YOUNG AT HEART

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since the release of Forrest Gump, one of my all-time favs? That realization sparked a conversation between Ronnie and me. My instincts said he was communicating something about the passage of time. After the usual 20 questions game and a few “Lord, help,” prayers to the almighty, we had a breakthrough. Here’s how it played out (I’ll spare you the pre-breakthrough frustration):

IMG_3502“Are you talking about your age?” I ask.

“Yes,” Ronnie says.

“Does your age make you feel old?”

“No,” Ronnie says as he places his good hand to his chest and shrugs his shoulder. “No,” he says again, repeating the hand to chest and shrug of shoulder.  “Nothing.”

Nothing! God love him, I think. “Are you saying you don’t feel your age?”

“Yes!”

Oh my. Another great lesson from the mighty Foster.

What I learned from this conversation can be summed up in an epiphany and an important reminder.

  • The epiphany: Despite the arm, the leg, the aphasia and all the other issues he deals with on a daily basis, Ronnie Foster is and always will be young at heart.
  • The reminder: This ole girl (I said ole, not old) needs to stop complaining.

I’M COVERED

Photo Courtesy of Stock.xchng

Photo Courtesy of Stock.xchng

I know there are heated debates across our nation about the Affordable Care Act. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – It’s America, baby. Besides, a life devoid of diversity of opinion would be dull and boring.

This post is about how ACA has impacted me personally. My intent here is to state the facts of my personal experience as I see them play out in my life.

I was one of the fortunate few. The stars aligned and I sailed through the health care website without a hitch on my first try. My coverage was in place on 1/1/14.

This coverage is vitally important to me on several levels.  ACA allows me to get insurance without being tied to traditional work just for the sake of insurance coverage. A few years ago I shared a conversation with a friend who could not find an insurance company anywhere to take on all her preexisting conditions. And this friend could afford to pay a heavy premium. At that point, I thought I would be forever tied to traditional work just for the sake of medical insurance due to my preexisting cancer diagnosis.

Then along came ACA.

I work from home now with the flexibility I need to take care of my men. Where would we be without ACA?  I’d STILL be rushing to work away from home, attending overnight conferences, and dreaming every night about the daily juggle of family and work. Ronnie would STILL be watching me zip here to there at an exhausting pace like he’s done for 16 years since his stroke. The whole family would STILL be taking turns staying with dad, or he would be in a nursing home. Five or more different people would STILL be taking turns driving him to the next doctor’s appointment, five or more different pairs of ears hearing the latest medical update or medication change—a situation ripe for errors and miscommunications. I’d STILL be dreaming about working from home and praying that my dad and husband would make it through the day without one or both spending hours alone sprawled out in the middle of the floor.

It’s not all hearts and rainbows, however. When comparing my ACA plan to my previous coverage through my employer, I’m paying more each month in premiums and deductibles. Yes I was SPOILED. But I’m adjusting. Every time I have to pay a little more out of pocket than I’m accustomed to, I remind myself of the flexibility I now enjoy. Three months in, and so, far ACA has been a blessing.


MIX-UPS ALONG THE WAY

The AAPR Tennessee newsletter posted on Feb. 28, 2014 contained an article by Caregiver Peter Rosenberger entitled, CARE FOR THE CAREGIVER: Love is Noble, Control Is Not (or Take Your Hands off the Wheelchair). Rosenberger addresses the longing of some caregivers (like ME) to maintain control of their caregiving situations. But Rosenberger reminds us that “the only thing we can control is our own thoughts, words, and deeds.”

hike in woodsNow that I’m a full time caregiver for both my dad and husband, I’ve tried to streamline their care, strived to be the consistent presence at their doctor’s visits and the consistent communicator with home health staff during their weekly visits. But I can’t always be here. For one, I have my own doctors’ appointments to tend to. But more importantly, sometimes I have to have some ME time, like taking a hike with a few of my peeps.

And that’s OK. I don’t have to be the one in charge all the time. Besides, I have no guarantee that I will outlive either of these men in my life. So, I let go now and then, let others step in when needed (thank you God for giving me children, brothers, the best sister in the world, nephews and nieces — for it takes us all.)

Sure there have been some mix-ups while I’ve been away, a little over dosing here, a little under dosing there, but we all lived through it.  Just between you and me (and if you tell my daddy on me, I will be forced to call you a liar), I’ve screwed up the medication myself — gave dad his water pill at night instead of morning resulting in a nighttime urinal overflow (it was not intentional, I promise!). But hey, once again, we all survived.

Mistakes are going to happen. Accidents are going to happen. Recently I was no more than three feet from my husband when he suffered a fall, a slow motion plummet to the ground that happened faster than my brain could tell my feet to RUN.  I was right there yet could not get to him in time to catch his fall.

So what’s a girl to do? Keep doing what we’re doing I suppose. Plus, I’ll take the advice of Rosenberger along the way and will strive to control what I can, my own “thoughts, words, and deeds.”


THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN HIKE

path to cave

I took this picture the day after an extraordinarily windy Halloween night. A couple of Sundays prior, my son organized a team of us to clear this path and I wanted to survey any damage done to our work. His gathering us together and traveling 25 miles to complete manual labor on property he doesn’t own exemplifies what this land and my mom means to him – what it and she means to us all. There is no way to number the times we hiked this path with her. And on this day after Halloween hike, the sound of my lone feet crunching the blanket of leaves underneath reminds me of her, makes me long for her by my side, hand in hand for support as our feet crunch leaves at a slower more deliberate pace.

It’s been almost three months since we lost her. Unbelievable! It seems just yesterday she was helping me raise my son while I worked days I longed to spend with him. But if I had to leave him with someone, she was always first choice. And this land served as his ultimate playground. When technology was on the cusp of overtaking outdoor play for kids, my son romped these hills making paintball forts, camp fires and home videos.

For the time being, I’m fortunate enough to enjoy this land on a daily basis. Ronnie and I sold our house and have moved in with dad. I’ve left what has been traditional work for me and am spending my days caring for the both of them. I’m blessed that they are in good enough shape to spare me for 30 minutes here and there to walk this path. On this particular day after Halloween hike, I wait for the peace that solitude usually brings, but the rhythm of those dang leaves crunching underfoot breeds memories of her final days and what she endured. I stop and take this picture. In the silence, I push those painful thoughts aside, for I witnessed her suffering first hand and find no comfort in revisiting them. Instead I focus on paintball forts, camp fires, home videos and the unpretentious woman who made it all possible.


THE END

What would be a good end of life? Judy MacDonald Johnston shared a thoughtful, touching example in a recent TED Talk.

When it comes to the important work of planning for our end of life, procrastination many times wins out. But excuses will be of no comfort to our kids after we are gone, and they are left to guess their way through our undocumented wishes.

If I dropped dead right now, would our kids know the names of all Ronnie’s doctors? Would they know our wishes for Ronnie’s future care? Would they know something as simple as how to refill his medications? I could go on and on with such unanswered questions. However, Judy’s video and supporting worksheets have inspired a new goal: to think this through with Ronnie, get it down on paper, and make it legal.

Have you already thought it through, got it down on paper, and made it legal? If so, please share your lessons learned.


DRESSED BY A MOTHER’S LOVE

As this Mother’s Day comes to a close, here’s my post about three dresses, two pictures, and my sweet little mother.

I will never forget the day mom came home from work with a package in hand — FOR ME! What a surprise, and for no special occasion, no reason other than walking from the court house across Main Street to Smith’s Department Store to kill some time during lunch. She spotted this baby blue dress (my signature color) and felt I should have it (see pic – second from the left). Debbies weddingShe said it was on sale, but even then I realized the extravagance of the purchase. But I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying the coolest dress ever. I was hot stuff (or so I thought) and I felt so loved every time I wore that dress. I look back now and better see what that dress represented. It was the reason mom, despite her nature to mother, worked outside the home – so that we could have the occasional extra. Over the years she has told me that was one thing she regretted, not being home with us full time.

Even when she was working, mom could always make time to sew for us kids. While this was many times accomplished at four o’clock in the morning, I loved to watch her sew when I got the chance (which was not at four o’clock in the morning). By the time I was in high school, she had taught me to hem and remove the collars from men’s shirts for that mandarin collar look. When time for senior prom rolled around, we shopped for patterns and material, and she guided me in making my own peachy (my new signature color) prom dress! prom dress

The following year I attended college in West Tennessee. One day when I was feeling especially homesick in my dorm room, I heard a knock. I opened the door, and there stood my little niece, Mandy, with that head full of blonde hair shining like the sun. No one else in sight, just Mandy. I was delighted to see her but was frozen in space, confused, not only about how she got there but by what she was wearing. She had on a multi patterned dress that was the exact replica of a dress I had left hanging in my closet at home. She had on MY DRESS (no picture available at this time)! Mom appeared at the door as I picked up Mandy and gave her a big hug. Mom explained that she had unseamed, cut down, and resewed the dress for my darling niece. I had been so homesick, and to see one of the ones I missed most in that dress, made by the one I missed most of all, my mother, was heaven.

Over the last few days as Mother’s Day approached, I’ve thought about this post and what I might write. I thought it would be perfect if I could get a picture of each dress to include in this post. So after a Mother’s Day filled family and good times, Ronnie and I drove back to mom’s and spent the evening searching through boxes of pictures. I knew I could get my hands on two of the ones I needed, but held little hope of finding an image of my niece in MY DRESS. Mom so enjoyed picking up various pictures and commenting on them or asking me who was who. First I came across my peachy senior prom picture and placed it on the floor at my feet. Then beyond all hope, there was tiny precious Mandy in my dress mom had cut down for her. I added it to my stack on the floor. All I needed now was my sister’s wedding picture with me in that baby blue dress. Jackpot! A framed picture of my sister’s wedding. We had found all I needed. I bent down to add the last picture to the pile and noticed a picture missing. Mom had already started cleaning up, and the picture of Mandy was gone. I handed Ronnie the other two pictures thinking they would be safe from mom’s busy hands. After searching a box by my side with no luck, I walked over to Ronnie to get the two pictures left. But mom had taken the framed wedding picture from Ronnie and stowed it away – SOMEWHERE! Beyond frustrated, I took the one picture spared, walk outside and put it in our car. I dug through drawers in the spare bedroom and finally found the wedding picture. But the one picture I doubted even existed, was nonexistent. Gone in a snap, like a thought or a memory. After a lifetime of picking up after us five kids and my dad, what else can be expected? To tell mom to not clean up after someone is like telling an accountant not to count, a teacher not to teach, a writer not to write, a human not to breathe. It’s in her DNA. It’s a task that keeps her moving, keeps her going. A task once about keeping the house in order but is now about DOING before the memory TO DO is forgotten.

Thanks to dementia and poor eyesight, those busy hands no longer sew, and her confidence in buying something personal for me faded long ago. But she eagerly awaits the opportunity to clean up anything I dare put to the side.

God love her! I love her, too!

Thank you, Lord, for a Mother’s Day I hope I never forget.


TURNING POINTS ALONG THE WAY

Moments of deep despair and desperation can be turning points in our lives.

I was reminded of this recently while talking with a dear friend. As the one year anniversary of her husband’s stroke neared, she pulled out the journal she’d kept during the weeks of her husband’s hospitalization. She found herself reflecting on all the good that had come from that horrible experience; the relationships she formed with some of the medical staff who served as a support to her as they nursed her husband back to health, the cards and visits from friends and the unexpected cards from people she barely knew, her church family who saw to it that folks across the country added her family to their prayer list, the meals provided after they returned home from the hospital. This stroke anniversary was also a reminder that a full year had passed without her realizing it, with all the running here and there to teaching engagements and doctor’s appointments while keeping the dogs fed and the house in one piece along with the multitude of other duties caregivers take on. In many ways it had been a lonely year of loss and despair. However, upon reflection, she realized all the good that had come from that terrible time.

As I reflect on the year that has passed since her husband’s stroke, I find that she is dearer to me than ever. We were very close before his stroke. Were even known to double date now and then, which is huge, for Ronnie and I have been somewhat socially isolated since his stroke. Now, my friend and I are both married to stroke survivors. Mutual admiration and understanding encircle us, bonding us in a way perhaps otherwise impossible without stroke touching both our lives. When we find ourselves in territories of loneliness, time together is good medicine. She reminds me I am loved and cared for by many. I hope I do the same for her.

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So the next time you face desperation and despair, remember; a turning point may be headed your way that reminds you who and what you treasure most.

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MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND BLUEBERRIES

blueberries

Have you ever been misunderstood? I’m not talking about a quarrel here, or a misunderstanding due to tone of voice, body language, or bad timing. I’m referring to a thought spoken aloud that is simply misinterpreted.

This recently happened to me when, in the moment, I didn’t have time to complete my thought. Therefore, I’ve decided to finish what I started by way of this blog.

I was speaking with a group about health, and the conversation shifted to government interference with our daily lives. In an effort to rudder the conversation back on topic, I agreed that sometimes government interference could sometimes lead to a negative outcome, such as when the government started subsidizing farming which led to the onset of processed foods.  Some mistakenly came away thinking I was totally against farm subsidies. Nothing is further from the truth. But unless my listeners, in that moment, were somehow blessed with the miracle of mind reading, their misunderstanding should come as no surprise.

Here’s the full thought that was on my heart and mind that day:

Farm subsidies have aided low-income farmers and rural development, have helped ensure America’s food security, have helped put ethanol in most every gas tank in America, etc…

With that said, I have some major concerns about farm subsidies:

  • These subsidies usually favor grains, sugar, and dairy products. Grains and sugars feed our obesity epidemic and most everybody and their brother seem to be sensitive to milk these days.
  • While monocropping (growing a single crop year after year on the same land) helps feed the world, it is hard on our soil and promotes pest invasions, which increases the need for dangerous pesticides and fertilizer use.

So, now you know my worries. And there’s something else you should know. While in my younger days I milked my share of cows, was flogged multiple times by a demented chicken, had the baby calf I bottle fed every day (whose name was Mackie Moe) served up on the dinner table, and once rolled into a pile of cow manure while helping pull a calf out of its mommies tummy, I by no means claim to be an agricultural scholar. I don’t even claim to be agriculturally knowledgeable. BUT, here’s what I want and why. I want our government to better subsidize the production of healthy foods. I’m not talking a box of heavily processed cereal here. I’m talking super foods like organic blueberries and other fruits, nuts, and vegetables. And here’s why. Kids attending elementary school right now are the first generation projected to NOT live as long as their parents. This is UNACCEPTABLE!!! I firmly believe we can help protect the longevity of our children and grandchildren by making fruits, nuts, and veggies the most affordable and most abundant foods in our grocery stores. How can we do that? Subsidize their production.

So before you head out the door into the sometimes harsh but always beautiful world in which we live, grab a handful of blueberries and enjoy. May you and yours live long and prosper.

Have you ever been in a crowd and said something that was misunderstood? Tell us about it.


SPORTSMANSHIP

March Madness is in full swing at our house. Ronnie Foster is watching UCONN versus NOTRE DAME girls as I type this post. Around here, March is filled with sleepless nights spent in the recliner watching or re-watching men’s, girls’ or any kind of basketball a man can find on satellite TV.

Ronnie doesn’t watch Duck Dynasty, but if they would just pick up a basketball every now and then, he’d be their biggest fan.

If you regularly read this post, you know that while Ronnie is watching basketball, I’m watching the Sunday Morning Show on NBC. This past Sunday had a short segment I must share, for it not only honors this holy month of March Madness, it also reminds every child, parent, and spectator of the true meaning of sportsmanship.

Enjoy!