Maybe it’s Lori’s Chocolate Chip cookies (see yesterday’s post) doing their anti-depressant wonders.  Maybe it is having an almost normal (for us) night’s sleep.  Maybe it is reading yesterday’s post in the morning — late in the evening it is easy to become pensive and full of self-pity.  Maybe it is the dramatic contrast of all that we in our household have compared to the pain and suffering of tens of thousands in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.  Maybe it is just getting tired of hearing myself whine.

Whatever it is, I need clarify for myself and any who follow this blog, that what I am feeling in regard to my change of circumstances from Senior Pastor of a large, thriving congregation to the full time primary Caregiver of my wife Mary Ann is just experiencing to the full the dynamics that come along with any major change in life.  There is a letting go of the past and settling in to a new set of present circumstances.

What I am experiencing in letting go of the past has nothing to do with the congregation from which I retired.  In fact, if anything, the wonderfully nurturing and loving people, the caring and competent Staff that actually served as my primary support group during the very toughest time trying to work full time and care for Mary Ann, the generosity of the Leadership of the congregation, the Volunteers (as many as 65 of them at one time) who stayed with Mary Ann all the time I was working away from the house (sometimes staying with her when I needed time to work at home), the Volunteers who have continued to stay with Mary Ann at times for a year and a half now since I retired from being their Pastor, the huge cadre of people there who threw the most fantastic party imaginable when I retired, all of that kindness just dramatizes the contrast between that part of my life and this part of my life.

Would it have been easier if they had all been mean and ugly to me?  I suppose in one sense it might have made me want to get out of there.  I have often reminded people who were hurting after the loss of a loved one, missing them so much, that their pain is a sign of the depth of their love for the one they have lost.  In that sense, I am grateful for every moment of gut-grieving.  It validates the value of the years of service in the church.  It reveals the depth of love for so many over the decades.  It is one way my gut reminds me that those years were good years.

Then, there is the truth of the matter.  No one asked me to retire.  There was plenty of reason as I struggled to do justice to the ministry and give Mary Ann the care she needed, for the leadership to say to me, “Don’t you think it is time for you to retire?” Instead, they said, “What can we do to help?”  I am the one who chose to retire.  It was without a shred of doubt exactly the right thing to do for me, for Mary Ann, for the Congregation and for the Lord who granted me an easy and certain decision-making process.

My struggles now are just the living out of that decision, the living through of the transition from one career to another, one identity to another.  What the whining in these posts reveals is the ugly underbelly of a very ordinary, flawed, self-absorbed, sinful (the Biblical word for such things) somebody going through that transition.  On the positive side of it, I am convinced that the journey will be completed more quickly and completely by allowing the ugliness to emerge without sugar-coating it — naming it for what it is.  That way it is less likely to sneak up later and cause some unpleasant and unexpected consequences — at least that is the hope.

I have always marveled at the enormous power and generosity of God to be able to and to choose to use people like me to actually do stuff to accomplish God’s goals on this clump of dirt on which we all live.  As those of us in the business know and will (hopefully) admit, most of what God does is not so much done through us as it is in spite of us.

Mind you the recognition of what I have been doing recently in these posts, and my own charge to “get over it” does not carry with it a promise that I will no longer whine and complain.  Why on earth do you think I am writing this blog!  It is so that I will have a place to whine and complain.  What I do hope and pray is that what I am experiencing and my reflections on it, the processing of the feelings will provide some bit of comfort to others who sometimes think they are going crazy, can’t go on any longer, are the only ones feeling that way, aren’t as good and nice as they should be, are failing to meet their own expectations.

What I hope is that other Caregivers who read this will understand that they have a harder job than anyone who hasn’ t done it realizes, that what they are doing has as much value as anything anyone has ever done no matter how important it might seem in the public forum, and that their lives have a depth of meaning they might never have found without the privilege of caring for another human being who needs them and whom they love deeply.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

What terrible thing have I done to anger the gods of cooking so??  Here is a quote from last night’s post: “As I have said far too often, I am out of my comfort zone when trying to cook.  That is why the Anniversary Dinner tomorrow is a carry-out special.  It does demand cooking the Prime Rib for an hour, and reheating the side dishes that came with it.  I should be able to handle that much, but who knows how it will come out.”  The last clause was prophetic.

Last night’s post also noted that the Honey Crunch Pecan Pie had sloshed a couple of times leaving pools of surgary filling on the bottom of the stove.  Why do I suspect that everyone reading this who has ever cooked already knows what happened this morning.  Here is the what I brought home from the Brick Oven Restaurant for our Anniversary Celebation dinner with three couples who drove over from Kansas City:  five pounds of Prime Rib, Baby Red Potato Cheese Bake, Tasso Corn Bake (a signature dish), Au Jus, Creamy Horse Radish & Dinner Rolls.

All I had to do was finish cooking the Prime Rib for an hour in the oven and reheat the side dishes in the microwave.  You know what happened when I turned the oven on to preheat it to 275 degrees.  Yes, the smoke started pouring out of the oven vent.  It wasn’t just a little bit of smoke, but thick smoke as in burning sugar.  Again, I had to pull out the sheet entitled “How to Cancel a False Alarm” just in case the smoke detector went off.

It is good that it was not seven degrees with a wind chill outside since I had to open every window in the kitchen, the front door, open the door to the garage (and open the garage door itself).  Of course, I had no choice but to put the Prime Rib into the smoking oven, since there would soon be eight of us sitting at the table intent on eating an Anniversary Dinner. One of the side dishes managed to bubble over in the microwave to add insult to injury.

Then there was the award-winning Honey Crunch Pecan Pie for dessert.  After all the challenges getting it cooked last night, it actually looked pretty good.  And, it would have been perfect if it were called Honey Crunch Pecan Upside Down Cobbler!!! It looked like it was done.  It didn’t jiggle when I moved it.  When I cut it and tried to get a piece out to put on the dessert plate, what ended up on the plate was a dark brown heap of goo with nuts in it and pieces of crust trailing through it. That piece and every one after it came out the same way.

We squirted Redi-Whip (the one that is cream, not oil) on each piece and ate our dessert.  There was some sympathy applause in the form of verbal commnets on how good it was.

I will admit publicly here that twice in the course of getting the rolls heated and in the basket, some of them fell on the floor.  I had just cleaned that floor with my Swiffer Wetjet mop shortly before the Kansas City Crew arrived.  I am sure it was completely sterile.  There were two different witnesses, one to each drop.  They each promised secrecy, each unaware of the other.  Needless to say they were both guys.  We grew up eating dirt on occasion — so what’s the deal?

The good news was that the Prime Rib was spectacular, the side dishes were each distinctive and wonderful tasting.  We had a great conversation, and in spite of looking less than appetizing, the Honey Crunch Pecan Upside Down Cobbler really tasted as good as would be expected for an award-winner.

Will I ever do such a thing again, invite people over for a meal at our house? Unless I can figure out what I did to anger the gods of cooking and atone for my sins, I think not.  Hold it!!! Our Son and Daughter, their Spouses and our Grandchildren will be arriving at our home Sunday late in the morning so that we can have Christmas Dinner together.  There will be nine people!  I am preparing that dinner!  Maybe they won’t read this post before Sunday.  Who knows what I can do to ham steaks, cheesy potatoes, grape salad, garden corn — and half of a Prime Rib roast left over from today (it was huge).

No, I will not be making Rosalie’s Honey Crunch Pecan Pie!!!! (I may, however have a large glass of the secret ingredient in that pie — check last night’s post.)

Mary Ann was quite subdued today.  She seemed very tired.  It was hard for her to get to sleep last night.  She seemed excited about today.  I am not sure if she engaged in conversation when I was out of the room, but it did not appear to me that she was very responsive and communicative.  She went to bed at 6:30pm after napping with her head on the table in front of her transfer chair for an hour or so before then.  I hope she perks up by Sunday when the kids are all here.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

The phone started ringing early (for us) on the Fourth of July.  The first call was from the Funeral Director to obtain the new Pastor’s phone number.  The second call was from the new Pastor on a much needed vacation with his family from whom he has been separated most of the time for the last five months.  He asked me if I would do the funeral.  Since I served the congregation for over twelve years until I retired almost exactly a year ago, I know the family well.  I agreed to do the service.

I have now been reminded how difficult it had come to be just to do the basics of the ministry before I retired.  Even with the Volunteers who have been so willing to stay with Mary Ann, scheduling appointments and meeting times on short notice is beyond complex.  

Just the phone calls are sometimes difficult to handle since Mary Ann’s need for help often comes with little warning, no matter what I am engaged in.  Completing a phone call, especially a long one, is sometimes virtually impossible due to a fall or a bathroom need. 

This family includes one of those who has Volunteered with Mary Ann in the past, so she suggested that the first planning meeting be at our house.   That eliminated the need for trying to get a Volunteer on the Fourth of July weekend with less than 24 hours notice.   The meeting was scheduled for 2pm.  The morning routine started fairly late in the morning.  The morning fainting spells began and a long nap meant that getting Mary Ann dressed came early in the afternoon.  I needed to make a meal.  The ingredients for a Quiche were in the house and ready to go. 

I started during her nap and moved sort of methodically completing each step before going on to the next.  I knew if I had hot pans cooking bacon and preheating oven and sauteeing onions and egg mixture and softening cream cheese all going at once, along with Mary Ann’s multiple requests, all needing to be done before the family arrived, the stress on this inexperienced and unskilled cook would be explosive.  The timing worked out so that the Quiche would not be done before they came.  Mary Ann needed something else to eat since she had not had anything to eat since pill time about an hour before the nap began.  I tried to postpone the meeting but could not get through to them. 

I managed to get my clothes changed for the meeting, the Quiche in the oven and scrambled eggs made from the leftover egg mixture, onions, bacon and cheese for Mary Ann to eat. 

When the family came, we met on the back deck while Mary Ann was eating and the Quiche was cooking.  I left the meeting periodically to check on Mary Ann, adjust the oven temperature, and take the Quiche out of the oven.

Understand, the meeting was with parents who had just lost their adult son.  One of their daughters, his sister, was with us.  Ministering to people in such painful circumstances demands full attention.  People deserve that kind attention when they are in such powerful grief.  The Son who died had lost a daughter at two and a half years of age many years ago.  The pain of losing that Granddaughter was still fresh after all the years.  Mom had lost her mother when she was just a little girl.  Those feelings remain intense. 

It is important to be there for people in times of such grief, in this case in multiple layers, listening intently and responding in ways that validate the pain and help provide a framework with which to handle it.  It is hard to do that while running back and forth to deal with another center of focus equally complex. 

Today reminded me why I made the decision to retire.  Doing a responsible job serving the people of the Congregation and being there for Mary Ann at a time of such need simply had moved beyond the limits of my ability. 

This week will include another very substantial meeting with the family to process feelings and gain information for the message at the funeral.  There is already a Volunteer scheduled at a time that was workable for the family.  There will be a number of hours after Mary Ann is in bed writing that message.  I have just completed the plan for how the service will be done, putting the pieces together so that a service folder can be prepared. 

For the funeral itself, Volunteers are simply not available (at least not so far) since some will be attending the funeral.  Mary Ann may be able to attend, but will need someone to help her during the time I am attending to the service and its preparations.  If she attends the service, that Volunteer is in place.  If she cannot go, I will need to arrange a paid agency person to serve as backup.  That may or may not work out. 

On Sunday afternoon I will be conducting the Ordination Service for a young man who has completed training and internship and will begin serving a congregation in Iowa the following week.  The plans for a companion for Mary Ann and an agency backup are now in place. 

The convergence of work needs and Caregiving needs is something that some who read this blog are experiencing.   To you I say, if you think what you are doing is impossible, you are right.  You are doing it and will continue to do it.  As I look back, I have no idea how I survived.  Those of you who are working full or part time and Caregiving also have no answer to give when someone who knows what you are doing asks, “How do you do it?”

I am being reminded this week why I retired.  I am grateful that I could, and glad that I did.  Mary Ann and I need every hour of every day just to deal with what the Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  We are full time care partners.  It is what we are called to do. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.