Caregiver’s Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot do,

I can’t “fix” my loved one.

I can’t make him think more clearly.

I can’t make him understand.

I can’t go back in time, and mustn’t languish over how or what he was, because he is who he is now and that’s where we are.

Courage to do the things I can,

I can handle business affairs — writing checks, paying bills, scheduling appointments.

I can do laundry.

I can prepare meals and serve snacks.

I can answer the phone.

I can chauffeur.

I can explain things over and over and over and over, and set my exasperation aside.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I lay in bed at night, let me not angst over the battle, but, in the weariness of a hard-fought day, take my rest knowing that I did the best I could.

Few will see or know what I do.

My own loved one will never fully grasp the sacrifice that I, and my husband, and my children, are all making on his behalf.

But it is right and good.

And You know, o Lord.

Let that be enough.

Adapted from The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

Pi Day

On Pi Day (3/14) I made pie: shepherd’s pie for dinner and lemon meringue pie for dessert. I forgot to take a picture of the shepherd’s pie at all, and I snapped a shot of the lemon meringue after we had already had some.

Today I was thinking about the Meal-on-Wheels controversy. Apparently Donald Trump proposed cutting funds that provide for that program.

At first I was horrified.

My father-in-law relied on Meals-on-Wheels. Of course, he didn’t always like the meals and let us know. He also saved up the little cans of juice that he got with the program and offered them as treats to his grandchildren. It turns out nobody really liked them.

If Meals-on-Wheels funding had been cut back when he was using it, what would have happened? I’m sure we would not have let my father-in-law go hungry. My first call would have been to his church and the next to other people in the community where he lived most of his life. It would have taken some work, but we would have figured something out.

It would have required something of me.

I thought about Meal-on-Wheels on Pi Day, because I know my father isn’t a huge shepherd’s pie fan. I comforted myself with the fact that he was getting a hot homemade meal — not because I’m part of a government program, but because I’m his daughter.

This morning I read this from Pascal:

Dost thou wish that it always cost Me the blood of My humanity, without thy shedding tears?

I fear that we, as a people, are reaching a point where we are always looking for someone else to pay the cost without us having to shed a single tear. Or make a meal for someone else. Or even help ourselves.

If governmental funding for Meals-on-Wheels is cut, we could still get to work and make sure our elderly are fed.

When the going gets tough, we need to look for ways to help.



Old Habits Die Hard

“Aw, phooey,” he said, as he handed me the shovel and turned to go back inside.

“Aw, hell,” he said, as he hung up his coat and turned toward his walker.

We are in the midst of a major snowstorm. The Weather Channel said something about 48″ around Cooperstown. I believe it.

Even the dog doesn’t like it — and our dog loves snow. Maggie can’t play in this. All she can do is flounder.

Last night and this morning Laurel and I shoveled for a while and barely got past one car. Then my brother, Peter, came down to borrow the car because he needed to go into town. His driveway is much longer than ours, and the plow guy hadn’t come yet.

So Peter walked over and together we shoveled.

And shoveled.

And shoveled.

We finally had a path wide enough to back the car out. I ran into the house to get Peter some money so he could pick up a prescription for my father. Just inside the door stood my father, coat on, gloves on, ready to head outside.

“Where are you going, Dad?” I asked.

“Well, I’m going outside to help,” he said.

“I think we’re all set,” I told him.

“Do you know how much work it took to get all this stuff on?” he asked, and headed for the door.

I sighed, and ran to find my wallet. It wasn’t worth arguing about, and he might like to see all the snow.

When I came back out, Peter was talking to my father on the ramp leading to the house. Laurel and I had barely shoveled a path wide enough for the walker to fit. I gave Peter the money and he left.

“Okay, Dad,” I said, “let’s go back in.”

“I want to go get that shovel,” he said, pointing to the shovel I had shoved into the snowbank.

“I can get it,” I told him, but he pretended not to hear me and headed down the ramp.

When he reached the shovel, I was right behind him. “Let me take that back to the house for you,” I said, reaching for the shovel.

“I’d like to shovel,” he said.

I groaned. He started shoveling. Inside I was feeling frustrated.

“Dad,” I said, trying to sound calm and reasonable, “you may have reached the time in your life when you need to let others do things for you — like shoveling.”

He stopped and looked at me. “I’m not helpless,” he said.

I walked back to the house and stood there. Why can’t he just stop? I muttered in my heart.

I touched Tuga was in my pocket. Go help him, Tuga seemed to whisper.

I grabbed another shovel and went back down to where my father was shuffling snow. He leaned on his shovel when I got there. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, and handed his shovel to me.

“Aw, phooey,” he said, and I felt a little sad.

“Aw, hell,” he said when we got inside, and my heart broke a little more.

His instinct was to help, and I had just told him that he couldn’t.


The Record Board

Whenever I go to a pool, my eyes are drawn to the record board.

It’s kind of funny, because I haven’t always been a fan of the record board. Helen still holds over 20 age-group records at the pool in Cooperstown — the earliest from when she was 8 years old, and the latest from when she was 13. Then we moved, and she started racking up high school records in Greene.

Margaret in the middle

A couple of years ago, I caught one of the swimmers in my group staring at the record board in Cooperstown.

“Do you know Helen Zaengle?” she asked.

“I do,” I told her. “She’s my daughter, and she’s Laurel’s sister.”

“Wow,” Margaret said. “She has a lot of records. I’m going to break some of them.”

That was the moment my feelings about the record board changed.

Helen was very good at swimming from a young age. She loved winning races — although there was one time when she asked me why she couldn’t get a rainbow ribbon (the ribbon handed out for participation); all her ribbons were blue.

The record board wasn’t posted at the time, and, quite frankly, I think Helen and I were both unaware of all the records. When the record board went up, part of me felt a little embarrassed because I never sensed that Helen was swimming for the glory of the record board or all the accolades. She swam with the truest sense of the amateur — a love of the sport.

But I worked in the pool these last few years with all those records at my back, and I tried not to look at them. Don’t misunderstand — I am very proud of Helen, but not because she rules the record board. I just think she’s wonderful.

Margaret helped me to see that the records are goals for other swimmers, not to induce pride, but to produce hard work.

Michael Phelps said, “Goals should never be easy,” and Margaret took that to heart. She’s 10 years old now and continues to push herself harder than her peers. She still hasn’t made it to the record board, but I have no doubt that she will.

Laurel swimming breaststroke

Last year, Laurel made it to the record board, by breaking a record that had been up there since before Helen was even born. 11-12 100 Breaststroke.

This year Laurel was studying the records to see if there were any she was close to.

“How about that one,” I said, pointing to 13-14 200 Breaststroke. “I think that one is do-able, maybe not this year, but next.”

The name next to the record: Helen Zaengle.

Helen called me right up. “I heard you told Laurel to break my record,” she said.

“Heck, yes, I did,” I replied.

“I think that would be great,” she said.

She holds her records with open hands, bidding other swimmers to take them, and I think that makes me even prouder than all the records combined.

What Will You Bleed?

The patterns for our personalities are set early on.

My friend, Susan, used to talk about someone she knew who, in the delirium of a high fever, mumbled out Bible verse after Bible verse. When she had been poked, she bled the Bible.

“I want to be the kind of person who does that,” Susan said to me thirty-some years ago.

Years later, when Susan was poked, she bled praise. She suffered a stroke in her 40s and I have never heard her utter a bitter word about it. After seeing Susan last June, I asked another friend, Jennifer Trafton Peterson, to make this custom artwork for her. The words are ones I have heard Susan say many times.

The other day I was wearing a new-to-me shirt and my father noticed.

“That’s a nice shirt,” he said.

“I got it at the thrift store,” I told him.

He grinned, fist-bumped the air, and said, “Hurrah!”

My father has always liked a bargain. It’s the Scotsman in him, I think. My mother had to live with it and work against it.

She was also very frugal, but, at the same time, she wished she could do some of the things that the other doctors’ wives got to do. After he retired, he yielded to her and they went on a trip to Hawaii.

It was life-changing. He still talks about it.

“I’m so glad that I listened to Mom and we made that trip to Hawaii,” he often says.

“Everyone should go to Hawaii. When are you going?” he asks me, when he’s thinking about that trip.

But my father bleeds frugality. As dementia takes hold little by little, I see a deeper austerity emerging. He sometimes wears corduroy pants that are nearly threadbare. “There’s still some wear in these,” he says when I suggest he change.

“How much is that going to cost?” he asks, when I suggest a necessary home repair or appliance replacement, in a can-we-possibly-do-without-that sort of way.

The pattern, I think, was set early on.

My sister’s mother-in-law was a fairly passive woman. In her elderly dementia, she became more and more withdrawn into a unresisting submissiveness. When she was poked, that was what she bled — utter compliance.

My mother — I had to think about her for a while to come up with what she bled — I think she bled marmalade, both sweet and sour, involving food, and serving others. She wanted to help, but she got frustrated with the muddle in her mind.

And I can’t help thinking, What are the patterns being laid in my life? When I am poked, what will I bleed?

Behind the Camera

“Here’s an old picture of us,” I said, passing Bud a family photo that I found in a pile of stuff. “We’ve got everyone but Philip there.”scn_0030

“Where am I?” he asked.

“Behind the camera,” I replied.

It’s true. Bud took a lot of the family pictures when we were on vacation. If we didn’t snag a passer-by, he was out of the big group shot. He would appear in the just-a-Zaengle family picture that my brother or brother-in-law would take, but the everyone shot often didn’t include everyone.

Who is in the picture (and who isn’t) — just two of the clues about what year it was taken.

I’m in the center, behind Helen who is holding Laurel. Helen couldn’t possibly do that today because Laurel is now taller than Helen. Laurel’s age, though, tells me that it’s probably 2004.

Mary is wearing her Matt Kenseth Dewalt Tools hat. That tells me that we were in our NASCAR phase — everyone had a driver that they followed. Mary liked Matt Kenseth because she was fascinated with power tools; we had recently completed an addition on our house and she had seen an awful lot of yellow tools lying around.

Philip isn’t there. He must have been at college.

Karl’s cheeks are quite pink. He’s either sunburnt (unlikely, since no one else is), or had just been running around (likely, he’s a little boy). We, as a family, have this pink-cheek thing going on whenever we exercise.

My hair is short and I’m not wearing a jumper. That tells me a lot about me at the time.

But the man behind the camera, had his hair starting turning gray yet? I wish he was there beside me to complete the picture. Time to shuffle through more piles of photos to find out.