In January, I went on cruise with my best friend from 9th grade. Turns out she’s still best friend material. We had a great time. Her husband says I have ruined her, because she now wants to go on a cruise every year. Well, I am ruined too. If it wasn’t for my husband, children, and grandchildren, I think I would try to figure out a way to be one of those retirees who just go from cruise to cruise year round.
January also brought a really bad bout of flu.
In February, during my second bout of really bad flu, I found out that my sister had been diagnosed with a rare cancer – peritoneal cancer. By the time I dragged myself through to the other side of that illness, I had reached a breaking point as a caregiver. The balance had finally tipped so that putting my husband in a nursing home, knowing that he would never forgive me and would choose to be unhappy for the rest of his life, was the better option. This caused me to be overwhelmed with grief.
Somewhere around this time I became a part of a small musical ensemble which came to be known as the Tequila Mockingbirds. We began to practice singing together every Monday night. We started out as acquaintances that barely knew each other, but have become fast friends. This group has been one of the greatest highlights of 2016.
In early March I managed to get things arranged to transfer Strokeman to a nursing home near me. I had the support of my children and my pastors, and was ready to make the move, when the nursing home decided to back out. This added overwhelming depression to my overwhelming grief. I was not able to do anything other than the bare minimum – providing for Strokeman’s needs. I could not face the prospect of trying again. I could not talk about it. I stopped communicating with anyone, because all the energy I had was needed to just function minimally.
In April my daughter asked if she could take over the pursuit of nursing home placement, and I said yes. On the 19th my children, pastor, and I met with my husband around the dining table to inform him that we were placing him in a nursing home. My oldest son led the meeting, and I just sat there silently watching it all unfold. We transported him that day to a facility in a neighboring town. The rest of that month (and the subsequent months) was spent applying for Medicaid to cover the nursing home, which entailed a paper trail that would circuit the globe, spending down half our assets, and basically rendering us wards of the state. As predicted, Strokeman was angry. He still is.
As soon as I had Strokeman settled in his new room, I made a trip to New Braunfels to see my sister. This would be the first of many trips over the rest of the year to help with the care of my parents and sister.
In May, I started going to a woman counselor, to help me process some of the more personal and difficult aspects of my role as a caregiver. I continue to this day, although not as often or as desperately. I also began going to every possible church meeting and activity. This has been a joy beyond expression after years of sporadic attendance. I saw my youngest son married to his high school sweetheart. It was a beautiful way to end the month.
In June, my oldest son and daughter-in-law finalized the adoption of their two children, who had been a part of our family for a year and a half. I flew to Athens, GA to help celebrate this event a few weeks later.
In June I also started going to the local recreation center for exercise classes. I tried several, and determined that yoga was the class the seemed most helpful (and also the only one in which I did not want to punch the instructor by the time class was over). I began soon after to make pithy Facebook statements about my yoga experience. Apparently, they are a big hit. I came into yoga class one day unable to control my tears, and consequently met two women who have become good friends. We see each other at yoga, line dancing at the senior center, and Thursday nights at the winery for supper. They have been such a bonus to my life that I am now recommending crying in public to make friends.
I spent 4th of July in New Braunfels with my brother and nephews from Mexico. I went down again a few weeks later, and was able to be there for my sister’s birthday. It was this month that saw my sister’s tumor marker numbers begin to not respond well to the chemo.
In August my sister, mom and dad came up to my house for what would prove to be my dad’s last road trip. We met some other missionary friends and “kids” at an Indian restaurant in Arlington for a long visit. We also stopped by the hospital on the way home to see another missionary friend and family who had been deterred by some health issues from being able to come to the get together. Also in August, we learned that dad qualified for Hospice, due to his degenerative illness. This service added some much needed support in the home.
September brought more trips to New Braunfels. This was also the first month we took advantage of the respite program through Hospice, putting dad in a local nursing facility for three days in order to give mom and Cindy some rest. Have I mentioned how much we love Hospice? This was also the month I started helping in the 2&3-year-old Sunday School class. What can I say? It’s hilarious, exhausting, endearing, invigorating, and hilarious.
October brought more trips to New Braunfels. This was also the month of our Chorus performance called “Joe’s Place”. We dressed up in 1920’s costumes and sang songs from that era. Huge amount of work and fun.
Right before that performance I flew to a class reunion in Minneola, Florida. It was a great time catching up with friends. I spent time with a friend who had just come through a pretty rough several years, and I learned these things from visiting with him:
1.Googling someone basically gives you gossip, not real information. Even police reports and court reports do not tell the whole story. It’s always a good idea to listen to a friend’s own account of their story before drawing conclusions.
2. Even in worst case outcomes God is still sovereign. He is able to use us for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom in the most difficult of circumstances. When your life is virtually dismantled by the maliciousness of other people, you can survive, your marriage can survive, and there will be people who will continue to be your friends with much love and grace (I can’t claim to have been one of those friends in his life, but I witnessed others who were, and they put me to shame for not taking the time to be more of a friend).
In November I had a long talk with my dad about the fact that his body was failing him and his care was quickly becoming more than mom and my sister could reasonably manage at home. I told him how hard it is on a caregiver to finally admit they couldn’t do it anymore, and how my mom and sister would feel guilt and sorrow over having to put him in a nursing home when the time came. I asked him to lay down his life for my mom. He had what was one of his last moments of clarity, in which he told me he knew he was not long for this world, and was not afraid. He also said he would be ok if we needed to put him in a nursing home. He agreed to sign papers, or do whatever needed to be done to prepare for that time.
November brought Thanksgiving, and 4 of my five kids came with their families to my house. We brought Strokeman home for several hours to eat turkey and visit. It was a good time, considering all the various emotions that were being faced on this first family holiday post nursing home placement.
In December we put dad in respite care for a few days, and realized he was not going to be able to come home. He had become very disoriented and was falling several times a day due to forgetting he couldn’t walk. We had hoped to keep him home until after the holidays, but this was not to be. He forgot all he had said about it being ok to be in the nursing home. It was heartbreaking.
Christmas was hard. It was so hard I felt like I had become a Facebook status cliche’ about how holidays can be so hard for some people. We survived.
So now we are in 2017 and already many things have come to pass. My father died in January. I took a trip to New York with my daughters. Right now I am visiting my mom (who is doing great, by the way) while my sister and her husband visit the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Phoenix, Arizona. We’re hoping for good things to come out of that visit, but worry about the financial toll unconventional treatments can take on a family. On Thursday I will fly to Memphis, TN where I will be privileged to speak at a women’s retreat on trusting and treasuring Christ. I look forward to also visiting with long time friends while I am there.
My hope for 2017 is that I will begin to get some sort of a rhythm to my life. Medicaid makes it complicated for me to be actually gainfully employed at the moment, but I want my employment to be gainful in the sense that I want to be doing things that benefit me as a person as opposed to being lazy or aimless. I hope this means writing more consistently, working to rebuild relationships within my church family, practicing hospitality. I will need to sell my house (I know, I just bought it, but this was always the plan), and move into something smaller and more financially manageable. I have opportunity to try my hand at editing some sermons notes for one of my pastors in order to put them in book form. I have goals to exercise more in an effort to prepare for a possible mountain climb in 2018. Chorus practice has started back up, and so the Mockingbirds are making the transition from playing together to working together (which is really a lot like playing together). I am also looking forward to welcoming my army son home after 6 years away. And always, I will continue to work at tending to my husband’s needs as he lives out his worst nightmare in the nursing home.