Ann went through.  We would not wish that struggle on anyone.  It was not a good thing.  It was a very ugly disease that stole from Mary Ann everything she had enjoyed doing with her hands and her sharp, creative mind.  In spite of that, God brought some good gifts to her, to me, to a congregation and to our family.  More about that in later posts.

When the Parkinson’s was first diagnosed, Mary Ann insisted on complete secrecy.  No family (even parents and siblings) could know, no friends, certainly no parishioners — only the Kids and I were to privy to the diagnosis.  That insistence continued for five years.  She allowed a couple of exceptions for me so that I would have somewhere to go to process what we were going through.  Actually, I don’t remember if their Mom gave Lisa and Micah permission to share with anyone.  They may comment on that. 

Mary Ann had always been an extremely private person.  She didn’t think her personal life was anyone else’s business.  After she was diagnosed, she did not want people to be looking at her as if there was something wrong with her.  She certainly did not want people feeling sorry for her and treating her as a sick person.  I have shared before how hard that five years was on all of us. 

Finally, the secret could no longer be kept since there were too many outward signs of the disease.  When we moved here in 1996 Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s was public information among the Leadership of the congregation.  The secret was out from the first conversation by phone with the Call Committee.  In fact, by that time, Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s was in the form that I filled out for the file in the District office, the form that was sent to the congregation as soon as my name was put on their list of Candidates. 

It is here that the story of one gift that came on account of the Parkinson’s begins.  Mary Ann received some special attention from a group of ladies in the congregation.  She was welcomed in a way that made her feel accepted and included immediately.  I did not see all the dynamics of that inclusion, but I was thrilled at its effect on Mary Ann.  She quickly developed a group of friends in the congregation.  While my being the Pastor brought us to the place and provided the setting, that group became her very own friends, not acquaintances of the Pastor’s Wife. 

Before going any further, I have to say that Mary Ann had developed connections when we were in the early years in Kansas City.  She often claimed (falsely) that people were friends with her because I was the Pastor.  The truth is, I was the more boring one and she was always the more interesting personality of the two of us.  I am not particularly thrilled with that assessment, but it is just the way it was. 

In the parish here, the Parkinson’s created a need.  The need was for help.  When Margaret began and Carol took over the task of scheduling, the Volunteers began coming.  At first it was an adjustment, especially for Mary Ann, to have people coming into the house and staying with her.  First of all, her combination of strength of will and denial, caused her to resist any admission of the need for people to be there.  She seemed to manage to fall in a way that did not do damage to her, so she was not convinced of the need.  While watching the knives waving this way and that from the dyskinesias when she was preparing food, terror entered the heart of the watcher.  She was convinced that she would not slice herself. 

Since many of the first Volunteers were already friends, she tolerated the lack of privacy surprisingly well.  In fact it shocked me that she did not fight harder against the idea.  As the number of Volunteers expanded, new friendships were added.  Since often there was some need being met in another room when the next Volunteer arrived, the custom was to announce her arrival and just walk in. 

The result was that our house had an open door policy.  It was almost comical some Wednesdays when Bath Aide Zandra was here, Kristie had come to clean, it was crossover time when two Volunteers were here, one arriving and the other getting ready to leave, and the Spiritual Formation Group (four of us) were lingering for a moment of conversation before leaving after our meeting.  Rather than feeling as if folks were intruding into our lives, it was a pleasant gathering of friendly people. 

One gift that came was that Mary Ann opened herself to all sorts of relationships.  She had a wealth of friends and knew that they were her friends, not simply members of the congregation of which I was Pastor.  I cannot know what would have happened without the Parkinson’s, but it is clear that from its presence in our lives, the gift of openness to relationships grew.   

As always, we certainly would not have chosen the mechanism, but there were some consequences of its presence that brought blessing to our lives.

That, Thomas Merton suggests, is the model of love that has predominated in our culture.  I have needs, you have needs, let’s make a deal.  We put ourselves on the market until the deal is made.  Then, even once the deal is made, there is often still an eye out for a better deal. 

Mary Ann taught me what it means to love someone.  That is one of the gifts we received through the addition of Parkinson’s to our family circle.  Of course we would never have chosen the Parkinson’s as the textbook, but we were grateful for the learning.  The feelings that drew us together were intense and exciting and overwhelming, at least to me — I cannot speak for Mary Ann.  They are not what constitute love.  The feelings that first draw us to the one we love we are convinced are pure and selfless.  We would do anything for her/him.  Like it or not, those feelings are about us, me.  We love the feelings we have when we are first in love.  We are in love with love. 

The truth is, those feelings are the way God has wired us so that we will be drawn to one another.  They help create the setting in which love can grow.  Love is not a deal in which we get what we need or want.  Merton says: “But the plain truth is this: love is not a matter of getting what you want.  Quite the contrary.  The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible.  To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everyting is “getting,” and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return  Love is not a deal, it is a sacrifice. 

As feisty as Mary Ann was, as strong-willed, she understood how to give the kind of love that involves some self-sacrifice.  It took the challenges created by the Parkinson’s to teach me how to give love meaningfully.  It is very easy to fall into the illusion that a gesture at a birthday or anniversary or Valentine’s Day is what love is about, saying I love you every once in a while is enough.  We are expressing the feelings we have for the one we love.  Love certainly includes feelings, but the feelings are not the love.  They are part of what drives it.  They are a natural consequence of love lived.  It is the doing of love, the living of love, acts of love that nurture the feelings, not the other way around. 

In our toughest times, demanding her willingness to allow me into the most basic and personal dimensions of her daily living and my willingness to do whatever was needed, we grew the closest, the love grew the most.  We didn’t just talk about it, or make lovely and romantic gestures as if that was the substance of our love, we did it.  When I helped her off the bed into the wheelchair, there might be a lingering embrace as we moved in tandem.  We were by no means always sweet and tender with one another.  We were real people, ordinary people, flawed people, making the best of a bad situation.  I learned the most because I had the farthest to travel to learn it.  But I did learn how to love, really love.  Mary Ann and the Parkinson’s taught me.  I am so sorry she had to suffer through the onslaught of the Parkinson’s.  I am not sorry for the gift we received, a love far beyond anything we could have imagined 48 years ago when we first fell in love and over 44 years ago when we promised to love one another until death would part us. 

Merton again: “When people are truly in love, they experience far more than just a mutual need for each other’s company and consolation.  In their relation with each other they become different people:  they are more than their everyday selves, more alive, more understanding, more enduring, and seemingly more endowed.  They are made over into new beings.  They are transformed by the power of their love.”

It is that kind of love that God is.  God is the source, the Cross is the delivery system, our circumstances are simply the setting.

Pastor Mike began by barging right into that question.   It has to be asked.   That issue stirred in Mike’s gut as he prepared for his message at Mary Ann’s funeral here.  I started the Memorial message in Aurora that way also.  Mike immediately reviewed the common answers, all seeming to diminish the sheer horror of what she went through.  The popular answers sometimes make God seem very arbitrary and callous to human pain — as if He were just playing with us, or teaching us lessons. 

“Jesus wept.”  Remember that passage, the shortest verse in the Bible?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”  Apparently, God understands human pain fully, experientially.  Jesus’ tears and His scream at God were not pretense.  What Mary Ann went through cannot be diminished by any of the answers we give to that question, “why.” 

The question is a search for whom to blame.  Some suggest that everything that happens is God’s will.  If that were the case, the Biblical concept of Sin would not exist.  Things happen that do not please God.  That is what the Cross was about, addressing the painful reality that God’s will is not done.  The Good News is that the pain and suffering that comes to good and bad alike, do not have to be the last word.  The Cross has trumped it.

For Mary Ann and me, that meant that we did not have to waste our precious days arguing with God, blaming God, obsessed with answering the question, “why.”  Instead we could draw strength from the One who stole from the pain and suffering its power to destroy us.  God has the last word.  That word is life.  In spite of the horror of what she was going through, we could engage life fully. 

Because we had access to a quality of life that transcends the struggles, that has no arbitrary limit placed on it by death, it is possible now to look back and celebrate the gifts that came in spite of and even on account of the struggles Mary Ann went through. 

I was convinced when we were going through our days. and I am still convinced that we were living life with an intensity and awareness and quality that exceeded any other time in our lives.  Nothing we did was trivial.   It was about human survival.  Lots of time was spent dealing with the most basic of human needs.  It was as if daily life ceased to be background music that we barely noticed as the hours went by.  Life became the music and we were the instrumentalists.  We were not watching life go by, we were living it.  What a profound gift! 

One reason that I am now so intent on living every day fully and with meaning, engaging life actively as a participant rather than a spectator is that we lived the last almost twenty-four years of our lives doing something of fundamental value, beyond measure.  At one of our recent Grief Support group meetings a couple of us who had done full time care of our Loved Ones observed that it was very difficult for us to find something worth doing now that the care-giving was done, something that measured up to what we had had the privilege of doing with our Spouses for months or years before they died. 

The gift that was given to us is a vivid awareness of the value of every moment of life, every day that is being given to us, when it is being given.  Mary Ann had always understood better than I, that the moment we are in is the one we need to experience fully.  I was  a slow learner, but in the end, I caught on.  I lament how often I hesitated to join in the life-filled moment’s activity.  There was always something else more important coming next.  Then life would be full.  Mary Ann and the harsh onslaught of the Parkinson’s taught me, gave me a gift that I am only now unwrapping fully — the Present. 

Enough for now.  There is more to come.

In a former post I reflected on the power of the word “Hospice.”  When the neurologist suggested it, we pursued that option.  It fit our intentions for how we would travel the last leg of our journey together.  Enrolling in Hospice and then seeing her looking almost comatose one Sunday morning after an increase in the Seroquel (in an attempt to manage the hallucinations) combined to finally break the dam on the tears, a dam that had been holding them back for years.  I sat in the car at the Lake on that cold morning, listening to Celtic Woman Lisa Kelly sing, weeping loudly and long.  

It had finally sunk in.  There was a part of me that somehow thought we would just keep death at bay for years to come.  Mary Ann had bounced back from so many hits, any one of which would have taken a person with less grit and strength of will.  That morning, the denial was breeched.  That denial had allowed us to live a fairly normal existence in very difficult circumstances.  The truth is that Mary Ann never let go of the denial until she chose to stop eating and drinking.  I returned to that denial, comforting myself with the knowledge that some in the Lewy Body Dementia Spouse Caregivers online support group had been in hospice for as many as three years (maybe longer).   My denial didn’t begin to crumble again until the same time as Mary Ann’s.  Of course, I knew intellectually what was afoot, but my gut was not influenced by what I knew in my mind. 

Sending out the word that Mary Ann was now enrolled in Hospice, had the effect of moving friends to come and spend time with her.  Some of our Kansas City Crew of close friends came by and spent the better part of a day.  We have decades of history together, and stories to tell from that history.  As always we had a good time together. 

Friends Trudy and Coleman with whom we shared a similar history, came by and spent hours with us.  Trudy and Mary Ann had developed a special connection over the years.  It was a comforting few hours.  Mary Ann surprised us with her sharpness at one point when she remembered a name that the rest of us could not bring to mind.

Niece Diana and her Daughter Rachel came by from Northern Illinois for a couple of days.  When we were married, Diana was old enough to be a bridesmaid in our wedding.  That visit was especially meaningful to Mary Ann since geography and circumstances had made it hard for her to keep those family connections active.  Mary Ann could no longer write letters; she could not manage the computer to email; her voice was not strong enough nor did the words flow freely enough for her to talk on the phone.  That visit sort of filled an empty place that had developed in her life since travel had become so difficult for us, preventing much family contact.

Then there was the visit of the Three Friends from the North, Joy, Terry and Cherri.  That was the most wonderful gift she could have received before her journey here ended.  I have written often about them and the raucous times when the four of them got together.  It was no different this time.  They have hung out together since they were all in about the Fifth or Sixth Grade.  The old feisty Mary Ann emerged as the stories flew by.  It was a marvel to see. 

All those visits provided a fitting conclusion to Mary Ann’s life here.  There were many Volunteers who enjoyed time with her in the final months.  Those relationships had come to be very meaningful to her.  Then when the end finally came, all of us in her immediate family surrounded her, ministering to her and expressing our love for her.  While none of us would have chosen for her to leave so soon, the last leg of the trip was filled with good and satisfying times.  Her departure was peaceful, and I have no doubt her arrival at her next destination was filled with joy and wonder and happy reunions. 

In spite of the onslaught of the Parkinson’s and the other physical assaults on Mary Ann, in spite of the struggles we both had trying to negotiate all that was thrown our way, there are some gifts that came to us and those around us.  In fact some of those gifts came because of what we went through.  In subsequent posts I will describe some of those gifts.  I described them in the words that I shared at Mary Ann’s Memorial Service in Northern Illinois.  I need to describe them again and celebrate them.

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.