For Mikey

Dear Mike,

I saw the news this morning that after 50 long days, you’d been released from the hospital. A smile and a “Yay!” crossed my lips until I read the word “hospice”. And you’ve filled my thoughts every minute since.

Alternating between tears and a hope that says nothing’s over until God says so, I’ve spent a lot of time today wondering how to reach out to you and what to say.  Words came so easy for us in high school, didn’t they?  They’re failing me now, friend.

Thank you for befriending me.  A new boarding school in the Texas hill country, far away from family, was a lot to navigate and you made it easier.  Sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the side of the building and talking away the afternoon with you is one of my favorite memories of my time there. The stories about your firefighting family and your ambition to join them fascinated me to no end.  You were so sure of yourself then and it gave me courage to believe more in myself and my own goals.

I’m so proud that you followed your heart and made your dreams happen.

Watching and cheering loudly as you played football under those Friday night lights was so much fun.  I still remember, though, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that one time you got hit (do you remember?), staying down on the field for what seemed like a lifetime. I remember holding hands with a friend, the two of us praying for you to stand up and shake it off.

I’m still praying that prayer, Mike.

You were all brawn and gruff and tough stuff and faced everything square on with a determined optimism.  And yet you were also a marshmallow and a total softy and judging by what you’ve been posting on Facebook all these years about your beloved wife and children, that hasn’t changed either. You love them well, friend, and you are deeply loved by them.

Though our time together was  brief, the legacy of your kindness, caring, laughter, tenacity, and strength has continued.  I’ve valued being able to glimpse your life from the outskirts of social media, cheering still for you in your triumphs, career accomplishments, and personal challenges.  You’ve been a fighter, Mike, and oh, so brave.

It appears that our season of friendship in this life will be over sooner than I would have liked but I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to say what needed to be said and I take comfort that your love for Jesus and your steadfast trust in Him means that when the goodbye comes, it will be temporary.

You are loved, you are prayed for, you are cherished. Thank you for being my friend.

Susan

Eek.

I’ve been conference-planning.  It’s taken up every available space of brain and it’s this weekend.

GAH.

Here’s a little video about it that we shot a couple of months ago in my den with pillows on the floor and a messy side table that the 18-year-old who was filming didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to show.

Nice.

Online registration is now closed but walk-ins are welcome.  If you’re local, I’d love to see you.

Have a nice day.

P.S. Prayers won’t be wasted.

Part IV: Closing the book

Mom was still in the early phase of her recovery but sufficiently healed enough by mid-December to travel and so, with great nervousness on my part, they got in the car and headed back home.   It was hard to release her – there were many tears  – but she was ready to get back home to her people and I had to remind myself that she and Daddy had successfully managed their lives for 80 years and they could certainly handle it without me.

One the lessons I learned is that seizing control of a situation comes all too naturally but I need to stop to consider that other adults are quite capable of managing their own lives.  I don’t think it dawned on me that I may have overstepped my bounds until we were several, several weeks into this process and I caught myself being a little bossy with my dad.  Craig had to gently remind me that he was a big boy and had the first right of refusal in making decisions about his wife of 60 years.  Sufficiently chastened, I backed off and let Dad have more of a say which was the best decision because, ultimately, Dad was going have to take point when they got back home and he needed to have that freedom because, again, ADULT and HUSBAND.

In the weeks since they’ve been gone, I’ve been processing the emotions of the experience and while some are sad (such as the realization that my parents aren’t invincible and the pain of seeing someone you love suffer), others are uplifting.  I always knew my mother was an incredibly strong woman (you don’t raise the Greenwood kids without some form of super-power) but to see her quote scripture while lying on a gurney strapped to a backboard carved new depths of admiration.  She didn’t complain and even apologized for the ONE DAY she was slightly cranky.  (In her words, “I’m putting myself to bed. I’m being a grumpy-head.”)

Other memories bring laughter when recalling the first Sunday Craig and I felt comfortable leaving Mom and Dad alone and Daddy locked himself out of the house when he took the puppy out for a bathroom break and Mom was laid up in the bed and couldn’t get up to let him in. Or when she, high as a kite on pain meds, felt very free to comment on my inability to put away the pile of folded laundry on the dining room table and gave Craig pointers on how to handle his recalcitrant wife. (Laws, that was hilarious to see C caught between his wife and his mother-in-law.)

The over-arching emotion, though, is gratitude for the extended time with my parents. I haven’t lived at home since the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college and to have those weeks of close fellowship served to reinforce the already strong bonds we have. There’s no pretending when spending that much time together and I think we all came away from the experience with a new appreciation for and deeper understanding of each other.  I got to learn more about who they are as people, not just parents, and it was a precious gift for which I will always be grateful.

Have a nice day.

Part III: What we learned in the waiting

Unfortunately, Mom’s visit to the spine specialist didn’t result in any magical cure.  He told her to expect an eight-month recovery process and to go home, rest, walk as much as she could tolerate, and wait.

My mom’s not what you would call “the waiting type”.  This is the person who jumps up when the dryer bell rings so she can immediately attend to the laundry so it doesn’t wrinkle. 

Meanwhile, her clearly-adopted daughter turns OFF the dryer notification because that’s why God invented the fluff cycle.

Can I get a witness?

I could tell Mom and Dad were a little deflated with the news. I don’t blame them – it’s hard being away from home and your support system in situations like this.  On the other hand, I felt relief because it meant that I could take care of Mom as long as she needed help, in my own home (that was already set up for someone with mobility problems), without worrying about being away from my own family. It was truly the best scenario you could hope for even though it was tough on my folks living in someone else’s house, sleeping in someone else’s bed, dealing with someone else’s PUPPY (that was festive), and sharing space with someone else’s kids.

But we adjusted.

And we learned.

About waiting….as over the weeks Mom struggled, first to sit up, then stand, then take slow, painful steps to the kitchen with a walker, then venture outside with a cane.

About grace…as our normal routines were thrown off-kilter and the stress of the situation sometimes caused folks to act out of character.

About patience…as Dad and I answered the same questions over and over and over because the pain meds made Mom forgetful from one day to the next.

About gentleness…as I had to bathe my mother and wash and style her hair.

About humility…as she had to accept her daughter doing things that she as a parent would typically do, or when I had to admit to friends that I really needed a meal or two and if they could please HELP A SISTER OUT.

About friendship…as twenty meals showed up on my doorstep and as encouraging notes filled the mailbox.

Seriously y’all, her friends.  In the 7 weeks she was here, only two days were without a card from Oklahoma.

And about love…as I watched her husband of 60 years get up with her in the middle of the night, hold the bucket for her while she heaved, sit with her for hours on end, and pray over her constantly. And as my husband of 18 years moved into the VERY COLD upstairs guest room (Dear everyone who has ever stayed with us, I am sorry, I had no idea), gave up any notion of having his wife’s attention, ate mystery casseroles for weeks on end, and celebrated his 50th birthday by having his in-laws live with him for two months, all without one single word of complaint during or since.

We married good men, Mama.

So many blessings, so many lessons learned, such a faithful Jesus who walked with us every day. I have a few more thoughts to explore, hopefully tomorrow, and then I’ll wrap this story up.

Thanks for the encouraging words, friends, and for sticking with me, even in my absence.

Have a nice day.

Part II: Hindsight is 20-20

In hindsight, I should have pushed back on Mom’s release. We were nervous and unsure about caring for her at home, she most of all. They’d  switched her from IV to oral pain meds in the afternoon just prior to discharge and without much instruction, we didn’t know how tricky it would be to manage the dosing and stay ahead of the pain curve.

She started throwing up Saturday and couldn’t get any relief from the nausea or pain. After many hours, we called the hospital and asked for different meds and because of the class of drugs she needed, Dad had to drive back to the hospital where they treated him like a criminal who was pill shopping to pick up the prescription. (AND I’M NOT STILL ANGRY ABOUT THAT.)  She was worse on Sunday, stopped eating, wouldn’t get out of bed (she’d been able, with assistance, to get out of bed at the hospital), and wouldn’t stop throwing up. I was starting to get very nervous that maybe the doctors had missed something but tried to encourage Mom to be patient and let the medicine build up in her system. When I got up Monday morning at 5:00, Dad was waiting for me in the den and took me back to see her.  In a trembling voice, she told me she thought she needed to go back to the hospital because she didn’t feel stable.  When I asked her what she meant, she told me her heart was beating erratically and she felt like her very life and being were in a precarious place. And so again, an urgent call to 911 and firemen and EMS workers in the house and standing on my bed to transfer her to another backboard and ride to the hospital. This time, though, given our negative experience with the first hospital, I requested they take her to a different one. And after we got her settled and medical professionals were in the room, I stepped outside into the hallway and had myself a little full-blown panic attack.

I don’t know how to describe what brought it on other than just feeling the full weight of responsibility for my mother’s life. I was scared that I’d waited too long to bring her in, that I’d given her the wrong dosage or mix of medicine, that I’d taken her to the wrong doctor, that it’d been my fault that she fell at my house, that I’d not done enough to secure her safety, that my brothers would blame me if she died, that I was the baby of the family and not old enough to make all of these decisions, that in times like these my default question always is “WHERE IS MY MOTHER???” and I was all too aware that where she was and what she couldn’t do.

After several minutes of flat-out bawling in a corner, I decided these feelings were too much to keep inside and so I called my brother Jonathan and did the ugly cry on the phone with him and told him everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph. And he listened so very well (and all of us will freely admit that he’s the best of all the Greenwood kids) and said, “You are not in this alone.” And I cried all over again. He encouraged me by telling me all of them believed and trusted in me to make the best decisions I could and that if I felt overwhelmed, not to keep bottled up but call a family meeting and they would help me.

Why I hadn’t thought about pulling them in earlier escaped me at the time but in the ensuing months as I’ve pondered what/why  I did/thought/said, I’ve learned (again) that I am intransigently hard-wired to handle things by myself without asking for help, and while that may be good in many circumstances, there are others LIKE THIS ONE where I can avoid a lot of grief just by saying, “This is more than I can handle.”

By this point, it was becoming clear that Mom was feeling better and the doctors determined that off-the-chart pain levels were to blame for making her feel sketchy.  They added some meds they thought would be helpful, scheduled an appointment with a spine specialist later in the week to see if there was a surgical solution, and sent us home to try, try again.

To be continued…

Monday Musings: A lot of stuff happened

Not sure where to start but I had a few minutes this evening and wanted to update my readers about what’s been going on at Casa de Carpool. A four-month absence is quite a bit of time and while some can be attributed to my brain cells being occupied with managing the planning committee for this spring’s women’s conference, the bigger truth is that I’m still in a wee bit of a shock processing all the thoughts about what happened last fall.

In October, my parents popped down to North Carolina as the last stop of a several-weeks’ trip through New England celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a few days of visiting, cooking favorite meals, taking walks around the neighborhood, doing laundry (Mom always catches me up while she’s here – it’s a blessing upon blessing) and going to the mall for some shopping at stores they don’t have in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, October 22, was the day they were scheduled to leave. About 6:15 that morning, I was in Travis’ room, helping him get dressed for school while Craig was in the kitchen making lunches for everyone. I was surprised when Craig poked his head in the bedroom and said, “I think you need to go upstairs and check on your mom.” I asked if she was sick but he said he didn’t think so. “Your dad is acting very strange. He told the boys that Nana wasn’t coming down to say goodbye because she didn’t feel well and when I asked if she was sick he said ‘Not exactly’ and told me that she’d fallen during the night and couldn’t get out of the bed.” I took off running past my dad who was still standing at the kitchen counter and ran upstairs to the guest room to check on Mom. Her breath was shallow with pain as she told me of falling down two stairs leading out of the guest room while trying to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. She thought she might have broken a rib because she was having a lot of pain and asked me to help her sit up on the side of the bed but when I tried to help roll to her side to do so, it was clear that she was in too much pain to be moved.

I was afraid that she might have broken several ribs (or her hip given her inability to move) so I told her I was calling an ambulance and we’d get her to the emergency room. Being Mom, she told me to wait until the kids were off to school so they wouldn’t be frightened and I rolled my eyes and ignored her. By 6:45, I had a house full of firemen getting her strapped to a backboard and I was trying to answer EMS worker’s questions about medical history and medicines, all the while realizing I didn’t know much about anything. My beloved neighbor Rachel texted when she saw the ambulance and offered help with the dog (who was still in the midst of potty training) and so I put Stella in the crate, sent Dad with Mom in the ambulance and then threw on some clothes and poured travel coffee BECAUSE PRIORITIES and met them at the hospital.

We waited several hours for CT scan results to tell us the good news that she’d not broken a hip but the bad news that she’d instead broken her back. They transferred us to a larger trauma center for further evaluation by a neurosurgeon to see if she’d require surgery and after a couple of very long days, they determined that the break was fairly simple and would not require additional medical intervention other than pain management and rest. They discharged her into my care with very few instructions and I drove her home on a Friday night, got her settled into my bedroom, and together our family started a long road to recovery.

We never knew simple would turn out to be so complicated.

To be continued….

Five Minute Friday

In what can only be described as a complete and utter lapse of reason, Craig and I gave in to two years of begging and brought home the first puppy of our married life for these boys that we clearly love more than our furniture.

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Her name is Stella which wasn’t my first choice but all the menfolk nixed Miss Bennett as “too girly” and “too long” so we went with Stella so they could channel their inner Brando every time they called her.

She barked all.night.long the first week we brought her home and have I mentioned that I got the idea to get her while Craig was in California for the week and I was the only adult to get up three times a night to let her out for 4 days straight? And, of course, the first night he came back she didn’t make a whimper and hasn’t since.

As typical with the Scates children, she adores Craig and goes into our room every morning to greet him even though I’m the one who feeds her, walks her, trains, and treats her. BUT I AM NOT BITTER.

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We are in the process of socializing her and she adores little kids, is okay with the one dog she’s met thus far, and liked hanging out on the sidewalk at the corner bakery. She’s met the mailman, the neighbors, and several friends and, so far, so good.

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Car rides? Not so much.

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Sleeping? She’s a champ.

Welcome home, Stella. Please stay adorable and please don’t eat my couch.

Have a nice day.