Shouting

Laurel said the other day, “We should all learn another language. As a family, you know?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, then if we’re someplace all together and we want to say to something to someone in the family but we don’t really want everyone else to know, we can just say it in that other language,” she said.

I think she was thinking along the lines of a let’s-get-out-of-here signal.

“Like Swedish,” she said. “We could all learn Swedish and nobody would know what we’re saying.”

“Ummm… you’d be surprised,” I told her. “I’m pretty sure Amy knows Swedish.”

Amy — former pastor, dear friend.

“Oh, well…” Laurel said. “You know what I mean.”

Personally, I think we should all learn sign language. Not as a secret language — because there are a lot of people in the world who know sign — but as a quieter way of communicating.

I can always tell when my father’s hearing aids aren’t working.

“What?” he’ll ask.

Frequently.

“I’m having trouble hearing you,” he’ll say.

I’ll check to see if his hearing aids are in, and, if they are, if he has turned them on. Often these days he forgets the latter.

The other day Mary had a dentist appointment. As she and I headed out the door, I stopped to check my father’s hearing aids — and turned them both on. He was on his way to sit in the living room with the Daily Jumble.

An hour later when we got home, he was standing at the kitchen table.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked.

“I need to put this in my…” and his voice trailed off as he searched for the word. He was holding a hearing battery in his hand.

“You need to put a new battery in your hearing aid?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and he pointed to his right ear — where there was no hearing aid.

“Okay, I can help with that,”I said. “Where’s the hearing aid?”

“That’s the problem,” he said.

“Did you set it on the table here?” I asked, and began moving papers and looking.

“I don’t know,” he replied — and that became his reply to every question.

“Where were you when you took it out?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you sitting in your chair in the living room?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you go in your bedroom?”

“I don’t know.”

I began looking everywhere — the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the sun porch. I crawled around on the floor, looking under furniture, putting my cheek to the floor because that made it easier to see the incongruity of the hearing aid.

“Is it in your pocket?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, but he dutifully emptied his pockets for me.

All this conversation was taking place at a high volume — because of the missing hearing aid. That, alone, is exhausting.

Twenty minutes into the search and I was ready to give it a rest. My neck hurt from sleeping in a bad position the night before and this cheek-to-the-floor business wasn’t helping. I sat down.

“We’ve got to find it!” my father said when he saw me sitting. He was looking through some papers that hadn’t been moved in a year. The hearing aid would surely not be among them.

“Criminy,” I muttered under my breath. My neck ache was quickly becoming a headache.

“Keep looking,” he said urgently. “We can’t stop looking!”

I got back to my feet and went back over the same places I had been looking. Finally, in his bedroom, I spotted it poking out from the back edge of a chair cushion.

I could see the relief on his face when I brought it to him.

“Where did you find it?” he asked.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the new battery in.

“Where?” he asked again.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the hearing aid in his ear.

“That’s better,” he said, once it was in place. “Where did you find it?”

Something in me snapped. “ON THE CHAIR IN YOUR ROOM,” I shouted — not in a nice way.

I left in search of Advil.

Frederick Buechner, in his new book The Remarkable Ordinary, talks about his mother’s hearing loss and the difficulty of shouting conversations.

from “The Remarkable Ordinary” by Frederick Buechner

I thought about my deaf friends who read lips so well — and appreciated that I don’t have to shout at all with them.

When Laurel said she wanted to learn Swedish, all I could think is that I’d rather learn sign language.

That way maybe I could communicate better with my friends who use it.

And when I’m old and hard-of-hearing, my family can converse with me without shouting.

Advertisements

At the Corner

At the corner of Grove and Spring Streets, I paused. Maggie dropped her fish and panted while I stepped back to survey the building from a different angle.

It’s a lovely setting surrounded by trees. Porches and patios invite the residents to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Quiet and serene, the building stands removed just far enough from the hubbub of busy our tourist town. Expanses of lawn buffer it even more.

When I’m inside, I’m all yes.

When I leave, I wonder.

Maggie picked up her fish and we continued walking past the building.

I looked at the porch with its flower box. To the left was the dining room. I had eaten there a couple of weeks ago with my father.  We were just visiting, but I was impressed. Tables for six or eight, set with white linen table cloths and real china. Real food, not institutional. Servers who were both pleasant and competent. A little jazz played in the background.

“They take turns choosing what kind of music to play,” the administrator told me. “Also, people sit at the same table for about two months, but then we rearrange the seating plan so cliques don’t form and they all get to know each other.”

Every resident’s room is unique in configuration. Some have window seats. All have walk-in closets, high ceilings, and private bathrooms that include showers with seats and grab-bars. The rooms are spacious and cheerful.

I just never wanted to see my father leave his home.

But this isn’t an institution. It’s almost more like a sanctuary.

“We have lots of activities for the residents,” the administrator said. “We get tickets to the Hall of Fame Classic baseball game and sit in the grandstand so they are shaded from the sun.”

Dad would really enjoy that.

“Next week we’re going on a boat ride on the lake and maybe having a picnic on one of the beaches.”

I would like that.

I reached the end of the block with Maggie and looked back at the building.

From this corner, it still looked lovely.

I guess it’s time to finish the application for him.

Barefoot Girl

“Oh, I see you’re a barefoot girl this morning,” my father said, looking at my feet.

I was indeed barefoot, as is often the case when I’m still in my pajamas.

“A barefoot girl with shoes on,” he continued, smiling as he said it.

My daughters are often barefoot in the summer — and he says the same thing to them.

A barefoot girl

“What’s he talking about?” one of them asked once.

“It’s a poem he memorized,” I told them.

I asked him about it — and he dutifully recited two verses:

‘Twas midnight on the ocean,
Not a streetcar was in sight,
The sun was shining brightly
For it had rained all night.

‘Twas a summer’s day in winter
The rain was snowing fast,
As a barefoot girl with shoes on,
Stood sitting on the grass.

More verses are available on the internet, all unattributed, but those are the two he remembers.

Poetry and music get stored in a different part of the brain, I think — one that survives longer unscathed by dementia. It’s fascinating to think about.

Yesterday, he said something about Laurel going to the skating rink when I was taking her to the pool. He pulls up the wrong word often.

I also had a tough time convincing him that R2D2 wasn’t a radar unit. He was working on a crossword puzzle. R2D2 was the clue and he needed a 5-letter word beginning with R.

“R2D2 is a robot, Dad,” I told him.

“Why doesn’t radar work?” he asked, in all seriousness.

“Because it’s a robot. Robot will work there,” I said.

He made his if-you-say-so face and went back to the crossword.

Maybe if I made up a poem about it and had him memorize it, he would remember.

Sights and Sounds

Yesterday my father told me that he was have vision problems.

“Everything is blurry,” he said, “and I feel like I’m seeing double.”

My heart sank. A stroke — the word ran through my mind, a leering devil of a word that filled me with fear.

He looked fine. He was standing, leaning gently on his walker. His speech was fine. He had walked from the porch to the kitchen with his walker and stood in the doorway talking to me.

“Let me wash your glasses for you,” I said, gently lifting them off his face. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

I carried them to the sink and ran water over the lenses, carefully washing first one lens and then the… oh my goodness — a lens was missing.

“You’re missing a lens, Dad,” I told him, and  showed him by poking my finger through the frame. We both laughed because this was a much better explanation for the double vision than some of the alternatives.

I began searching and quickly found it where it had fallen on the floor. It’s not hard to pop back in. I’ve done it many times. Within a few minutes, everything looked normal again.

This morning, when he came out, he said, “I’m having a devil of a time.”

“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked.

“WHAT?! I can’t hear you! I can’t find this hearing aid,” he said, pointing to his right ear.

“I’ll find it for you,” I told him, and went to his bedroom where I usually could locate things like missing hearing aids in pretty short order.

I looked.

And looked.

And looked.

I knew he was waiting for breakfast so I left the looking and went back to the kitchen.

“I can’t find it, Dad, but I’m sure we will,” I told him.

“What did you say?” he asked.

Later, when the home health aide came, we searched and searched. We stripped the bed, looked under every piece of furniture in his room, the garbage, pockets of clothes in the laundry, everywhere.

“My mother used to say, ‘It’s always the last place you look,'” I told the home health aide.

She laughed. My kids just get annoyed when I say that these days.

Finally, we gave up. “I guess I’ll have to call audiology,” I told her.

“Don’t call yet. It’s got to be here somewhere,” she said.

“I’ll wait until next week,” I said, hoping it would appear magically over the weekend.

We shouted the not-good news to my father while he sat reading the paper with his solitary hearing aid. Then I left to pick up Laurel at the pool.

No sooner was Laurel in the car than my phone rang. I handed it to her, asking to answer and put it on speaker phone.

“Sally?” crackled the voice of the home health aide. “Sally? You’re not going to believe this, but I found it. It was on the floor of the side deck right by that purple chair he sits in. It got rained on, but it still works.”

Hallelujah!

The real mystery is how it got there.

I had walked my father into his bedroom at 10:00 the night before, and I’m 95% sure he had it in his ear then. Some time during the night, it mysteriously made its way outside.

I don’t want to think about it.

Surgery

Each member of the surgical team looped through the room.  An introduction. Name and date of birth requested. The why-are-you-here question.

My mother didn’t know the answers when I had sat in the same spot with her some years before. I helped.

My father knew — for the most part.

“Did you have anything to eat this morning?” the anesthesiologist asked.

“Not too much,” he answered.

“He had nothing,” I said.

“Has the surgeon marked on you yet?” a nurse asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” he answered.

“Yes, he did,” I replied.

“Can you tell me about your other surgeries?” the surgeon asked.

“It’s been years and years,” my father answered.

“Last August he had a VP shunt put in, and a few years before that he got a pacemaker,” I answered.

He knew his name. He knew his birthday. He knew what the surgery was.

All in all, I’d say he did pretty well.

A few weeks ago, he had had an episode of chest pain that landed him in the Emergency Room. They ask a different set of questions.

“Are you still a full-code?” the nurse had asked, but then she looked to me for the answer. It’s an uncomfortable question.

“Well, I’m not ready to cash in yet!” my father answered.

“Would you like to be placed on life support?” she asked.

“I’m not going to live forever, you know,” he replied.

His mixed responses were confusing, but he and my mother had both very clearly written out their wishes many years ago. I told his doctor and she asked that I bring in a copy to put in his chart. Just so it’s there.

Last night, I went for a walk. The fields were fifty shades of green. The timothy alone was a full palette of color — spring green, grass green, grey green, a whispery pale green at the very edges of the flower-head.

The fields whispered with the breeze, carrying along its little breaths like a melody passed around an orchestra. The meadow swayed and danced, and the only audience for this performance was the deer, the red-wing blackbirds, and me.

When the Bible talks about grass, it’s usually in reference to transience.

“The grass withers, the flower fades…” (Isaiah 40:8)

The comparison isn’t that man will last forever. We are just as transient.

A surgery day is a time to remember that.

It’s a time to pause. Even if we’re not ready to cash in, it’s okay to remember that we aren’t going to live forever either.

*****

The surgery went well. He’s already home. He’s not ready to cash in yet — and neither am I.

The Gift of Giving

About a month ago, I received a curious piece of mail.

When I opened the envelope, I found a folded-up piece of yellow construction paper. In red marker, the sender, Juliette, a little girl from our church in Greene, had drawn a heart, an elephant, a waterfall, and some flowers covered in dirt. (Her grandmother wrote explanations for me.) 

It also included a dandelion. I actually love dandelions. I loved when my own children were of the age of bringing me dandelion bouquets.

That letter made my day. It was so fun to receive something so unexpected. I knew I needed to respond, but, in the craziness of getting ready for France, I didn’t do it until the other day.

I made a card for Juliette. 

The rabbits were just a little too big to fit neatly on my card, so one rabbit’s ear and tail fold around onto the back. I guess you could say its back side is on the back side.

I asked her grandmother for Juliette’s address. She texted the address back and added, “She is fascinated right now with giving everyone the pictures she makes.”

 

Juliette is learning at a young age that giving is its own gift.

***

Last night at the dinner table, as my father repeatedly repeated himself, I found myself wondering at the wisdom of bringing my children here to live with him.

It can be frustrating and even, sometimes, a little irritating to listen to the same comments about the blueness of the skies and the greenness of the plants.

I’ve heard Mary patiently explain how to operate the remote control to the television and sometimes resort the explanation of “magic” when asked how she found the right channel. The other night I heard Karl trying to explain the remote control. Again.

My youngest children have to live in a house with rooms still full of items from previous occupants. My parents’ house became a repository for so many things from other family members that it’s hard to find space for its current residents.

I wonder repeatedly, is this good for them? Is it good for our family to be a little fractured for the sake of the eldest member? Is it good to stretch between two homes, and in so doing, to almost have no home? Is it good to see their grandfather needy and weak and forgetful?

But I remember my mother caring for her mother and mother-in-law. With patience, sacrifice, and great love, she did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

I suppose I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s a different kind of giving from sending a sweet greeting in the mail.

Sometimes this kind of giving seems like a terrible gift, but I need to remember that it is a gift nonetheless.

I need to lean in. Embrace each moment. These gifts are good.

Ominous Beginning — Part 2

Traveling is a weary business. Especially when traipsing across time zones.

When you start in a rural area and end in a rural area, travel time is extended by the road time at either end.

We left Cooperstown around 12:30 PM and arrived in Bayeux around 1 PM the following day — which would have been 7 AM New York time.

A little walk, a little food, a little wine — and I was refreshed. When it got to be dinner time, my father didn’t join us because he wasn’t hungry. My sister stayed with him while the rest of us got some crepes.

The next day was to be our first day touring the Normandy beaches. I had gotten up early and been served a lovely tray of coffee in the lounge area downstairs. My sister joined me and we walked to a patisserie to buy some pastries. So far, everything was absolutely wonderful.

But…

an hour or two later…

I was in our room when my brother pounded on the door.

“I need you,” he said, and we hastily followed him back to the room he shared with my father.

My father was laying on the bathroom floor, his face roughly the same color as his t-shirt — white — and damp.

“I saw him hanging onto the counter,” Peter said, “like he was going to pass out, so I helped him lie down and got you.”

Bud quickly sat on the only available seat — the stool — and elevated my father’s legs.

We got a pillow for under his head.

And we discussed what to do.

Last year, right about this time, my sister stayed with my father, heard a crash, and found him on the bathroom floor.

My brother had gotten more than one call from Lifeline after my father had fallen.

I had seen him near-collapse and called the nursing service we use for home care.

Each of us had seen our father like this before —

And therein lies the blessing.

While it was scary, it was not unfamiliar.

“I think it’s a syncopal episode,” one of us said.

I remembered the nurse telling me that one of the causes can be dehydration. Had he drank enough while we traveled? Probably not.

I ran downstairs and got a glass of orange juice. By the time I got back upstairs, his color was much improved. My father felt like he could sit up, so my husband and brother lifted him to a chair.

Orange juice and pain au chocolat work magic

The episode passed. We had a reprieve. The rest of the trip went without incident.

He had a cardiology appointment when we got home. They interrogated his pacemaker and could tell that it hadn’t been a cardiac event. We had been correct in our assessment.

For one moment, I had visions of getting to know the French health care system — but because of my brother’s quick thinking to prevent a fall and our collective experiences with his syncopal episodes, we weathered that storm.

Sometimes, in the midst of a terrible situation, it’s hard to see the good.

And maybe the good is never really good, but becomes a relative goodness — one where you’re able to say a little thank you for a terrible thing that previously happened.