Saturday, January 24, 2015

Taking Care of My Grandfather: Guest Post

Janeen at Strawberry Crest High School
This was a simple assignment I gave at the beginning of January at the high school where I have been assigned as a substitute for the month of January until the school can hire a new teacher. 

What is the greatest gift you have been
given and what are three reasons why?

I was very surprised to get this heart-warming answer from sophomore Janeen, who has as a career goal to be a Cardiovascular Surgeon. For a summer she received the gift of helping to take care of her grandfather who passed away two years ago. She is so glad she did and her memories of helping him are amazing. This photo and writing are used by permission of her family. 

The best gift that I have received this year was being able to get through another year without my grandfather. Yes, it seems like a weird present to be grateful for, but when I explain more you will understand. When it came to my grandfather's death, everyone saw it differently. 

For me, I was relieved. You see, my grandfather had a disease called dementia, king of like Alzheimer's, but a little more complicated. In his last year I got to be by his side during the summer. At first it hurt, but then I got to experience the good--such as watching old westerns and hearing him laugh or when he lost his leg and cried in the ICU. Actually he let us get closer to him and take care of him. It really touched my heart.

So when he passed away of course I was sad, but at the same time, I was happy to know he isn't in pain anymore. Every year I remind myself he is okay and I will be too. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Moving, Part Three

Cecil is the professional who wanted the pool table for himself and had the expert muscle men help to move the heavy slate pool table. He will put it in his garage, much to his wife's chagrin because she was parking her car there. (He told her he will built her a car port for her car.) I think he does play pool professionally and he does buy, sell and trade pool tables as this sign suggests. Call him it you need one. 

Cecil decided against taking out the special red felt we had which apparently is hard to come by even for an expert. He wouldn't disassemble the table as I had been telling people needed to happen. Instead his crew carried it through the French doors out to a truck. 

The gentlemen also helped by raising the lights that hung over the pool table on their chains and then moved into my empty den a banquet table where I can pack boxes. 

The pool table rolled on down the street, and now with two large pieces of furniture removed (also sectional as I reported in Moving, Part Two), the carpet can be pulled up. I am ready for further adventures of moving, getting a new garage door installed, and having plumbing issues resolved. 

I am grateful for happy days my husband tried to teach me to play pool. I reflect on the great day my husband and Jake played pool together while their friend Bob had to keep score for the gentlemen because of the short-term memory of the players. I am grateful for being able to cut out quilts on it when it was covered. An era has passed out of my life. 

Quilt for oldest grandson
 I made for his wedding

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Moving, Part Two

Vinyl covered pool tables are so great for sorting papers and for cutting out quilts. With a pool table likely to leave the house, I started to get busy cutting out a quilt for the last grandchild of my late husband. This quilt is a huge challenge,--a Doctor Who quilt with a phone booth on it.

Two people dropped out coming to buy the pool table. I had accepted both offers for $400. The third offer from this virtual yard sale was for $425. Two couples actually came to look at the pool table on Saturday and I gave them the suggestion that they hire professional pool table movers which is how our 1972 pool table was re-felted and set up in our den. While they were interested, they called back and said there was too much involved with moving and setting up a pool table and so they would not be buying it.

My dear friend Sally is always thinking of me. In October she had told a professional about my pool table and he had offered me $1000 on the spot for it. I still had his card where it said "buy-sell-trade." Foolish me I said I wasn't ready in October. You see I was holding on to remaining in my house and the myth that widows shouldn't make any major decisions in the first year after the husband dies.

That very first week in January, before the house was on the market, I did have a call from a buyer's realtor--another connection from my thoughtful friend Sally. I didn't hear back (maybe it was too soon), and so I had my realtor call their realtor. My realtor, Alison Terry,  sent me this text:
The husband thought it was a great property, and the wife initially thought so also. But after discussing what would need to be done for their needs, they decided it was too large a project and more money than they had cash set aside. The agent indicated he might have someone else who would be interested. He will let us know. 
My hopes of a quick sale of the house were dashed.

However, with a phone call yesterday I did sell the pool table for considerable less ($250). Guess who! Yes, that "buy-sell-trade" gentleman above. Why the $750 less price? It turns out my great Montgomery Ward pool table doesn't have replacement parts any more (he already had purchased two of them since October). He will bring me cash and a professional pool table mover will come to get my pool table.

In another week my newly-retired-rocket-scientist-Huntsville-Alabama brother comes and works with Pharis. The big project is taking up the rug and painting the concrete floors. I have a month-long substitute job, but these two men will work on the project while I am teaching. Pharis has already been painting the trim outside along with other maintenance projects.

I hear Pharis and my brother will also play golf. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Moving, Part One

I had three yard sales in October and got rid of my late husband's tools and I will have more yard sales because I am putting my house on the market.  I contacted a realtor, Alison Terry,  and she is like a real dutch uncle. The second day of January Alison put it to me:

You have too much stuff. 
Make each room look spacious. 
Take up the carpet and just paint the floor. 

I am thinking it will be like no one lives in the house. Where will I put the stuff I need when I move? If she's going to be my realtor, however, I better obey her!

My realtor. Alison,  is in my Toastmaster's club and she remembered when I did a speech on "The House That Cleans Itself".  She thought it would be all pretty when she came here. Wrong. I have clutter again after six months of being a widow and previously a hard year when my husband went downhill with dementia.  Plus the rug has bad stains that surfaced.

Just take the carpet up and paint the concrete. 

Now to take up the rug means I had to get rid of the large couch in the family room that stretched from the fireplace to the garage door. Where Ziggy is sitting in the picture is my late husband's "Archie Bucker" seat--his favorite place in the house.

Now you can't move the couch and the pool table outside for a regular yard sale. So I put both the couch and the pool table on three virtual yard sales on Facebook on January 3rd and have been so busy with FB messages since then. I decided that when I talked to someone, I would know; they needed to call me after I messaged them, not just comment on the Facebook group. I was asking $75 for the couch and $800 for the pool table. Within an hour I had a lot of interest with Facebook messages.   

Two couples called me from the laundromat and came by when a comforter was dry. They thought the two-piece couch had the third section in the middle and at one time it did, but my late husband and I had gotten rid of that piece. When they phoned, they asked it were curved and I said "yes" because I thought they meant the curving on top. So they didn't take it. I guess I misled them on the phone. 

But these two couples did thoughtfully help me. They put that couch in the garage for the next person. Then they helped me move furniture. First they moved the living room couch to the adjoining family room. 
Coincidentally the big TV my husband watched in that family room went dead the same day.

They took the big TV to the curve and when I returned from church on Sunday it was gone along with the remote control and instruction manual I also put with it.  I gave them the big TV stand--such nice young folk. And of course I rapped for them! Only I didn't remind them to secure the garage which is getting a new door on January 20th.

So now remembrances of my husband's favorite "Archie Bunker" spot where he watched that TV are gone. See HERE for how this spot was his favorite spot.

After that it continued to be an adventure discovering who would take the couch now in the garage along with the pool table. One husband came by when I was at church and opened the garage with my not being there. 
Breaking and entering--ya think? 

He told his wife it had holes and rips, which wasn't accurate and didn't take it, after she had told me she was first and scolded me for not letting her get a chance before the above lovely group.

I had Pharis come over and secure the property after that gentleman entered the garage while I wasn't there.

Sunday night another wife came by. She would send an email to her husband and they would decide. He said "no".

So it was offered to a family of four who decided to take it. The dad tied it down while the son showed me some karate moves. Nice family! Of course I did rap for them as well.

Meanwhile, several people are interested in the the pool table. Now a pool table is a huge project to move. It involves setting it up at another location. Stay tuned.

Selling the house and moving is indeed an adventure. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Caregivers Pete and Bonnie

Pete was married to Nancy almost 45 years. Bonnie was married to Jimmy for 36 years. I met both of them in church the Sunday before Christmas in Huntsville, Alabama. Instantly I connected with these two caregivers and wanted to interview them. Two days later I interviewed both of them over breakfast at a local restaurant.

Carol: What was the medical diagnosis of your spouse and how long did they live?

Bonnie:  Jimmy had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and after diagnosis lived for two years.

Pete:  Nancy had a brain tumor and lived eighteen months after diagnosis.  I enjoy talking about my late wife—I enjoy the memory. Joyce, my deacon and Hospice care volunteer, remarked: 

Lose child you lose your future. 
Lose parents you lose your past of your history. 
Lose a spouse you lose your present.

Carol: Oh yes, you lose your present when you lose your spouse. I am adjusting to that loss.  Let me ask you both. This went so fast for you both. How did their illness and death catch you off guard? I mean I had from 2008 to 2014 to get used to my husband’s dementia and eventual death.

Bonnie:  Did it catch me off guard? Yes and no. I am a nurse. Jimmy was 59 and his illness was similar to his uncle who died with the same illness. I was expecting the genetic factor to kick in at some time. Everyone in his family said Jimmy reminded them of that uncle—he looked like him.

Pete: Yes, Nancy’s illness did catch me off guard. There was no known family history. She had had thyroid cancer surgery, a lumpectomy and both were malignant. Then fifteen years later an unrelated cancer popped up--but this time in the brain. It hadn’t been metastasized from the previous two cancers. The surgeon who gave the latest diagnosis cried with Nancy and me.

Carol: How did your Christian faith play into this caregiving experience?

Bonnie:  Music means a lot to me. One particular hymn had the words Come yet disconsolate. The choir sang it when seven students were killed in a tornado in Enterprise, AL. The arrangement was written after that Enterprise horrible incident. That hymn and arrangement spoke volumes to my heart. I was disconsolate.

Carol: Our faith does give us insight when we suffer, but, really, how hard was it to be your spouse’s caregiver?

Pete: Very hard to see her ill and to go downhill. Nancy became very fearful. She wanted me there all the time. Once I tried to go get a haircut and she called three times on my cell phone before I could get to the barbershop.

Bonnie: I remember when Jimmy wasn’t able to keep our financial records and kept going downhill. It was devastating for me. I was 54 and as a nurse I knew when I found the lump in his neck it was not good.  Initially they thought it was the chronic type, but within 6 months the oncologist decided it had progressed enough to treat it. My husband had chemo then. My way of coping was a bit of denial because I felt I had control--I was a nurse. I could draw his blood. I could take it to the lab. I disassociated myself from that part—it became almost mechanical. 

Finally we did go to M. D. Anderson Cancer research in Houston, Texas. As I watched Jimmy decline, I recognized the end-of-life progression. I was told if he didn’t get platelets, he would die. After coming back home, a visit with his dad was gratifying. His daughter wanted to be with him until the end and she told him she would be okay and he winked at her. Jimmy lived five days in Hospice care after he came back home from Houston.

Carol: So while he was in Houston, you were away from home and support of family and friends. How was that, Bonnie?

Bonnie: While we were in Houston, talks on the phone with my sister, close girlfriends and church members were of great comfort. It seems when we became downhearted, someone would call. Email 
with encouragement lifted our spirits and we could read them again 
and again.

Carol: Bonnie, what about after Jimmy died?

Bonnie:   After Jimmy died, I withdrew and became depressed. I did not allow the church to nurture me. I felt like I had to mourn. I became drained. It was too exhausting to interact with people, so I sat at home and did not interact. I was immobilized. Within the first year Jimmy’s aunt took me on a trip to Scandinavian. A ray of hope came in.  After two years I started remodeling my home. After five years I moved to a patio home.  Gradually I got back into life.

Carol: I can learn much from your journey.  I need to be determined to get back into life. When you started remodeling the house and went on a trip, you got the resources to move on. I need to do that as well. However, in my case, it is not remodeling, but getting the house ready to sell. Life does go on.

Let me ask Pete. I am doing my counseling dissertation on the church and caregiving. How did the  church help you in this journey?

Pete: Our Sunday School class fed my late wife and me for 18 months. Why I even had two refrigerators full of food when she died. Another church in the Huntsville area had an adult day care called Trinity Friends. Even when she was paralyzed I  took her to that day care.  I had a car with butt-level seats so she could easily get in and out of the car. She finally wanted me to have respite so I could do errands while she was at that day care.

Carol: Brain tumors start to have much in common with Alzheimer's. How did Nancy's mind change?

Pete: Nancy had trouble naming things. She could read a storybook to our granddaughter, but not communicate. She lost words before she lost her short-term memory. We just don’t understand the brain. In the last month Hospice was there, she never had pain. My two prayers were answered—that I could take care of her and that she wouldn’t have pain.

Carol: What was your grief like, Pete?

Pete: When she died, I cried, but I felt I wasn’t alone. I got over 2000 cards and letters and a deacon and Hospice ministered to me. I went to a weekend seminar on grieving. At that grief session I learned from the Hospice chaplain that it’s okay to grieve. This engineer (me) understood the process more.

Bonnie:  I also went to that weekend session where I witnessed other people’s pain in community and how everyone was dealing with the pain. It was comforting. Also the Hospice social worker helped my children. My girlfriends helped me get back into life. I started volunteering by helping with respite care  at our church.

Carol: Like you two I have been in a grief program. I am determined to move on and am planning to sell and move. Speaking of moving on, you two caregivers married!

Bonnie: Yes, and our families have blended well.

Pete: I got the daughter I never had before. However, at one time we had three houses and two motor homes.

Bonnie: I had been visiting Nancy while she was ill and apparently she like me. I saw Nancy’s inability to communicate when I delivered food to her.

Pete: Apparently Nancy had told a mutual friend that I should find someone like Bonnie. After Bonnie and I were engaged, we learned that news.

Bonnie: We did not know this until after we were engaged!

Carol: It is so exciting how you two have forged a new life together. One more question.  Is it uncomfortable now to talk with each other about those caregiving years with the previous spouse?

Both Pete and Bonnie said not at all and what a pleasure it has been to talk with both of them and to see how they have survived being caregivers, being widowed, moving ahead and forging a new life in their senior years! It is interesting to me that I have met these two new friends (and others) in the two weeks at the end of 2014 that I have been visiting with family in Huntsville. I am thinking positively about moving to Huntsville, Alabama. 

Can I too move on? Their stories inspire me to do just that! 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Two New Year Items

Tutoring at my house

Esteban was one neighbor who helped me with my husband and I have been tutoring him. At the end of my husband's life, my husband thought Esteban his son. My husband in his mind was living in an earlier time period. I kept reminding him that I was his loving wife and he did recognize people he saw regularly such as Kenny, Sally, Jake and myself.

Esteban is fifteen and in eighth grade which tells you that he has not passed some school years.  I just have that access in his middle school because I am known as Mrs. Johnson the substitute as well as MC AC The Rap Lady who raps at the end of good classes.  I decided I would do something about this young man after my husband died--help him in school.

Now this young man had been living with his uncle (not Kenny) near me, but had been kicked out of that house and was back with his single mother and four sisters.  I learned where he lived when I saw him at school--a mobile home about two miles from me. In the fall I started to take him out for supper at Plant City's Snellgroves or at Denny's for our public tutoring sessions. No more coming to my neighboring home, as he is not a neighbor now.

I found out that his older sister had dropped out of high school because of the bullies and encouraged her to get back in school. She and her mother promised me she would return for her second semester in February.

Those bullies won, Sweetheart,  I said.
You get back in school! 

It occurred to me that Esteban just wanted to follow the same path as that sister when he turned 16--be a school dropout.

So, I devised a plan.  Before I flew out of town for what we used to call "Christmas break", I went to all of his academic teachers.Those academic teachers all have my email and even cell phone.

We used to have two cell phones--one for my husband and one for me. I would pay for a cell phone for Esteban if he could pass this first semester with only Cs and Ds in Science, Math, History, Language Arts and Reading. He would have to work very hard over vacation and in January to pass. Then in the semester starting in February if a teacher took his cell away because he used it in class, I would not pay for that cell phone service any more. Strict behavioral modification! Find out what works for a young person. 

Monday, December 15 I substituted at his school and he was told in no uncertain terms that I was to tutor him Tuesday night. Tuesday December 16th we were scheduled for tutoring at night--only Esteban missed the bus and didn't have his work. Wednesday December 17th I called his house and got no answer. I went to his house and found him walking home--he had missed the bus. I drove him to school and got a school visitor pass and went to all his teachers. I told them again of my plan to help him, despite the fact he is a bit lazy--really an understatement. I told them again that they can contact my cell and my email. I got the study sheets for his Math final, and was loaned both a Science and a Math book. The teachers have promised to contact me.

Stay tuned and please pray
for Esteban and 
for my possible move.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Widow's Christmas

Christmas used to be very Swedish for me--Swedish food and decorations as started by my 100 % Swedish mother. Dad was 1/2 Swedish and 1/2 Norwegian so we could expect things like Potatiskorv (potato sausage) that Mom would get from a delicatessen in California. Pepparkakor cookies were always a delight at Christmas. There were other things that my brothers and I sort of were forced to eat, but didn't like.

However, the Swedish decorations I grew up with were important. If I were decorating for Christmas as I did last year while my husband was alive, there would be plenty of Swedish. And after all, there are plenty of evidences of Sweden in my family room and in my kitchen throughout the year.  Some of the Swedish items are mainly displayed in the pictured corner cabinet. I do not have a husband now to decorate for and I am out of town. (There are a few wreaths on the front windows, however.)

The year after my mother passed away, my father was in the hospital at Christmas. I went to the hospital cafeteria and got my lunch and brought it to my Dad's room and we both cried because Mom was gone. That ideal Swedish Christmas was forever gone when my mother passed away. Usually every year I try to have a Swedish Christmas, more or less.

My first husband was in a Miami hospital one Christmas following surgery. On December 26 I called his hospital room and he was out of breath; I called the hospital and rushed there. I was not allowed in his room while a team was trying to revive him. But he died of a heart attack--the day after Christmas. They say your "firsts", your first holiday, after your loved one dies will be hard. I know this, so this year I am at my brother's home because . . .

Fortunately I have wonderful, welcoming family in Huntsville, Alabama and have spent maybe a dozen Christmases with my brother's family over the years. My niece and nephew have their own families now and I love seeing their children that live nearby.

I have asked my family what they want if I pass away.

"We want the Swedish decorations," they say. 

I am happy to pass these on. I realize that I have had more Swedish Christmas traditions than the average home in the actual country of Sweden. 

Jessica Lidh writes:HERE
For decades, my family has celebrated Christmas the same way, every year. I grew up listening to my grandmother tell me, “This is how the Swedes do it, how your relatives did it. So this is how we do it.” It didn’t really matter to me that my grandmother is actually a second-generation Swedish-American and not truly Swedish. (In fact, my closest relative to celebrate a legitimate Swedish Christmas would be my great-great-grandparents, who came to America in the late 1800s.) What mattered was the fact that we were replicating the traditions and customs of my ancestors, my roots, my people. 
This is how my family celebrates Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we have dinner, complete with Swedish meatballs, lingonberry preserves, ham and Swedish prayer followed by an evening service at my grandparents’ Lutheran church. On Christmas morning we open presents from Santa, and eat a Swedish brunch of potatiskorv (potato sausage) and äggröra (egg gravy). 
We saw the new movie "Annie" here in Huntsville and I cried at the end. I do not know why I cried:  is because I am a widow that I cried, or if it is because I was happy that Annie found a new home? Tears of a widow are complicated. I think of the Christmas song, I'll Be Home for Christmas, and I guess home for me might be  Huntsville, Alabama--not Plant City, Florida. I expect I will move to Huntsville sooner or later.

I prepared for this Christmas. I sent out greetings early. I mailed gifts early and even mailed some of my clothes there so I didn't have to pay for extra luggage on the flight. But it's not just one day, Christmas, but every day I am glad that I have a Christian faith. 


Hugs and Merry Christmas,