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.


Remembering Birthdays

Threshold 085

At Laity Lodge

Three years ago for my birthday I was in the wilds of the Texas hill country, without cell coverage and with minimal wifi. Laity Lodge is great that way because it allows guests to make real connections.

But it was my birthday and I don’t think anyone there knew.

Not that it mattered, of course.

I called my husband on a land-line and talked with him and the kids. It was enough.



He told me that my brother Stewart had called and wanted me to call him back.

When I got home, I put off that call.

My brother died from a heart attack 11 days after my birthday.

When did I last hear his voice? I don’t know.

In my mind I can still hear him, though. I remember what my name sounded like when he said it. I remember his laugh.

Mom February 2015

Mom February 2015

My mother forgot my name altogether. I used to remind her.

“I’m Sally,” I would say, and she would repeat back, “That’s right. You’re Sally.”

I used to use photographs to help her remember the names of family members, naming each person as we touched them in the picture. She eventually couldn’t do that either.

I don’t remember the last time she said my name.

And I have more trouble remembering her voice — maybe because it turned dry and creaky. She didn’t sound the way I wanted to remember her.

This year for my birthday, I heard from all my children — most with a phone call or FaceTime. Mary, Laurel, Bud and I went to see La La Land and then went out to dinner. It was very nice.

My morning started with a birthday card in my coffee maker (from Laurel) and birthday stickers on the newspaper (from my brother).

I was curious to see what my father would say about the birthday stickers. I knew he wouldn’t remember my birthday without some sort of reminder.

“Oh! I see we have stickers on the newspaper this morning,” he said as he sat down at the kitchen table.

He peered at them closely.  “It says, ‘Happy Birthday,'” he read. “I don’t think it’s my birthday though.”

“No, Dad,” I answered, giving him his pills and his juice. “It’s my birthday.”

“Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense.”

IMG_9693And that was it.

No birthday wishes.

It wasn’t a slur against me. It doesn’t really matter.

But it did.

It does.

Because it means I’ve lost another little piece of him.

We lost my mother in dribs and drabs, an expression she used to use.

Now we’re losing my father the same way.

It’s almost certain that next year he won’t remember my birthday either. Dementia tends to only go in one direction.

I just hope he still remembers my name.



My Mother’s Voice

I can’t remember
The sound of my mother’s voice
Fresh grief at this loss

The telephone at my father’s house doesn’t work terribly well, and I want to try a new one, but I don’t want to lose his voice on the answering machine. Is it silly — the things we hold onto?

I really couldn’t remember my mother’s voice this morning, try though I did.

The crappy phone will stay.

I looked through the videos on my computer. Surely I had one with her voice.  I found a couple from two years ago when she was in physical therapy. She spoke three words total in six videos. Monosyllabic. “Yes.” “No.” “Missed.” That’s not how I want to remember her.

Towards the end of the video below, where we are singing the blessing over a meal, I can pick out her voice. It’s a good place to end.



The word prompt was “graceful.”

I debated about using photos of my children in sports.

Swimming, tennis, soccer, and diving all have their graceful moments.


graceful bubbles?

Aviary Photo_130563787939035300

graceful kick?

I also have little ballerina pictures. Ballerinas are the embodiment of grace.

The very last first time ballet recital for Laurel -- which also turned out to be the very last ballet recital for Laurel.

Mine is the one trying to curtsey.

But I knew immediately which photo spoke grace to me. The trouble was finding it.

It was a picture of my father taking care of my mother.


Not this one

He visited her every day. Twice a day. He fed her. He pushed her wheelchair on walks.


or even this one

This was after my brother passed away. He went to tell her the news that her oldest child had died of a heart attack. Because of her dementia, she couldn’t understand, and he had to repeat the painful words over and over. It broke my heart. His grief was doubled because she was unable to share it.

But her bore it.

The graceful picture I thought of was this one. It may not be the best picture, but it was a special moment.


My mother was in the hospital and my father brushed her hair for her.

Mothers brush other people’s hair all the time — sometimes even adding a little spit to do the trick. Of course, I never did that — added spit, I mean.

But this was new territory for my father. He was a little clumsy doing it. But he wanted her to be cared for, and he wanted to be the one to do it.

So he did the best he could to brush her wayward hair into place.

And it was an act that was full, very full, of grace.


House Beautiful

Whenever I drive my father anywhere, he comments on the houses we pass.

“Those are some well-kept houses,” he says, especially in the summer when the yards are groomed and flowers are blooming.

Somewhere along the line maintaining his house became too much.

My mother kept beautiful gardens. She was outside nearly every day in the spring and summer planting, weeding, and pruning so that passers-by were treated to some beauty.

In May 1994 the house was featured in a 2-page spread of Runner’s World magazine. A 10K race was routed right past the house.

the 2-page spread

the 2-page spread

a better picture

a better picture

As dementia crept in, we discouraged her from being out near the road. I was worried about her safety.

Plus she would shake her fist at cars that drove past too fast.

I was worried she would get a reputation for being a crazy old lady.

As the gardens were overtaken by weeds, the fence rotted.  The split rail fence needed a number of rails replaced but when my father purchased new rails a few years ago and brought them home, he discovered they were too short.

“That’s okay,” he said to me. “I’ll just dig up the posts and move them closer.”

My eighty-something father, who was struggling was balance issues and growing frailer by the minute, honestly thought he could do that.

With aging parents — as with children — figuring out how to address challenges without totally discouraging them with you-can’ts is tricky.

“How about if we get someone to help you with it?” I suggested.

“I can do it,” he insisted.

But he didn’t.

And now the rails are rotting in a pile.

Bud has been working hard to reclaim the gardens. Last summer, he weeded and weeded and weeded. He cleared brush. He mowed. He pruned. He’s one of the hardest working people I know and I wondered if my father even noticed.

We were driving to get his haircut last week, and he commented on how well-kept the houses were on the way.

“It takes a lot of work to keep a house looking nice,” I said.

My father was quiet for a few minutes staring out the window. “When is Bud coming again?” he finally asked.

“Friday,” I told him, “when he gets done with work.”

I was relieved because that told me two things:

  1. He made the connection between the work required to keep the house looking nice and Bud.
  2. He recognized that Bud and I don’t get to see each other every day.

We’re doing it for him.

It isn’t easy, but it’s important.

And I’m grateful that we can be there — and get that house looking nice again.


Below is a(nother) dusted-off post from 2011. In 2011 my mother was still alive and living at home. She clearly had dementia and her body was slowly failing on her.  My father was her main care-provider, but that summer was hard on him, too. With all that was going on, I helped out as best I could.

Mom and Dad -- summer of 2011

Mom and Dad — summer of 2011

Last Thursday we went for the follow-up visit for my mother’s bladder biopsy.

The baby-faced doctor handed my father the pathology report.  “It’s bladder cancer, just as I suspected,” he said.

He continued speaking, “It’s high-grade papillary urothelial carcinoma.”  I could see the words on the path report in my father’s hands. “The cancer hasn’t spread past the lining of the bladder.  There is no invasion into the muscle or the subepithelial tissue.”

When he began discussing the treatment options, it was truly a discussion.  He listened to our concerns, answered questions, explained, and listened some more.

We finally reached the point in the process that I was anticipating (and dreading).

My mother is now incapable of making decisions, especially decisions like this.  She can decide what she wants for lunch — usually something involving marmalade.  She can decide what she wants to wear — usually the same thing she has been wearing for the past three days.  She can decide when she wants to take a nap — often.  She cannot make an informed decision about her health care.

My father has always shown the utmost respect for people and guarded their dignity.  I knew my father would want to include my mother in the decision-making process. When the moment came, my father turned to my mother and said, “I suppose we need to ask the patient what she would like to do.”

I started to pipe up, “Dad, I think we’re at the point when you need to make these decisions for Mom,” but my mother interrupted.

My mother, with the utmost clarity, said, “I don’t think I understand what’s going on.  I trust whatever you decide.”

Hallelujah!  If the angels weren’t singing in heaven, they were singing in my heart!

I hadn’t known to pray for this, but this was an answer to prayer.

The rest of the visit was a piece of cake.  We made the decision to simply wait.  At 83, any treatment may have been worse than the disease itself….

I had forgotten so much about that time period. The bladder cancer turned out to be a red herring. So many other things made that season hard. Had I know what lay ahead, I would have said that I was not capable of any of it.

But I was.

God makes our path a little windy so we can’t see what’s around the next bend. Perhaps if we knew, we wouldn’t want to go on.

Today, January 13, 2017, I can look back and say, Thank you, God, for getting me through those years. It makes it easier to trust You on the road I’m traveling now.