Monthly Archives: September 2013

Truth Nugget or Something that I’m Learning

The light-switch: It's a metaphor that works for everything.

The light-switch: It’s a metaphor that works for everything.

My grandparents died when they were relatively young, and so my mother and her siblings never had to care for them in their old age. They have all experienced a different set of challenges.

When I was growing up, I often heard my mother lament that nursing homes were sad places. She would say things like, “It’s just so sad. People just take old people there and leave them and then never visit.” This was always said with a certain amount of superciliousness. She would never do anything like that. Shame on those families who just drop an old person at one of those horrible places and never see them again!

I grew up thinking she was right. You go to a nursing home and you see all those bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound souls just hanging out in God’s waiting room and starved for attention of any kind. It’s hard not to think poorly of all those relatives who have forgotten them.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned over the past year: The non-visiting relatives and friends are probably staying away for their own well-being. They probably don’t think they can handle it. Maybe they are right. Maybe they are afraid to find out.

You see, elder-care is the toughest thing I’ve ever done and I’m no wimp. My childhood was no picnic. I put myself through college. I’ve worked with children who had cancer and domestic violence victims (and I do mean victims, not survivors, because they were still going through their ordeal when I met them). I once talked a suicidal person into handing me their gun. I’ve held the hand of a rape survivor while evidence was collected.  I’ve been divorced. I’ve fired people. So, when I say, “the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” you should know there is some competition for that title. I’m not a gal who backs down from a challenge, and if I say caring for my mother-in-law is hard, damn it, you better believe me!

One of the most difficult aspects about managing her care is that we’ve already mourned her passing, and yet, physically, she’s still here. We miss the person she was before she fell. We miss the hope we had for her recovery. What we’ve been left with is this being who is alert and angry one day and so barely alive the next. The result of seeing her oscillate between these two extremes is emotional exhaustion—and I am tired in a way that none of the things I have mentioned in the above paragraph can even touch.

Yep, that is where we are. My husband and I are emotionally EXHAUSTED, and yet, I’m impressed that we have handled the past year as well as we have. Dare I say it—most people could not handle this. But we can and we have. That doesn’t mean we don’t get tired, angry, frustrated, etc. God knows, we do! And every day, I am thankful that we are remarkably strong people who get a little stronger each day.  Before this all happened, I thought we had an uncommon amount of resilience and vitality. Now, I know we do.

In my moments of frustration, I think about how many of my mother-in-law’s friends and family members don’t visit her or call or even send a card, and I get really resentful on her behalf. I want to say they have abandoned her, but when I come off my high horse (his name is Sid), I remind myself that it may be emotionally crushing for some of them to see her as she is. They’ve already buried her and a visit is like exhuming a corpse.

I, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of pretending that she is gone or even of telling myself that I will visit or call tomorrow or next week or next month. Every now and then, I resent that, too. I don’t get to walk away because she’s right here in my house 24/7, and it’s been that way for over a year.

But here’s the thing: I believe God gives us the challenges we have for a reason. Other people get a different set of challenges because that’s what they need and not what I need.

You don’t have to agree with me on that. You can even be a complete skeptic about this and claim that I am searching for an explanation that just doesn’t exist, and that’s fine, but you should know that when I think of everything that happens in our lives—all the happiness and heartache—as being a part of a bigger picture, I’m a much more forgiving and compassionate person, and in the end, that’s what it is all about. Forgiveness and Compassion.




Warning: Contains Profanity, Redemptive Message and Crayon Crumbs

This is what cussing looks like. Apparently.

This is what cussing looks like. Apparently.

It’s late afternoon and I am helping my daughter with her homework. It’s an exercise in following directions, an area in which neither of us excels.

So, I read the directions silently and then aloud. She has a piece of paper with the outline of a house drawn on it. She is to draw a clock and a picture inside the house and a drum and a shovel outside the house. Okay. I’m wondering what is inside that drum that needs burying.

As she reaches for a crayon, my mother-in-law yells, “Banos! Banos!”

“Now?” Because this never happens at a convenient time.

“Banos! Now! Idiota!” Idiota is the Spanish word of the day. It means exactly what you think it means. Charming, huh? Yesterday, it was “bruja.”

So, I tell my daughter to hold off on doing her homework. I will return shortly and we can continue then. Of course, I know she isn’t going to stop because, as I just said, she doesn’t follow instructions well.

I wheel my mother-in-law into the bathroom and get her situated on the toilet. She grabs my hand. “Don’t leave me!” As if I can leave? She has me with her Super-Granny-Grip. It’s a secret super power that lots of old ladies have.

I tell her I will hold her hand for just a little while, but I will need to check on the children in a few minutes.

We hear a crash—not like furniture being toppled, but something with many pieces spilling onto the floor. Then, we hear my son screaming. SCREAMING—like he is being chased by a knife-wielding maniac!

“Mom, I have got to go check on him,” I say.

“No! No! Idiota! ” And now she is making her angry face—her lips are pursed and she is frowning. She has pulled her eyebrows together so tightly they resemble the McDonald’s arch only they are charcoal gray, not bright yellow.

Okay, who would hear a crash and a child crying and think that the mother of that child should continue holding her hand instead of going to the child? And before you defend this behavior, you should know that no, my mother-in-law was not in danger of falling off the toilet AND that she was demanding and very self-absorbed BEFORE she fell. This is not a new behavior. Calling me “Idiota” is fairly new, but who knows? Maybe she has been calling me that in her head for years.

So, I run into the kitchen where I find all the crayons on the floor and both of my children picking them up. Upon seeing me, they both start talking over each other in a rush to tell their side of the crayon spilling story–as if I have asked who is at fault.

Since my son is no longer screaming, I take it  that he is not hurt and there is no knife-wielding maniac. I calmly tell them, “I don’t know what happened here, but I am proud of you both because I see you are both cleaning up the mess together. Thank you. I have to back to Grandma. Please behave.” And considering that I am being verbally abused as I wipe their grandmother’s ass, I’m amazed that I am this calm and that I’m doing this without the help of Prozac, wine, or any other mommy-mood-leveler. Hooray for me.

I return to the bathroom. My mother-in-law’s right where I left her.  She makes her angry face and shakes the back of her hand at me. “You! You! Idiota!”

She tells me she is ready to get up. I lift her, wipe her, discover that she is not ready to leave the toilet, and sit her back down. We repeat that exercise about 40 times over the next twenty minutes. Yeah, I know that everyone poops, but this is %&$#-ing time consuming. I still need to help my daughter with her homework and cook supper. My husband is working late and I don’t expect to see him before 10 pm. It’s my show all night long. Lucky me.

Finally, yes, finally, we are done in the bathroom and we return to the kitchen where I discover that my children have helped themselves to apple juice—and someone has spilled apple juice all over the table, the floor, the crayon crumbs on the floor and the homework. @#$%!

Yeah, now the teacher is going to wonder what in the hell goes on in our house that a Kindergartener can’t complete a worksheet without drenching it in juice. She’s going to lump my daughter in with all those kids who don’t get enough parental supervision—you know, the kid who hasn’t had a bath this week, the one who still hasn’t handed in the emergency contact form, the one who is always tardy, the one who can’t keep his eyes open after lunch. These #$&%-ing negligent parents! Oh, and if you are a teacher, please do not tell me that teachers never make these judgmental remarks about poor parenting! I worked at a school. I know teachers do this. Maybe YOU don’t, but you know at least one teacher who does.

And of course, I now have one more mess to clean before I can start supper. Yeah, people poop, people spill and it all just a part of life, but in these moments, it doesn’t feel like a part of life. It feels like it IS my life–my whole life! And I’m certain I am the only person on the planet who experiences this kind of crap daily. Waaaaaa.

So, supper, baths, and bedtime are all going to happen a little later tonight. “My teacher says I should be in bed by seven,” my daughter reminds me. Oh, Sweetheart, your mama is doing damn good just to have supper on the table at by seven.

Frequently, I feel that my mother-in-law’s care interferes with my ability to parent my children as I would like. The stress of being pulled in yet another direction puts me in a bad mood and I’m that grouchy, bitchy, yelling mom that I swore I would never be. I resent that the most—that the circumstances have rendered me less than my best—for my children, for my husband, for myself.

As all this is happening, I am thinking about a conversation I had with one of my mother-in-law’s friends just the night before. My mother-in-law has only two friends who periodically call to check on her. She had hundreds of friends before she fell. Where the @&$% are all these people now? If I dwell on that, I will become very resentful on my mother-in-law’s behalf.

Anyway, this friend was going on and on about what a wonderful person I am because she can’t imagine caring for two children and someone in my mother-in-law’s condition. She has a pretty good idea of what it is like because in addition having raised her own children, she cared for an elderly relative many years ago. “You are an angel, my dear. An angel!” Of course, if you are reading this, you have to know I am not an angel. Angels don’t use profanity—or feel resentful.

Then, she told me that my mother-in-law would never do for others what I am doing for her. “She was never generous like that.” No, my mother-in-law loved giving people things—like inexpensive party favors. She was very generous in that way, but no, I can’t imagine her brushing someone else’s teeth or wiping someone else’s butt.

Well, that’s a part of my resentment, isn’t it? I know that my mother-in-law would never treat another person as well as I have treated her. She doesn’t deserve…stop-sign


Yes, I stopped myself mid-thought. Doesn’t deserve? Do I really want to be the kind of person who is only good to people who are deserving of my compassion? And really, aren’t all human beings worthy of mercy and kindness? Wow. Right there is the center of my own personal beliefs. If God loves everyone—and He does—then everyone is worthy of kindness and mercy and grace regardless of how they behave. All people behave badly. All people make poor decisions. And ultimately, it’s never about what someone else does. It’s about how I choose to respond and I choose love—even if it is hard as @#$%-ing hell.

So, I forgave her. And I forgave myself. I needed forgiveness because I was allowing anger, not love, to reign.

And that was just the first in a series of revelations. Grant you, none of my revelations are either earth-shattering or anything I haven’t considered in the past:

As for not being the best mother, I’m a good enough mother, and my children will be fine even if they don’t get my best all of the time. Most people turn out okay despite their parents, not because of their parents.

And am I really worried about what my daughter’s teacher will think if she turns in homework that has so obviously been bathed in apple juice? Ha!

First of all, we are lucky that it was juice, not beer that spilled all over the paper, crayons, table, and floor. Why is that lucky? Because I hate to see beer go to waste. Secondly, no, I don’t think my daughter’s teacher is the type of person to engage in the gossipy, judgey chatter of the faculty lounge because she doesn’t seem bitter or unhappy. Have you ever noticed that? The gossipy, judgmental people are almost always disgruntled.

So, there you go–a snapshot of my day or really just a few minutes of it. Try not to be envious.

Happy Active Aging Week!

Happy Active Aging Week!

Look! It's Geezer League Powder Puff Football!

Look! It’s Geezer League Powder Puff Football!

No, seriously, it is a real week, and why not? Every other noun from ethic groups to foods to diseases have a month, a week, or at the very least, a day.

Whatever they are on, I want some. No, not the bicycles. The meds!

Whatever they are on, I want some. No, not the bicycles. The meds!

So, yes, Happy Active Aging Week! ‘Cuz none of us are actively aging during the other 51 weeks each year.  Why not call it “One Week Closer to Death Week!” Hmmm…I guess that does sound a little redundant.

It's good to know that the chicks from the Robert Palmer video have aged really well.

It’s good to know that the chicks from the Robert Palmer video have aged really well.

In any case I was oblivious to Active Aging Week until my husband mentioned it on the way out the door this morning. I guess I’m just not as tuned into the geriatric news as I should be.

I'm never this happy while working out.

I’m never this happy while working out.

For quite some time, however, I have noticed that the marketing of products and services to senior citizens more often than not contains the word “active.” Everything is designed to help you stay “active” longer. And ads always show pictures of really happy old people dancing, hiking, mountain biking…or if we are to believe the Taco Bell ad from the 2013 Super Bowl, they are all out skinny-dipping and getting tattoos.

Okay, that's pretty damn impressive at any age! Can you do that? I can't.

Okay, that’s pretty damn impressive at any age! Can you do that? I can’t.

Did you watch it? Do you buy it? I don’t. I don’t even think they are old actors. I think they are young actors in “wrinkle-face.”

And this one...I think it is Photo-shopped. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

And this one…I think it is Photo-shopped. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

In my experience, old people do not want tattoos or skinny-dipping or loud music or Taco Bell. It gives them heartburn. They want Bob Evans and a long nap.  Old people love Bob Evans.

And this one...Oh, I don't want to think about this one, but when you google "Active Old People," you should expect to get a picture of SEXUALLY active old people.

And this one…Oh, I don’t want to think about this one, but when you google “Active Old People,” you should expect to get a picture of SEXUALLY active old people.

What’s for supper?

These are some of my cookbooks. I love Lee Bailey. I hear the voice of an old man with a Southern accent when I read them.

These are some of my cookbooks. I love Lee Bailey. I hear the voice of an old man with a Southern accent when I read them.

“So, what is the most challenging part of living in a household in which the family members range in age from 3 to almost 90?” you ask.

Hmmm…besides the fact that I am almost never alone, and I’m never, ever alone in my own house? Besides the erratic mood swings experienced by the very young, the very old, and the peri-menopausal? Besides the high cost of child-care and granny-care? Besides just always feeling that my husband and I are stretched waaaaay too thin and how I get very concerned about his health? Hey, he–not I–suffered a heart attack just three years ago, so if I’m going to be concerned for anyone’s health, it would be his.

Aside from all that, I’d say it’s the cooking.

But here’s what you need to know about me: I am a good cook—not a great cook, not a gourmet chef, not someone who is classically trained at the Cordon Bleu. I’m a person who once took a knife technique class at a community college. I’m a gal who enjoys food and knows her way around the kitchen, but nothing I cook is terribly complicated and I don’t own a lot of fancy-schmancy, uber-expensive pots and pans.

But I AM a good cook because it is something I enjoy doing, and I’d even make it my hobby if I had time for a hobby, but alas, I don’t—unless you count this blog as a hobby.

Here’s the challenging part: My mother-in-law’s diet is mostly soup. The older a person gets, the less saliva they produce. You know all those enzymes you have in your spit that begin breaking the food down the moment you start to chew? Well, that no longer happens for her. She needs foods that can slide over her tongue and straight down the gullet.

And so, I make a lot of soup. She is particularly fond of orange-colored, pureed soups. Carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato—these are some of her favorites. They all have a velvety texture and are both sweet and savory. Right now, we have potato-leek soup and cream of carrot in the refrigerator–and sweet potato-apple-pepper and cream of asparagus in the freezer. I’ll probably make broccoli-beef, Italian chicken-tomato, and pumpkin-sweet onion later this week.

Really, I think all those soups sound pretty good, but do I eat them? Not very often. How much pureed soup can one person take? And do my children eat them? Well, if your kids tell you they love cream of carrot, please send them over to my house and we can just swap children at mealtime. Mine won’t touch the stuff.

What do my children eat? Well, my daughter recently announced that she wants to be a vegan until her birthday in October. She knows what a vegan is. She told me a vegan doesn’t eat meat or other animal products, but still, this is an interesting proclamation coming from someone who eats a liverwurst and cheese sandwich every day for lunch and whose favorite breakfast is a boiled egg. It’s hard to say how serious she is about this.

My son is a meat-lover. He eats bacon, chicken, and meatballs. He likes raw carrots and steamed broccoli, but only sometimes. “But I don’t like broccoli!” “You loved it yesterday.” “I don’t love it anymore.” What does he consistently love? Cheez-its, goldfish crackers, marshmallows, French fries, and any other non-food masquerading as real food that comes to him via drive-thru window.

I don’t get too stressed out over what my children will and won’t eat. I believe that’s one of the advantages to being an older mom. I’m pretty laid-back about all the things that would have driven me crazy had I been a young mom. At this point, I know a child probably won’t die from malnutrition just because he eats peanut-butter and jelly every day.  And I know they go through phases.

Still, I would love to have just one night in which no one complains about the food and I’m not cooking at least two meals.

Of our household, I’d say my husband is the easiest to please when it comes to food. Sadly, he often works late, and so he is either heating up left-overs after I’ve gone to bed or telling me that he just isn’t hungry because he had an afternoon meeting and someone brought cake. Please, people, stop feeding him at the office! I say that because I really do like good food and I like to cook, but I hate cooking that good food for me alone. It’s just not very satisfying to cook a real meal for one!

And it’s just damned unsatisfying and frazzling to heat soup in a microwave for Grandma and hear a 3-year-old whine that he doesn’t like broccoli (or carrots or spinach or whatever vegetable is on his plate), while a 5-year-old says she only wants the noodles, and not the sauce because it has meat or cheese in it. Eye-roll.

Yeah, it’s a good thing I like to cook because otherwise I’d just give up and let these people go hungry.



My House is Haunted.

I have found that when purchasing real estate, the house with the graveyard out front is usually a real bargain.

I have found that when purchasing real estate, the house with the graveyard out front is usually a real bargain.

My house is haunted.

And yes, I know me writing that and you reading it may cause you to conclude that I am, indeed, nuts because we all know there are no such things as ghosts. Or maybe you have decided that I worship Satan. Well, I’m not a Satanist, and I’m reasonably sure that I am as sane as the next person. So, I will type it again—my house is haunted. You don’t have to believe me.

When we first moved here six years ago, people would ask me if we had a ghost and I would blow them off. “Of course, not. Not every old house is haunted! Geez, what’s wrong with you people?”

And just as often, I would hear, “Your house. It has this feeling to it, doesn’t it? It’s a very happy place. You can just tell that everyone who has lived here has been happy and loved. It’s very inviting and warm.” I’d agree. I might even add, “We’ve always felt that it chose us as much as we chose it.”

But then, things began to happen. I’d hear a voice very close to my ear. I’d feel a hand on my shoulder. I’d hear footsteps or just the rustling of papers in the next room.

The most compelling evidence of other worldly beings came from my daughter who has twice seen people. I write people, not ghosts because she described them as people. Had she used the word “ghost,” I would have been convinced that she had seen too many Scooby-Doo episodes.

The first time she saw someone, she was about two and a half. She and I were in her bedroom, and she looked right past me into the hallway and said, “There is an old man in our house. ” I knew no one was standing behind me. This is an old house and the wooden floors creak–a lot–especially upstairs. No one sneaks up on anyone in this house. Yeah, and no one sneaks out–that’s going to be a real problem for my kids once they are teenagers—unless my hearing is completely shot by then, and hey, considering my age, it might be!

I turned around and said, “Well, he’s not here now.”

“I know! But he was right here!” she exclaimed running into the hallway. “He was standing right here next to your laundry basket!”

And so, I started apologizing to all the people I had previous dismissed as having over-active imaginations. I started with my friend Julie who a year earlier had reported to me that when she and her son were in my daughter’s bedroom, he had seen a ghost. He had pointed towards the open door leading to the hallway and said, “Grandpa! Grandpa!” He was quite young and going through that phase in which all older men are “Grandpa!” Perhaps he and my daughter saw the same old man.

About a year later, I found my daughter sitting wide-eyed on my bed. “Mom, did you see her? There was a lady standing by your dresser and she was carrying tea. But she didn’t spill any.” Phew! I hate it when ghost spill their tea in my bedroom.

“What did she look like?”

“She was a brown person (non-white). She had black hair in a bun and a purple dress.”

I don’t think any of the previous owners were brown, but I do know that the house was once used as an “old folks home.” We live in an area with a large African American population, and it stands to reason that a black woman might have worked here and would have likely carried tea to an upstairs bedroom.

Despite all this, I don’t find anything about my house to be creepy. I would maintain that the house has that warm, inviting, happy feeling that I mentioned earlier, and if you don’t believe me, just ask someone who has been here.

Additionally, my house is a bit of a landmark. When I tell locals that I live in the Peggy Graham House, they all know it. They can usually tell me about one or more of the families who have lived here and they all seem to have wonderful memories. The people here were happy and loved and warm and inviting—just like the house itself!

One woman, who was born in my house in 1937, told me that people always ask her if my house is haunted. “I tell them, goodness no!” she said. “Nobody but good Christian folks ever lived or worked in that house. Their souls are all in Heaven where they ought to be, not scaring the livin’ daylights out of the likes of me and you. I never heard such a foolish question.”

I didn’t share any of my supernatural experiences with her. I didn’t want her to think I was one to entertain foolishness. And I didn’t want her to call my own Christian beliefs into question.

I am challenged to reconcile my beliefs, however. Like most Christians, I believe that when I die, I will go to Heaven. I don’t believe our bodiless souls get trapped on earth, and yet, I’ve had these experiences—in my present home and in other places—that have led me to believe that there are just things about the after-life that defy explanation. I accept that. Faith doesn’t mean having all the answers. It means being comfortable with not having all the answers.

When my mother-in-law first came to live with us, she often said that she saw my father-in-law, her late husband. She would ask me why Bob wasn’t joining us for supper and get angry with me for not setting a place for him at the table. Sometimes, she would ask about the tall man who was with him. I have no explanation for the tall man, but she seemed to see him as much as she saw Bob.

I know that in many South American cultures, people believe that a soul will stay close to a loved one, lingering on earth before going onto Heaven. Perhaps, that is what Bob was doing in my house—just hanging out and making sure that his wife was being well cared for.

After a few months, she stopped talking about seeing Bob. She almost never mentioned him and eventually reached a point where she stopped recognizing him in pictures. That part is sad for me and especially sad for my husband.

Then, earlier this week, she went from being only semi-conscious to being very alert, very talkative, and even somewhat lucid. During those days, I presented her with photo albums and together, we flipped through the pictures. I would narrate and ask her if she remembered my wedding, my daughter’s birth, her oldest grand-daughter’s wedding, a family vacation in Florida. She did remember! And while she couldn’t recall the names of everyone in every picture, she remembered Bob.

“Mom, who is this handsome guy in this picture?”

“That is Bob, my husband.”

Then, without explanation, she slipped back into the earlier pattern of eating very little and sleeping 18 hours a day. When she was awake, she didn’t say much. And she had no interest in the photo albums.

Today, I would describe her as mostly being non-verbal, but at one point, she called me to her, and spoke very clearly. She said, “Bob is upstairs. Go get him.” Deep sigh. “Mom, Bob is not upstairs.” And then, she said the most interesting thing—and perhaps I am reading too much into this—she said, “When you see Bob, tell him I am ready to go home.”

I took her into her bedroom and put her down for a nap, and then returned to the living room to write. As I sat in front of my laptop clacking away on the keyboard, I heard footsteps upstairs even though my husband and children were gone for the afternoon. So, I spoke. “Bob, if that is you, your wife is in her bedroom and she says she is ready to go home.” I felt a little silly saying that aloud because I do truly believe that my father-in-law is in Heaven, and not in my bedroom hanging out with the old man and the brown lady. In fact, I want to believe they are all in Heaven.

It makes me wonder if God allows the deceased to visit Earth—for whatever reason. Maybe they aren’t ghosts, but angels.

In any case, I am not crazy.

Another Long Answer to a Short Question

Frayed--it's more than a way to describe an old knot. It's a lifestyle. Unfortunately.

Frayed–it’s more than a way to describe an old knot. It’s a lifestyle. Unfortunately.

Things change quickly in this household.

About two weeks ago, I wrote and posted a blog entry about how I now answer inquiries about my mother-in-law. You might ask, “How is your mother-in-law doing?” and I would answer, “When is the last time you saw her?” just so I can give you a more complete answer. Do you remember reading that? If not, go back and read it now. It’s called A Long Answer to a Short Question.

Or don’t because here is a summary: I compared how she is now to how she was a year ago when she first moved in with us. At the time when I wrote that, caring for my mother-in-law wasn’t that different from caring for a houseplant. She wasn’t eating or talking much. She was sleeping a lot—sometimes up to 18 or even 20 hours a day. The words “semi-comatose” and “almost catatonic” come to mind.

But, she was a houseplant that required babysitting. For me, the difficult part was of that I didn’t have the freedom to come and go as I chose or even as I needed. Leaving her alone would be like leaving a baby sleeping in a crib. Sure, the baby is probably going to be asleep the whole time you are gone, but what if the house catches on fire? The baby would be trapped! And so, no responsible person would ever do that, right?

We do have a respite care for fifteen hours a week. While she is here at my house, I feel I have to leave. Otherwise, I’m paying the care-giver to do what? And I don’t like having an audience as I cook and clean and parent. It’s would be different if I had hired a housekeeper who would do the cooking and cleaning for me, but no, I hired a nurse, of sorts. She does nothing but granny-care and so after she bathes, dresses, and feeds the houseplant, she’s just granny-sitting. It’s just uncomfortable.

So, yes, that is tough for me. I like my freedom. Who doesn’t? I want to come and go as I want and need and not have to think about granny-care.

However, something has changed in just the past few days. My mother-in-law is eating a lot more! And sleeping a lot less! And talking a lot more! She’s gone from being out-of-it—and I do mean way, way, WAY out-of-it to being alert, talkative, lucid. It’s a miracle!

Now, before you go dancing in the streets and shouting “Amen,” let me tell you that everything is a little tougher for me because of this change. It’s not like she is recovered that she is capable of taking care of herself. It’s not like she is healed and so we can pack her up and send her home. So, the loss of freedom—my freedom—remains.

And it’s made worse because she now is very demanding and our interaction is…well, she’s no longer a houseplant. She’s a person with genuine needs, feelings, and opinions, and I want to respect that, but it’s tough. For one thing I have a lot to do as is. I’m busy, and when my child is crying while I’m cooking supper, I don’t also need her yelling at me to take her to the bathroom. So, when she rejoins us in the land of the living, I get pulled in yet another direction. No fun.

Plus, it’s exhausting. “Emotional rollercoaster” is how I frequently hear people describe caring for sick or aging loved one. Sick, better, sick, better, sick, better, sick…you do reach a point where you want to yell at a person—even someone you love—“Die already!” Please let us all mourn you and get on with our lives!

With our current situation, I have watched my mother-in-law decline these past few months and although I have tried hard not to see anything as a “sign,” I know that when a person with dementia stops eating and starts sleeping around the clock, their body is winding down. They are getting ready to die. Thinking of my mother-in-law’s impending death—and I’m not being cruel here as the woman is almost 90-years-old and has led an extraordinary life—made me feel hopeful. I figured that she would be St. Peter’s problem a year from now. I figured I was only months, perhaps only weeks away from getting my life back. Now, no? How can I not be disappointed?

Perhaps I shouldn’t see her rebound as a sign that she has moved further away from death either, but yeah, I’ve gone from thinking, “She only has months” to “Good God! I’m going to be waiting on this crabby old woman for the next decade! Please, someone just shoot me and put me out of my misery now!”

So, if you ask me how my mother-in-law is doing today, I may tell you how I am doing instead. And the truth is I’m feeling frayed. Tired. Hopeless? No, I’m not there, but I do feel like a prisoner who has been denied parole. I thought I was getting out, and now, no, maybe not. I may have to plot an escape.

(I know I come across as really selfish in this post. Me, me, me, me, right? So, please feel free to judge me, but only if you have changed your mother-in-law’s diaper today.)

Fish Funeral

Yes, this is the story of a goldfish, but if had it been up to me, it would be about a funeral for the squirrel that pees on my porch.

Yes, this is the story of a goldfish, but if had it been up to me, it would be about a funeral for the squirrel that pees on my porch.

From the moment they learned to talk, my children have been asking for a pet. They went from “Goo-goo, gaa-gaa, ma-ma, da-da” to asking,” Mother Dear, might we inquire as to when a canine companion will be joining our household?” in unison.

Okay, they never really speak in unison. They prefer to tag-team. One will say, “Mom, mom, mom, when can we get a dog? I want a dog. I also want a cat. Can we have a cat? Mom, mom, mom, why can’t we have a pet? I really want a pet. I like hamsters. Can we have a hamster? Mom, mom, mom, what about a lizard? If I catch a snake or a lizard, can we keep it as a pet? Mom, mom, mom… .” And when that one gets tired, the other one just picks up where the first left off with “Mom, mom, mom, I want a pet… .” This is why we don’t have a third child.

They’ve even begun listing what pets their friends have.

“Kyle has TWO dogs.”

“Rudy and Charlie have TWO fish AND a cat.”

“Heather and Conner have guinea pigs!”

“Isabelle has horses and sheep and a cat and a dog and a hermit crab and a canary and a gecko and an alpaca and a goat and a goldfish and hamsters…”

They are no longer allowed to play with Isabelle. She has a menagerie. She’s a bad influence.

No, seriously, I would love to adopt a pet. I’m a dog or cat or both person. I’m not crazy about rodents or reptiles, and I have no idea how to care for anything as large as a horse or a cow or an elephant but I’m sure it involves the scooping of really big poop. So, when the time comes, I will gladly adopt a dog or a cat into our family.

And even when my children aren’t harassing me about getting a pet, I am thinking about it. I see benefits. In addition to learning to care for animals and reaping the rewards of love, I believe they will keep unwanted animals away—the mice that chewed through the electrical system of our car costing us thousands of dollars, the squirrel that pees on our front porch daily, the crazy neighbor dog who has been known to look through our windows and bark at us while we are in our own house. Yes, a pet might deter some of this unwanted animal activity. Of course, the down-side would be fewer turkeys and bunnies, too, but I think I can live with that.

I am well aware that a pet would mean work for me, and I am not up to scooping kitty-litter or house-training a dog. I deal with the post-digestive end of enough beings in this household, and so I’ve told my son, “We will think about getting a pet once you are potty-trained.” You would think that would be an incentive, a real motivator, but so far, that has not been the case.

So, yes, my children were surprised when I handed the guy at the county fair a five dollar bill and let them toss ping-pong balls into the those itty-bitty fish bowls. And I was equally surprised when they managed to win three goldfish. THREE. The next time anyone tells you those carnival games at the fair a rigged and that no one ever wins, please slap them for me. Hard.

So, why did I so easily hand over my money and let my children take a chance on winning fish? Well, I think I secretly wanted them to have a pet, but walking into the ASPCA and coming out with a dog or a cat would have been too intentional—like asking for trouble, going back on my “not until you are potty-trained” rule. I figured that if they won a pet, it would be absolve me of responsibility—not for the fish, but for exercising prudent judgment. It would be an act of God or destiny or chance—definitely well beyond my control.

And that is how Bubbles, Basil, and Goldie became our first ever pets.

Sadly, Bubbles survived less than 36 hours. My daughter found him belly-up this morning and concluded that Basil and Goldie accidently killed him in his sleep. You see, she found him on the bottom of the tank next to the whale statue, a non-floating bath toy that they put in the tank for decoration. Naturally, she surmised that Bubbles fell asleep next to the whale statue, and not seeing him there, Goldie and Basil tried to move the statue and in doing so crushed him. Yes, never mind that the whale statue was in the position it had originally been placed and Bubbles’ body didn’t appear “crushed.” So much for her career as a detective.

“We need to have a funeral,” she said in a very matter-of-fact voice as she led us into the bathroom. “First, we say a prayer. Then, we all say something nice about Bubbles. Then, we say another prayer.” She’s an expert on this sort of thing having attended a total of two funerals in her lifetime. Having remembered this so well, however, I’m thinking she could have a career as a funeral director.

“I’ll start with the prayer,” she continued. “Oh, Lord, thank you for this wonderful day and please make tomorrow even better.” She starts every prayer that way. I think it is sweet. “Please make Bubbles go to Heaven to be with Grandpa and Hutch. Amen. And now, a few words from Mama. She was Bubbles’ special friend.”

Okay, so I am the fish’s special friend? When did that happen? “Bubbles was always a good fish. Knowing him gave us all such joy. He will be missed by all who knew him, especially Goldie and Basil. Rest in peace, dear Bubbles.”

Then, my daughter gestured to her brother. It was his turn. “Um, um, um. I don’t know what to say.” He stuttered and looked at his feet. Of course, he was struggling; this was only his second funeral.

And so, she took her turn at delivering the eulogy. “Bubbles was born in an ocean and lived at the fair, but he died in a fish tank. He was a very old fish and he enjoyed eating fish food and swimming. Now, he is in Heaven. I miss him with all my heart. He was our pet and he was my best friend. I will never, ever forget him.”

“And he liked to play games!” My son interrupted full of pride because he had thought of something to say about the dearly departed fish.

“Yes, he liked to play games. We will always remember the games Bubbles played with us. Amen.” Games? Okay.

And together, the kids flushed the toilet. Bye-bye, Bubbles. “And now, Mama will lead us in prayer.”

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for Bubbles. Thank you for all the memories we have of him. We ask that you heal our hearts as we mourn him. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

That’s the best I could do. It’s a funeral for a fish I had known for all of a day and a half and yet, I had been given the title of “his special friend.”

You always hear deaths—like all “bad” things—happen in threes. Well, we have three fish, and so, sure, I would bet it does happen in threes this time. Of course, if we don’t limit the superstition to just one species, we can say that Hutch’s death was the first, Bubbles’ was the second, and with a little luck that peeing squirrel with have a run-in with the Peeping Tom neighbor dog.