“What day of the week is it?  What month is it?  What year is it?  Remember these three words, pen, car and watch.  Do you ever feel hopeless?  If so, is it all of the time, most of the time, some of the time, a little of the time?”  Tim asked those and very many other questions.  He asked Mary Ann if I was being nice to her.  I made a point of leaving the room for some of the questions, so that my presence would not skew her answers.  He got a current list of medications.  He checked for any changes in the information from last year.  Tim is a Case Manager from our local Area Agency on Aging. By the way, Mary Ann did not do quite as well as usual.  She aced the day of the week and the month, but could not come up with the year.  In the past she has usually remembered at least two of the three words.  He always asked three or four times during the interview what the three words were.  This year she was not able to manage remembering the words at all.  On the positive side, the number of falls has been reduced dramatically.

If I understand correctly, there is such a place accessible to most everyone.  Our Area Agency covers three counties.  Tim comes a couple of times a year.  Once is the major information gathering time.  The book the Agency puts put out each year has hundreds of resources listed on its many pages.

It is through Tim and JAAA that we connected with the local County Health Department.  In fact, coincidentally, Public Health Nurse Linda from the County Health Agency will be coming tomorrow for her assessment.  She comes every couple of months.  It is through her that we have had Bathe Aide Zandra for the last few years every Monday and Wednesday mornings.  We pay for that service (around twenty dollars a visit).  Those who do not meet certain income guidelines have reduced fees for the service.

Nurse Linda brought us our flu shots this fall.  She visits to see if the Bath Aide situation is working well.  She checks to see if we have any other needs, although there are many limits on what she has time or money to do for any given situation.  She and Tim are always interested in Mary Ann’s falls, any physical problems that might have to do with her safety and the quality of her care.

Even though we are pretty well self-sufficient, it feels good to know that there are folks out there paying attention to our needs, whom we can call if major problems emerge.  We can get help finding and evaluating resources.

By virtue of being active in a church, we have additional resources available to us.  Our congregation has a Parish Nurse.  Margaret is available a couple of hours a week at church to check blood pressures.  She comes to visit regularly to bring flowers and food and help out in any way she can.

In our case, the cadre of Volunteers from church is a major support.  As I often mention in these posts, they come and spend time with Mary Ann, enriching her days, giving her social contact and a break from my constant hovering. The visits also give me a chance to run errands, or meet with friends over lunch/coffee or head out for a breath of fresh air, or have some time for reading and meditation. Sometimes, as happened earlier this week, they bring food.

One of the major support systems for me is the online group of Caregiver Spouses of those with some form of Lewy Body Dementia [LBD].  That group has so much in common that we can be completely open in sharing our frustrations and fears in language that would scare those who have not been through what we are going through.  We can share ideas that actually have been tested in the lab of daily living with LBD or PDD [Parkinson’s Disease Dementia].  It is surprising how much it helps just to discover that what your Loved One is experiencing matches what many others are experiencing.  We are able to talk in a matter of fact way about things that would be terrifying otherwise.

In the course of writing these posts I have often mentioned Mary Ann’s Tuesday morning group.  That is part of her support system.  The Spiritual Formation Group that meets at our house on Wednesday mornings is a part of my support system.  Those groups, corporate worship experiences and personal devotional experiences combine to nurture our Spiritual health.  Sustaining friendships to the degree possible also helps us maintain a level of equilibrium in our out of control corner of the world. The local Parkinson’s Support Group provides the chance to have some face to face time with others dealing with the same challenges.

Whether or not you are aware of it, those of you who read this blog are important to my ability to continue in the role of Caregiver without losing my bearings.  During each day, I think about what is going on in our lives with an eye toward what I will say in the post I will be writing next.  As I write about it, what has gone on in that day or two begins to come into focus, allowing me to gain some sort of perspective on it.  That perspective steals from it the power to disable and destroy.  The struggles are difficult enough to deal with, without my giving them more power than they already have.

While just writing about the day and processing the events is helpful by itself, it is the awareness that there are people reading those words that brings with it some external validation.  I have only numbers on a metrics page and a few comments to verify that there are people out there listening, but it makes a difference knowing that you are there.

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.

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.

It was an odd night.  Mary Ann struggled with the hallucinations and restlessness again last night.  I was up late working on last night’s blog post. After settling, she slept reasonably well.  I got up this morning to get her ready for Bible Study.  Her need to sleep trumped her will to get to Bible Study.  It was clear that she would not be able to get up.

I had showered and cleaned up in preparation for getting her ready to go.  When it was clear that she would not be going, I laid back down on the bed, since I had accumulated a need for sleep also.  It was not until almost noon that I woke up.  She got up about forty-five minutes later.  As I was getting dressed she asked if we could use the Visine again this morning.  She had not yet opened her eyes, which is not unusual for her — one of the collection of problems that come with the Parkinson’s and the medications used to treat it.

When she lay down for me to put the Visine on her eyes I saw it.  There was a swelling about the size of a small marble, more accurately, the size of a garbanzo bean (how is that for descriptive) in the corner of her right eye next to her nose.  It looked as if a tear duct might be clogged.

Mary Ann has had problems for a long time with her eyes.  She has had the struggle to open them frequently.  They have on occasion started watering profusely.  It has not been unusual for her to ask for the Visine.  In recent weeks sometimes there has been a large quantity of matter at the edge of her eyelids, usually her right eye.

Today’s swelling precipitated the call to the Ophthalmologist (an Eye Doctor with an MD).  At first the call was a little uncomfortable.  The receptionist seemed almost annoyed that I was calling about an appointment.  She tried to get us to go to our Primary Care Physician or Optometrist first.  I made the point that we would just end up back with the Ophthalmologist.  I had explained what was going on with Mary Ann, and finally she said she would try to talk with the Dr.’s nurse.  Gratefully, when she returned, there were a couple of options for tomorrow.  We will see the Doctor at 2pm.  I was puzzled that from the moment the call began the tone of the receptionist seemed to suggest that I had no business calling to get an appointment. I have met the doctor before, years ago when I had a cyst on an eyelid removed.  She seemed very pleasant and very competent.

This afternoon we had another appointment with Stacey about the remodel.  She brought some great options for window coverings for the new sunroom, and a book of samples of cork flooring for that new space.  The look of the cork, its durability, the warm feel of it, its ease of installation and its ability to cushion a fall have all combined to convince me that the cork is the way to go.  One thing drawing me to it also is that it is not one thing pretending to be another.  Ceramic tile would hurt Mary Ann if she fell.  The laminates look great, but still try to look like something they are not.  There is more deciding to do, but we seem to be progressing.

In reflecting in last night’s post on my retirement and the grief work that needs to be done as I let go of a life-long career and identity, I concluded the post this way:  “I now serve here at my house.  The need here is clear.”   The grief work that is going on at this point in my journey involves letting go of what has been.  It also includes making the transition to what my life is about now.  I suspect that transition is not yet complete.  One of the reasons writing these posts is so helpful is that doing so provides me the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what is going on in my own heart and mind as we tackle the Parkinson’s and its consequences in our lives.  Sometimes my mind is in one place and my gut in another in acceptance, feelings of fulfillment, and finding meaning in what we are doing her together.

The journey goes on, the processing of each experience is another step in that journey.  Just as is so at this time of the year in the thawing streets of this city in Kansas, there are a lot of potholes to be negotiated.

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.

She started trying to get up for the day at 3:30am.  It was all I could do to convince her to lie down and stay in bed.  Every time she needed help of any sort after that, she tried to get up and head to the table for breakfast and pills.  Finally, some time before 7am she/we got up.  The usual happened.  By the time the Bath Aide left, she was dozing in her chair.  I got her to the bed and she slept about three hours. 

Yesterday morning (Sunday) there was a Volunteer with Mary Ann, so that I could have some respite time.  I went to the lake to check out the Eagles again.  There were only a few, and the river was frozen offering them nothing on which to prey.  It was still a spectacularly beautiful day with the snow cover and the bright sunlight. 

When I got home, someone had dropped off the new Pictorial Directory for the congregation from which I retired.  We are still members.  We worship in the Sunday Evening Service, since it is the most easily accessible for Mary Ann due to the lack of a crowd and the time of day.  That service also provides a lower profile for my presence as the former Pastor of the Congregation.  Having followed two long pastorates, I know what a welcome gift it is to a new Pastor to be given the opportunity to settle in without the former Pastor around vying for attention.  I was given that gift by the two pastors I followed earlier in my career. 

I looked through the new Pictorial Directory.  It seems to be well done.  There were folks pictured who have been members for  years and some who were new to me.  There were some who just come for the pictures, but no longer attend church.  There were many whom I have not seen in the year and a half since I retired because they attend the morning services.  I miss them.  Members become extended family to the Pastor, especially since so often the ministry involvement comes at times in their lives when there is a certain level of vulnerability.   

The front section of the Directory was filled with pictures of the Staff, both paid and volunteer.  There were classes and worship events and gatherings of all sorts pictured — group after group.  What was exactly as it should be was that, of course, I was not in any of them.  That fact is evidence that what I sought has happened.  The Congregation is going on without me.  It is being led by a very capable Pastor, who is doing effective ministry.  All is as it should be.

If that is so, why did my insides hurt so much yesterday afternoon?  The answer at one level is obvious.  I was just doing some more grieving.  The visual impact of the new Directory was the verification that I am no longer a factor in the life of the Congregation.  What I sought when I left has happened.  It is a good thing.  The necessary letting go is just hard to do. 

There is another level  of grief that was deeper.   Looking at the pages left me with the sensation that it was as if I had never been there.   Understand, the folks with whom I interact from the parish are always gracious.  My feelings are no different from those of anyone who has left a career to move on to something else.  Yesterday afternoon I thought about the Pastor I followed in this parish after almost thirty years of ministry.   I wonder if or how often John had those feelings of grief. 

What happens when most Pastors retire is that they continue to serve in their profession, just in other venues.  Circumstances have not allowed me to continue in my profession in any way.   As a result, Sunday afternoon was just another time of grieving the loss of a life long career, one that served to define my identity.  This is the sort of grief work that can only be done by the person who has experienced the loss. 

I guess I was surprised at the intensity of the feelings that were triggered on Sunday.  It helped to attend church later that evening and hear the Vision of the new Pastor and the Leadership for the future direction of the congregation.  I resonated with the assessment of the current need and the commitment to tools that can help meet that need.  The grief work I continue to do does not include any perception of losses in the health and quality of ministry at the congregation I no longer serve.   It is just doing the work of accepting that I no longer serve there.  

I now serve here at my house.  The need here is clear. 

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 following post was written on Thursday, January 7, 2009, but not published until Friday, January 8, due to Internet problems:

The best laid plans sometimes go astray. Feeling out of sorts yesterday, I went to bed early in hopes of a good night’s sleep providing an ointment to salve my sore spirit. Demon Lewy Body Dementia (doesn’t the word dementia derive from the word demon) had other plans.

Mary Ann simply could not sleep – for the entire night. I was involved with her needs in some way, two to three times an hour. There were the commode trips. There were two snacks, some drinks of water. There were lots of times sitting on the side of the bed, needing to be situated again when lying back down. She usually can’t handle the covers without help.

There was a long interaction in the middle of the night when she wanted to go out into the Living Room to sit and try to read. The problems with that idea are many. First, when she is up, she still needs help often with the same needs she has during the day. Then, the prospect of sitting up at night for a long period of time, then sleeping during the day risks shifting nights and days, making our system almost impossible for both of us. Those of you who have raised little ones have probably experienced the time when the tiny ones seemed to switch nights and days, making your lives pretty tough for a while.

After wanting to get out of bed multiple times throughout the night, when it got to be seven in the morning, she needed to get up. As usual after a bad night, she took her meds, had breakfast, and in an hour or so ended up back in bed sleeping soundly. I am of course wide awake and writing this. It is my understanding that trying to compensate for lack of sleep at night by napping during the day does not actually help, in fact just makes the sleep deprivation problem worse. It is harder to get to sleep then at night. That and my general inability to nap during the day results in my staying up rather than napping while she is napping. The general wisdom is to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day. The general wisdom does not take into account multiple times up during the night in between those two times.

Of course, the lack of sleep is increasing the problem with hallucinations. There were the people in the house again last night. This morning there were a variety of things she saw outside the windows, and in the house things that needed to be picked up, tiny chains in her hands. There was one of those interactions in which she was talking as if it was just an ordinary matter while saying things that made no sense at all. About half way through lunch, she started to get up. I asked what she was going to do. She said she was going to get her Pepsi. The cup of Pepsi was sitting at the top of her plate with the can in back of it, just as it is for every lunch.

On the other hand, she asked if this is the day Stacey would be back to talk about the blinds and painting the interior of the house. She remembered that correctly. Then she suggested that we paint the interior a light blue, just a touch of blue. Because so often the lucid moments come, I try to work hard at tracking when her words are not computing for me. Sometimes a different word will come in place of the one intended. Yesterday when she suggested we adopt the cat she was seeing with her “magic eyes” (her words for the hallucinations when she accepts that they are hallucinations), she said maybe that cat could be “adapted.”  It took a moment for me to catch what she meant.

In spite of the difficult night, at the moment, I am feeling better today than yesterday. Maybe it is that adrenalin is playing a bigger role in sustaining alertness today. I just took a break from writing while Mary Ann is napping to do a bit of shoveling outside so that I can get to the birdseed. I have fed and watered the birds. It is invigorating outside since the wind chill is between twenty and thirty degrees below zero and the new three or four inches of snow is blowing around. The air temperature is predicted to reach a high of five degrees above zero and a low of eight below tonight, follow by a low of twelve below tomorrow night. Needless to say, we will not be going out with Mary Ann in the wheelchair today or tomorrow. The most we could do is head out in the van and have Mary Ann stay in the running van while I run into the store. There are a number of things on the list, but none that we can’t survive without.

The toughest thing today so far is that the telephone land line is out, eliminating out DSL access to the Internet. I certainly do feel disconnected to the outside world. I forgot just how much time I spend connecting with others through email and the Worldwide Web. For being pretty much technologically illiterate, I sure depend on the technology a lot.

Right now, my interaction with the outside world, is enjoying watching the dozens of birds that are enjoying the fare I have provided for them. We did end up going out in this weather. I discovered that we needed to return some videos. We went to the grocery and I ran in to get the items. She decided that she wanted take out Chinese from the grocery in spite of the fact that I had a roast, potatoes, onions and carrots cooking in the crock pot. It frustrates me that Mary Ann so often will not eat what I cook, even when it is something she used to eat and enjoy. I decided it was not worth arguing with her, since my goal is that she have plenty of nourishment. She ate the Chinese and I had the roast and veggies.

The above was written yesterday on a Word Processor since the Internet was not available.  The really bad night was the night before last.  Last night I went to bed even earlier.   Until about 12:30am, Mary Ann was disturbed by vivid hallucinations.  There were the people again.  The little girl was there.  She was confused about the time.  At one point while lying in bed she said our Daughter, Lisa, was on the phone.  She had no phone. 

After she finally went to sleep, she slept the night.  I got up at 7:30am to get ready for the phone line repair person who was due between 8am and 12pm, but came at about 1:30pm.  Mary Ann slept in until after 9am.  After the commode trip, she went right back to bed.  She was barely awake for the commode trip.  She slept until almost noon.  I think it helped some since so far today the hallucinations have not been as many and as vivid. 

The cold continues, so we stayed put today.  It will be even colder tomorrow so I suspect we will do the same. 

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.

She looked over toward the walker leaning against the rail around the steps to the downstars.  She said she saw a cat.  Then she said maybe we should adopt it. 

At first I responded with the usual, “we don’t need the hassle of taking care of a cat.”  Then a little while later it dawned on me that there was a more appropriate response.  I told her that it would be fine with me if we adopted the cat she saw.  I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like “nice try.”  I added that it would be perfect since there would be no food to buy or litter box to clean.

There was another time that she was talking about something that I could not follow.  The hallucinations were not as constant as they were two days ago, but they were more present today than yesterday.  Yesterday especially, it was hard see her struggling so to track.  She wanted to make a list.  I got her a note pad and a pen.  She did write something about birthday cards.  (I have been trying to remember at the right time to phone one of my Brothers, whose birthday was January 3.)  There were a couple of scribbles after that, but when I offered to help in the writing, she got the sort of look that seemed to say, I have important things to write on the list, but I can’t get them into my mind. 

At those moments she is so helpless, and I am helpless to make any real difference.  So much of the time she has no words, then when they do come, she gets lost in what she was trying to say.  Sometimes what she says makes no sense, and she realizes it in mid sentence.  Other times she remembers things accurately and is right on with what she is saying. 

Maybe that is part of the reason.  Maybe it is the weather and the prospect of being homebound again for a few days.  Maybe I am just tired from the lack of an uninterrupted night’s sleep.  Maybe it is just getting tired of the constant demands of the task.  Maybe it is guilt over what I am not doing that I should be doing or the lack of patience with her.  Maybe it is the short days and long nights at this time of the year (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  I have just  felt out of sorts today.  I think Mary Ann has too.  I asked her if she was feeling goopy (technical medical term) or depressed.  I thought her lower lip was revealing that it might be so.  Her words did not confirm it.  She did decide to take a nap, indicating that she was tired.  It is hard to be sure about the lower lip sticking out as a non-verbal sign of sadness since that is one of the facial changes often brought on by Parkinson. 

Whatever is going on today in both of us, she is in bed and I am going to try to get to bed early tonight.  Maybe some extra sleep will help. 

By the way, those who read this blog and happen to be members of the parish from which I retired, let me clarify that my faith remains strong.  I have no doubt of the Lord’s love for me.   My future is certain and my purpose clear.  Even the Lord Himself experienced times he felt overwhelmed and needed to get away.  He got angry.  He cried.  He felt pain.  He expressed feelings of abandonment on the Cross.  It is a comfort to me that I don’t have to be afraid of my feelings however up or down they may be.  In fact my faith frees me not to run away from them.  I can own up to them, lean into them, experience them fully and move through them to the other side.  My relationship with the Lord is not sustained by my feelings one way or the other.  My relationship with the Lord is sustained by the Lord. 

I do not ask of those who read this blog that you share my faith.  I hope that what you read in these posts is helpful to you whatever your spirituality or lack thereof.  I share my faith on occasion because it is for me the key to my survival and the power that fills my life with meaning in the face of circumstances that seem bent on stealing our lives from us. 

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 hallucinations seemed to have backed off a little today.  Mary Ann went to her Bible Study this morning after a break of about a month.  That seemed to help her alertness, both the anticipation and the class itself. 

I was surprised at how many ladies were at the class.  At 68 Mary Ann is among the youngest in the group.  The cold and snow did not deter them.  I made the observation that many who were there had spouses at home with whom they had been trapped for many days.  Apparently, they needed a break. 

I used the time Mary Ann was at Bible Study to head to the Wild Bird House to pick up a couple of things and talk with the owners.  There were a couple of other customers who joined in the conversation, especially about the Eagles I had seen Sunday morning.  One of the customers had been to the same area and seen forty of them.  The time at the Bird store often turns into a bit of a respite.

Mary Ann suggested again today that we eat at the library.  Since this was the second day in a row that she suggested it, I realized that it was more about the lunch than the library.  We had gone to the library yesterday.  She wanted the five cheese Quiche they serve there.  She wolfed it down with just a little help cutting some of it into smaller pieces. 

She napped for an hour or so when we returned home, but got up to join me in talking with a member of the congregation from which I retired who is one of the best interior design folks I know.  Stacey talked with us about window coverings for the sun room addition when that project is done in February.  Mary Ann is not so interested in the project as am I, but she will certainly enjoy it when it is done.  We also talked about a couple of lesser projects that might be thrown into them mix.  I am just grateful to have something concrete and positive to focus on during these days we are pretty well trapped in the house. 

This evening has been okay.  She seems pretty restless again.  I am especially tired this evening, so I will bring this to a close and try to get some rest.

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.

I could hardly believe my eyes, but there they were.  Trees filled with American Bald Eagles and some Ospreys.  I counted.  There were between eighteen and twenty of them spread out in four different trees.  It was breath-taking.

They were gathered for a lunch of fish and fowl.  They were gathered not far from the spillway of a very large lake.  When the water comes through the spillway into the river, it brings with it fish.  The Eagles were fishing.  There were as many as four of them in the air at a time, dipping down to try to grab a fish.

There were also around 150 ducks of mixed variety gathered on the water in that same area.  The ducks were aware that they could make the banquet table just as easily as the fish.  It was actually comical to watch — probably not funny to the ducks.  When an Eagle got too close to one of the duck, the duck would do just that, duck.  It would pop underwater for a moment.

I was captivated with the scene for as much as an hour and a half while a Volunteer was at the house with Mary Ann.  This was not actually a day to be out and about.  We got a few inches of dry snow on top of the nine inches we got during the Christmas Eve blizzard.  It has been cold enough that all the snow is still here.  The streets melted some, but dry snow on top of refrozen melting ice made for some treacherous driving.

As I drove out to the lake and back, there were eight to ten cars in the median or off to the side in the ditch.  Many of the cars still had people in them.  When I left, I had intended on going to a couple of my favorite spots by the lake to check for birds.  I was dressed to be able to get out and walk if I chose to do so.  As I traveled there, it became clear that there would be a risk in getting off the main road on to areas that had not yet been cleared.  While a four-wheel drive vehicle would have made it more possible to get to those spots, there was something else that dominated my thinking.

Were I to slide off into a spot I could not get out of, there would be a long wait for help.  There were no other cars in on the roads around the lake.  I was making new tracks in some of the roads I was already traveling.  If I were tied up for any length of time waiting for help, it would complicate the day for Mary Ann and the Volunteer.  Any risks I take are not just about me.  They are about Mary Ann.  She cannot be by herself.  If I am not available to be with her, it would be no small task to keep her secure.  Gratefully, Mary (who schedules the Volunteers) would make phone calls until she found Volunteers to stay with Mary Ann.   Bad roads also impact Volunteers.  They are not necessarily able to get out with ease themselves.

As a result of those concerns, I was extremely cautious.  I found a spot on the road across the dam.  There is a great view from the top of the dam.  The spot was right above the spillway.  Snow was falling lightly, the sun was just a light spot in the clouds.  With the snow covering the ground it was very bright.  The panorama of frozen snow-covered lake on one side and the expansive view of the landscape through the lightly falling snow the other side was as beautiful as it was peaceful.

I listened to music as the car ran to keep me comfortable, and I watched the scene below.  The last of the music was some Russian Orthodox liturgical music.  It was as if I was in a bright white cathedral filled with the presence of God.  After so many days contained by the four walls of a small townhome, it was a wonderfully refreshing respite.

Mary Ann seemed to do pretty well today.  We watched the Kansas City Chiefs win, a rare treat.  Mary Ann went to bed fairly early, but she has been watching television while lying in bed for about two and a half hours now.  There is no sign of her going to sleep yet.

We chose to stay in tonight.  The weather is predicted to continue to be far colder than usual here.  The combination of the snow cover and temperatures heading to below zero later in the week are testing our mettle.  Our Northern Illinois roots help us from being completely intimidated, but what the wheel chair adds to the complexity of getting in and out of a car and in and out of parking lots and in and out of sometimes heavy and/or awkward doors with threshholds that can provide barriers others would never notice, all makes us think twice about going out in cold and snowy weather.

At least it looks pretty outside!

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Last night Mary Ann contiued her confusion.  While lying in bed, she asked about the group of people somewhere behind me or in her view in the living room — was it the Thursday group.  She asked if it was time to get up a couple of times, once at 9:20pm and again at 10:30pm.  She said something explaining what she was thinking, something that just did not compute, something about her relationship in location to others.   Once she got to sleep, she slept pretty soundly.

This morning, when she got up and was eating breakfast, I was looking through the Christmas card list.  I mentioned one couple at one point and she reminded me where they lived and that their daughter had twins.  These are folks with whom we have not interacted in decades, whom we remember mostly just at Christmas Card time.  I did not remember about the twins since it happened a year or so ago (I think).  Mary Ann asked about a former parishioner, whether or not she had died.  About a month ago she had gone into a Hospice House here, but had since stabilized and gone back to her Assisted Living apartment.  That Mary Ann remembered her situation was a surprise.  Mary Ann’s Bible Study about three weeks ago may have talked about it.   She said she wanted to go out to lunch today.   When I asked where we should go, she immediately said, “the Irish place.”   What a contrast to yesterday!  The place is called O’Dooley’s.  She always orders bangers and mash there.  Since she has never been an adventurous eater, it surprised me the first time she ordered it.  It actually is pretty straight forward, mild sausages and cheesy mashed potatoes. 

After an hour or so of alertness, she fell (while I was taking a shower), but as usual was not hurt at all.  After I finished showering, I got her back in the transfer chair — she fainted.  It was apparent that there had been some intestinal activity during or after the fall.  She became tired and asked to lie down.  There was some more intestinal activity and some major fainting on the stool.  She is now napping.  This was a particularly speedy trip down, up and down again on this roller coaster ride.

After her nap, we did go out to O’Dooley’s.  She had the Bangers and Mash.  I enjoyed the Portobella Mushroom sandwich with home made potato chips with a very tasty cheese dip and a Black and Tan (Guinness Stout and Bass Ale).   And I wonder why I am 25 pounds overweight.  When exactly is it that those New Year’s Resolutions go into effect?

What was sort of entertaining about the time at the restaurant was that when I asked the waitress if we had met, since she looked so familiar, she reminded me that during the five years she worked at G’s Frozen Yogurt she had often waited on us.  She remembered our usual order of two Turtle Sundaes, one in a larger cup so that Mary Ann could handle it better.  More reason for the extra twenty-five pounds.  It is still not fair that Mary Ann eats those good things and refuses to gain a pound.  That she brought half of her meal home and they didn’t even have to wash my plate since I licked it clean, might have something to do with that apparent lack of fairness. 

In addition to knowing the waitress, a young man from the kitchen caught me.  I recognized him as a former member of the parish I served before retiring.  He came over to the table, and we talked for quite a while, mostly about his future plans.  Both of the two were within a few years of high school.  It always pleases me when young people take the time to talk to us Geezers.  He also made a point of acknowledging Mary Ann by name as he left to get back to the kitchen.  That was a very thoughtful gesture, since so often someone in a wheelchair gets ignored.  Now that I think about it, I guess I am complicit in that problem, since I did not make a point of introducing him to Mary Ann. 

We rented some movies and watched one this afternoon.  After the Law and Order Marathon yesterday, I was grateful that we had been given a gift card at the local Family Video.  The movie was not very entertaining to us.  We were grateful when it was over.  Mary Ann was tracking well enough to recognize that she wasn’t impressed with the movie (“He’s Just Not That Into You”).  A customer in the video store had recommended it. 

Mary Ann went to bed very early again tonight.  I was in the living room when I heard the telltale thump of her falling to the floor.  She did not hurt herself, but she was pretty confused and seemed unable to come out with any words that made sense.  She was willing to lie back down and has been sleeping since.  That was about an hour ago.  By the way, she has had a stroke in the past.  This fall seemed like a pretty ordinary one.  The confusion afterward did not include the kind of speech pattern that is a telltale sign of a stroke.  She had no weakness on one side of her body.  Of course there are no guarantees since the range of some of her reactions often overlaps stroke symptoms.  We live in a narrow range of functionality.  There is a vulnerabilty we have just learned to live with.  Most folks who have lived very long are not unfamiliar with that vulnerability.

One especially pleasant phone call was one from Mary, who schedules Mary Ann’s Volunteers.  There are already ten slots filled for January, beginning tomorrow morning.  Those slots vary from two to three hours in length.  The weather may interfere with those visits, but it is a help to both Mary Ann and me that they are scheduled.  We have not had much time away from one another in the past week or so due to the blizzard and its aftermath. 

The ride the last couple of days has taken us up and down with rapid changes between the up and the down.  We continue to hang on for dear life during the down times and celebrate the up times. 

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.

It is 9:00pm on December 31, 2009, and I am sitting here at the computer with the last of the Asti Spumanti sitting next to me.  We partied wildly eating crackers and chex mix until we could eat no more – four crackers and one handful after another (that is two handfuls) of chex mix.  We drank that half-bottle of Martini-Rossi Asti Spumanti until there was no more to drink (other than the glass sitting next to me now).  If I slur my words while keying in this post, you will know why.  Mary Ann has crashed – well, she is lying in bed watching the Mentalist.  I think she likes the blond guy.

We toasted the new year shortly after 8pm. That means we celebrated the New Year with South Georgia & The South Sandwich Islands.  I suspect that South Georgia is not the one with Savannah in it.  In a moment of madness (probably not the Asti Spumonti, the glass is still sitting there), I emailed South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands to wish them well in 2010.  By the way, the contact page on their web site said they would not send souvenirs nor can people fly there.  Visiting can only be done by cruise ship.

This was not Mary Ann’s best day in terms of alertness.  She seemed to have difficulty connecting with any attempts at communicating verbally.  It took a very long time to determine what would be acceptable for lunch.  We got Glory Days’ pizza slices for her. She napped for a couple of hours late this afternoon and woke thinking it was morning.  Later in the evening she seemed to begin to become a little more alert.  She is having trouble going to sleep and commented that she slept too much today.

This afternoon, just as she lay down for the nap, I got a phone call asking if I might stop by the hospital to visit a young couple whose baby came about five weeks early.  The couple are some of my favorite people.  They have been ministered to very effectively by the Deacons at the congregation. The couple have been on the roller coaster ride that comes with all the unknowns in such a situation.  Everything seems to be on course for a healthy little one to be heading home in a couple of weeks or so, but it is always a scary ride, especially the first few days.  I was affirmed that my visit was requested.  I made sure all was in order with the parish, since retired pastors need to handle any ministry to former members very carefully so that all is done appropriately.

It felt good to be in that role again, if only for a short time. The nature of my role here with Mary Ann does not readily accommodate such ministry activities.  That has been good for the new Pastor (currently out of town), giving him a chance to do what he was called to do.  I was able to leave the house and head to the hospital for a time, since the baby’s Grandmother is one of Mary Ann’s Volunteers.  She was, of course, willing to stay at the house with Mary Ann (who slept during the time I was gone).

While writing this post, a greeting came through Facebook from one of the Youth in my first congregation, the one I began serving in 1972.  Sara is no longer a Youth, but I will not venture a guess at her age.  She is taller than I am and could hurt me.  Actually, one of the other Youth from those years just turned 50!  How is that for scary!

In my remembering the Teen and Young Adult years in the online Ignatian retreat I am doing, I made reference in last night’s post to the volatile years at the high school at which I taught.  Those three years came just before the move to the parish in Prairie Village, Kansas (the Kansas City area).

I had come to the high school from the Seminary, having become completely disillusioned with the institutional church.  I had concluded that it was not reasonable to expect the institutional church made up of flawed human beings to be any better place than any other human institution.  It turned out to be a very healthy discovery.  Ultimately, I came to appreciate the one major difference between the institutional church and most other institutions, the freedom to speak openly without censure the heart of the message revealed in Scripture in all its powerful transformational truth.

In that last very long sentence (I had four years of Latin in high school – blame Cicero) I used the word “Ultimately.”  There was much that filled the space between the beginning of the disillusionment of the institutional church and that “ultimately” healthy understanding of it. The students at Concordia Lutheran High School touched my life powerfully in those three years.  There came a transformation of my faith from one filled with pain and struggle to one filled with hope and joy.

The Cliff Notes version is this:  I came to teach with no preparation in how to teach.  I had a lot of information in my head, but no training in how to communicate that information to high school students in a classroom.  The courses I taught had only titles, no textbooks, no curriculum.  The titles were Old Testament (Freshman Religion), New Testament (Sophomore Religion), and Doctrine and Life (Senior Religion).  The students had been in required religion classes since Kindergarten.  You understand my dilemma.  The moment I quoted a Bible passage or used the religious code words they had heard for ten or twelve years by then, their eyes glazed over.

I chose to avoid the jargon and teach the message behind the jargon.  The relationship and the trust that grew between the kids and me was something I could not have anticipated.  When the inevitable time came that the Principal called me into the office to tell me that my contract would not be renewed for the next year (the Friday after the Tuesday we had put Earnest money down on a house, with Mary Ann four months pregnant with our second child), the response of the students was more meaningful to me than there are words to say.  Without doing anything improper (no sit-ins) they came to my defense.

In the end, I was offered a contract for the next year.  By that time I had received a Call to serve the parish in Prairie Village.  I realized that at CLHS I would be a lightning rod and a scapegoat for the administration.  I also accepted the fact that my abilities fit the parish better than the classroom.  Those young people touched me deeply with the intensity of their faith, their understanding of Christian community, their courage, and their willingness to put themselves on the line for me.  I will never forget them.

The years working with Youth in the Kansas City area nurtured what had begun at the high school in Ft. Wayne.  The immediacy of the presence of God in the lives of young people is a marvel to behold.  During those years, I got to be an accessible Adult who said all the same things their parents were saying to them with the advantage of my not being their parent.  I gained far more than I gave those young people.

What emerged as my purpose in relating to young people who came through so quickly and headed on with their lives, going off to work or college, was to have a positive impact, however small it might be, on their faith, their understanding of themselves and their ability to relate to others.

Over the years, that understanding of my purpose has expanded.  None of us can control, shape, manipulate anyone else into becoming who we have decided he/she should be.  Whether it is Mary Ann, our Children, our Grandchildren, the people we serve in whatever job we have, for me the ministry to so many I came to care about, our role is have as positive an impact as possible on them as they come through our lives and we theirs. The times I have heard from people whose lives intersected mine in the past often lift my spirit.

I just went in and gave Mary Ann a New Year’s kiss as the fireworks are announcing that the New Year has just begun here also, after beginning four hours ago in South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands.  I think it is time to bring this post to an end.

Happy New Year!  May you keep your hopes and dreams alive in 2010!

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.