Monthly Archives: March 2012

Small Steps

Tuesday sunshine streams through the front door glass and through the windows.  As I sit here in the new office space, the sunshine through the window lets me see that the yard needs mowing again, so that’s another chore to add to the never-ending list.

Yesterday was a good day, all in all.  I talked to Dad’s primary-care physician finally — and we’re waiting to see a few things before decisions about hospice are appropriate, she advises.  First, does his mental state improve once he’s off the Duragesic patch?  Second, can we get his pain under control?  And third, what does his nephrologist say?

By last night, with the patch off for 24 hours, he was clear and himself.  We had a good conversation, and he recognized my cousin Carolyn immediately, which was great.  They had a chance to talk, and that was good for both of them.  He was tired, but clear-headed.  He hadn’t had any pain meds since 11 a.m, but it was also not a dialysis day; this meant that he’d had PT in the morning, taken the pain pill, and been in bed all day.  We’ll see what the pain is like today, when he has PT, then dialysis.

Today will give us a better sense of how the pain is.  Dad’s doctor is waiting to have her call returned from the nephrologist, so we’ll see what happens then.  She doesn’t want any decisions made based on his mental state on Monday, when he started pulling needles and tubes out at dialysis.She and I talked for a while, agreeing that Dad’s pain level was our key here, and his quality of life our guide, coupled with information from his nephrologist.  So we’re on hold, sort of, waiting to see what happens.

But she knows I’m under no illusions about the future, too.  I’ve talked to cousins and aunts now, and they’re aware of the changes, the talks with doctors, and the decisions.  I texted everyone on Monday, after talking with Kay and making decisions about actions.  By yesterday, I’d talked to everyone.  Decisions will be made, but not necessarily in the next few days, which is a great relief to me, at least temporarily.  Those decisions will get here soon enough.  I have space to breathe, to work, and to think now.  And — fingers crossed — to enjoy Dad, clear-headed and conversational.

Yesterday I made progress here at home, with my friend Patty helping me.  I worked in the kitchen, clearing more cabinets, wiping them out and cleaning them, and sorting through food, spices, dishes, and everything else that was crammed together indiscriminately.  Now the food items are all together in the new little pie safe I bought in Lake Charles at an antique store/flea market.  Spices are in one covered container.  Only the cooking oils and salt and pepper and chili powder are in the cabinet near the stove.  In the narrow cabinet space between the refrigerator and the stove, where all sorts of things were shoved and way out of date, more cleaning was necessary — lots of mouse evidence from gnawed bags, loose beans and cornmeal, and so on.  Now that’s where the boxes of storage bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil and garbage bags now get to stay.  They’re organized, easy to get to, and centralized; they’re no longer scattered in three places.

We’d stop and talk.  It’s the first time she has ever been here to Egan, so she was interested in everything.  She got to experience my day, with people simply walking in the house and chatting.  She met my good friends here and got to talk to them.  She and my cousin Carolyn talked.  After she left, I turned to Carolyn and said “Bessie Cobb.”  Carolyn smiled and said “I’d already thought that!”  Bessie was one of our grandmother’s oldest and dearest friends, a short little round woman from New Jersey who was just as straight-talking and direct as they come.  Bessie was just another one of our family, and Patty has always reminded me of Bessie.  Now I have confirmation of my impression.  Shared memories and experiences with Carolyn anchor so much for me.

We’d talk and visit.  Then it was back to work.

Typically, I was hoping for more, but then I always do.  Patty got the clothes washed, dried, and folded and worked on Kay’s room while I worked in the kitchen.  She’ll come back on Friday, and by then I hope to have other progress evident.  Now I’m washing Dad’s clothes.  I’ll do a bit of work here in the office area while the clothes are washing and then drying.  Maybe, only maybe will I get back to the kitchen area.

Small steps and progress — I can see this, though there are moments when I look at all that is left and get discouraged at that.  I forget just how much has been done in a short four weeks.  That’s me — I typically expect more to get done than is truly possible in a given amount of time.  I’m learning, though, to keep focused on the progress.

So . . . today:  clothes for Dad, more organizing of boxes in here, more garbage bags of “toss” and more boxes of “donate” — and then maybe the yard.  If the riding mower is working properly.  We’re supposed to get more rain on Saturday, and I want to get the yard done before another deluge.  The ground is soft, but it isn’t too boggy for mowing.  Not yet.  The clover is attractive, but we don’t live in a wild meadow, after all.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m one of those kid’s toys, the Weebles.  I get knocked around, knocked down, but keep popping back up after a little while, back in place.  Now, though, I think I’m a Weeble on a roller coaster.  The roller coaster ride differs every day now, with one day bringing me to the very depths of things when Dad is in great pain and moaning that no one should have to live like that, and the next taking me to the top for a little while — for a moment of respite when he’s pain-free and clear and talkative — before the track plunges down again.  I know the roller coaster won’t last forever and that at some point it will even out and glide home and stop.  Until then, I’ll breathe, and like the Weeble I’ll roll around, bounce around, and stabilize.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat.

Visits like the one yesterday from my cousin mean so much. She’s always been more like my older sister; we’ve always been very close.  I talk about needing a “Carolyn fix” at times, and those are always good for me.  We talk about all sorts of things.  Our mothers were sisters; they’re both dead now.  Our grandmother is dead.  Our aunts are gone too.  Her sister Terry has been gone for few years.  My sister is 7 years younger.  Carolyn and I talk about being the family memory now — and her children and Terry’s look to us.  It’s a sobering thought when you realize that you are now one of the family elders.  In our rather matriarchal family that’s a big responsibility.  A joy at times, but a responsibility.  As much as we talked to our mothers and our grandmother, there are still questions we’d love to ask, mysteries we’d love to get solved.

I’m energized today.  Tired and allergy-eyed, but energized and mobilized.

Progress yesterday.  Progress today.  Small steps.  Big gains.

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Off the Grid

This last week was a really difficult one. Coming to grips with the hard realities of Dad’s condition, of  trying to find something to relieve his pain, of conversations with social workers and doctors that I really don’t want to have –as mentally prepared as I am, I have been knocked out by the emotional turmoil all of this has led to. Why, I’m not exactly sure, but that’s what happened.

I couldn’t manage to do more than work around the house a bit, trying to catch up with laundry, and visiting Dad and having some of those conversations. The one with my Dad’s sister was a killer–she initiated the conversation, and I honored her straightforward questions.  By the end of that conversation we were both choked up and holding back tears.

I read a lot. I watched television. I cuddled with my dogs that I’d finally brought back from Lake Charles.

But no matter what, I couldn’t write.  I just managed to get along from day to day. By Friday, when I got to Lake Charles, it was a weekend for simply closing the door and being alone. A few errands, getting my medicines refilled, and getting a long massage on Saturday–that’s what I could manage.  It was Sunday before I found energy to get out and visit friends.  Many times, my Lake Charles days are more social, but lately they are hibernation time for me to recharge.

This time, it really was more like the end of a hibernation. By the time I got out on Sunday, I felt lighter and realized that the world wasn’t weighing me down as much.  The sun was brighter.  I enjoyed long visits with friends yesterday. Some corner was turned, I think; something simply changed.

Today, I am in Orange, getting Dad’s truck inspected. How he has managed to have it registered in Texas is beyond me, but I now sit in a waiting room while it gets its inspection a month early. And I turned the radio on as I drove over, finding music I loved–Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty. I sang along as I drove, even chair dancing a bit.

And once I opened the blog, I found the words that have evaded me for a week. Sunshine, light, and flow have returned to me.

One of my worries has been my own sense of separation from friends as I have been more and more involved in Egan over the last 10 months.  One dear friend told me yesterday that she had only recently told her father I had moved–and that only then did she realize the truth of that. I’d realized it and vocalized it months ago.  In the intervening months, I’ve felt more and more disconnected from that “other life,” and recently even wondered why I bothered to go to Lake Charles, except to pick up mail and see the pets.  But now I’ve got the dogs at least, if not the cats.

The disconnect will be temporary, I’m sure.  My friends remain my friends.  Picking up the pieces will happen.  Certainly my life will change, but it’s not that I’ve lost myself, though that is really what I fear at times.  No, I think I’m really discovering myself on this journey.

I now start to think about what comes next–and what comes after.  Kay and I talk about that. We don’t have any illusions about what’s coming.

From time to time I am sure I will “go to ground,” as the British say–hibernating for rest and rehabilitation. That will recharge me as the weekends do.

My cousin Mike laughingly asked me yesterdayif I’d “gone off the grid”– and that was the perfect term for me this past week. Off the grid.

But I am back on now, and ready to hit the road, just as soon as the truck inspection is done.

From Louisiana to Texas and back in one day. Lake Charles to Egan. My bifurcated life continues, and at least I can drive from part to part, even if those discrete parts don’t seem to overlap much anymore.

Today when I get back, there are more questions to ask, more changes to follow up on regarding the Duragesic pain patches that didn’t work for Dad.  I hope we find something that a) doesn’t make him itch and b) doesn’t leave him confused and c) relieves the pain.

A friend lost his brother to cancer last week, and we’ve talked often in the days before and since.  That also saddened me, for him and because it brought back my loss of my brother in 1996.  Phil was 39 when he died. Yesterday was his birthday–he would have been 56.  I’m sure that’s been one of the facets of my week of darkness.

Loss has come close to overwhelming me this week, but it didn’t.

I went off the grid, finding and creating my own energy, the energy that cannot come from outside sources. Not at all–only from inside does the energy generate.  The love from family and friends gives the support I need to explore the hard realities and to do what must be done, but only when I can have some deep alone time, off the grid, does the energy come.

I am back on the grid, waiting now for the truck to be returned to me with the appropriate sticker. Someone has to do the ordinary chores, the daily or monthly or yearly ones.

I am ready for the road.

Later on Monday, about 7:22 p.m.:

Back in Egan, after the road trip.  One of the last songs I sang along with as I exited Interstate 10 heading to Southwind was “Here Comes the Sun.”  The Beatles sang to me at just the right moment, reminding me of the sunshine and the light I’ve found again.  I needed that boost, too.

I visited Dad for a few hours, but it was difficult.  He’s apparently allergic to the Duragesic patch, and though we’ve taken the patch off, it will take a while for the narcotic to work out of his system.  He’s on a new painkiller, by mouth.  He’s more confused, not really sure of where he is, though he knows me.  He’s miserable.  The word he used with Kay this weekend is “torture”:  that’s what the pain is like, he says.

No answers today from doctors, though the hard question has been posed to both the nephrologist and Dad’s primary care physician:  is it time to stop dialysis and to take him home?

Maybe tomorrow I’ll know more.  What I can do now and tomorrow is try to get the house in better shape.  Tomorrow my friend Pattie is coming to help.  My cousin Carolyn is coming to spend the night tomorrow and see Dad.  I suspect others will come soon too.  So I’ll wash more clothes, move some boxes, and cook something to eat.  I’ll talk to cousins and aunts more today and tomorrow, keeping them all in the loop that is our family connection.  It’s tight and real and wonderful.  Friends and family give me everything they can.  It is so comforting to know they’re there.

Our loss looms closer than before.  But more important is Dad’s comfort, Dad’s ease, and Dad’s dignity.  He’s earned all of those things.

Back on the grid.  Back with power.  Back with resolve. Back with love.

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Reality Bites

In the last few days, I’ve had two conferences with social workers, one at dialysis and one at the nursing home.  Both concerned Dad — and brought home the realities we now face.

On Friday the dialysis social worker called.  We talked for a long time.  They’ve been concerned about Dad –he has lost about 8 pounds in two weeks, and we had to talk about some grim possibilities.  Between pain, new teeth, and medicines, he just can’t seem to sit more than a few minutes, at least not comfortably.  At meals, he manages a few bites and then has to lie down. He has yet to get to the dining room to eat; that’s simply beyond him.  He has spent most of his time lying down, though he works at physical therapy as much as he can manage.  He’s motivated; he just has great pain.  He has progressed in many functional ways.  But still the weight loss has been steady.  The nephrologist added an appetite-booster to his meds, and by Sunday he was eating better and seemed to enjoy his food.

I know that with dialysis patients — with end-stage renal failure — there is a time when the dialysis simply no longer really does much more than keep as much fluid as possible from forming, but it can’t really work as efficiently as it once did.  Couple that with congestive heart failure, and you’re looking at a point where dialysis no longer completely removes fluid from the lungs, and we reached that in May when Dad had pneumonia for the first time.  At some point, the body just starts to shut down.

Fortunately, I don’t think we’re at that point yet.  But having the discussion brought home to me that the reality is probably sooner rather than later.  I asked the social worker to let the clinic nephrologist know that when his assessment of Dad was that such was the case, then I wanted to know.

I also discussed the probability of using hospice rather than home health services when we bring Dad home from Southwind, and she concurred that such a move would be a good choice.

Later that day, after talking with my sister about this, I was sitting around talking to my friend Charles about it.  He’s caring for his mother and they made the switch to hospice already.  While the hospice nurse was across the street at their house, he talked to her about it, and she called me to talk about it.  Hospice no longer requires that patients be dying for their services to be used; requirements have changed a lot since we used hospice in December 1995 and early January 1996 during the last couple of weeks of my brother Phil’s life.  Hospice was wonderful then, and I have no qualms about using it.  By Sunday, Kay and I had discussed this and we were in agreement.

I did a lot of thinking over the weekend as a result, sort of running various scenarios through my head.

On Monday morning, I had a call from another social worker, the one at Southwind.  We set up a family conference for this afternoon.  The family conference was me and the social worker and a few of the staff.  We talked about Dad’s progress, its limits given his pain level, and what to do about managing the pain.  We also talked about the way Medicare works, and now we’re at the weekly evaluation stage.  He can stay up to 100 days, but must show progress.  The first thing to do:  address the need for stronger pain medication, see if that worked, and see what impact that has on his physical therapy.  Also, they told me, his primary physician had added two more medications for boosting Dad’s appetite.  The good news:  he’s gained a pound.  That is a major accomplishment, given the steady weight loss he’s had up to now.  A few hours later, I had a phone call from the nurse, who filled me in on the medication changes the doctor made:  a stronger pain medication in the form of a patch that is replaced every 72 hours, with a milder medication available as needed.  Dietary changes also had been ordered.

Kay and I talked about our attitudes about pain medication at this point in Dad’s life:  it is necessary for it to be aggressive.  The pain level is unacceptable.  Dad, who never has  been someone to complain, remains in pain to such an extent that he has greatly diminished quality of life.  He has remarked to me often lately that no one should have to live with such pain, that “no one should have to live like this.”  I don’t worry about addiction.  I am concerned that he be relieved of pain.

He’s had a bedsore from bring reduced to lying down most of the time because of pain.  The bedsore is healing well, but it’s been a heads-up too.  Bedsores are the bane of patients who remain in bed so much.

I’ve learned a lot about medications, about durable medical equipment, about renovations.

It’s no longer simply keeping track of medicines and doctors’ appointments.  No, now I must really be an active participant, an aggressive participant in seeking answers for questions.  Being a visible daily presence at Southwind is key.  If I’m not there, Kay is.  We know the nurses and other staff.  We talk to them.  We ask questions.  We follow up on things.  I get phone calls about things I bring up.  My observations about Dad’s condition a couple of weeks ago meant that he was taken to the hospital emergency room and that he was hospitalized (though in Lafayette) for infection.  Had I not been there, had I not recognized the change in his cognitive functions, I don’t think Dad would still be alive.  Just a few hours, just one night — infection would have led to sepsis.  He was on the verge of it.  Without bombarding him with a cocktail of strong antibiotics, it would have taken over and he wouldn’t be here now.

That’s not being morbid.  It’s being realistic.  It’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not fun.  But it’s what is necessary.  It’s just as necessary as having the house renovated so that he can come home.

There’s a line in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises where Brett is talking to Jake about how wonderful things would have been if only he hadn’t been wounded in World War I.  She goes on about the fairytale that would have been.  Jake responds “isn’t it pretty to think so?”

I don’t have the option of wearing rose-colored glasses.  Someone has to be pragmatic, realistic, and face the possibilities without flinching.

I manage.  I bite my lip.  I take a lot of deep breaths.  But this is what Dad needs.

And it’s what he has always modeled for me.  He’s a deeply emotional man, a loving father, but he’s never been afraid of facing the hard realities.  He’s someone who works through difficulties by physically tackling some chore.  I find myself doing the same thing.  Sure, I shed tears, but then I get up and tackle some project.  It helps.  I can survive.

It is what he needs.  It is what I can do to show my love.  Pragmatic, practical — that’s me now.

It’s pretty to think that he’ll live to 104 1/2, as his Aunt Sallie did (she died in 2010).  I’d love to have him around to enjoy.  In my heart, I don’t think that will be the case.

So I face the probabilities, the realities of our future.  He shaped me to be someone who could tough things out, who could think clearly.  My brother expected the same thing out of me — when he told me about his cancer (the first one) and I started to cry, he told me to stop, that I couldn’t, that I had to be the strong one.  So I learned to toughen up.  I cry, but not in front of them.  I let go at times, and talk to friends.  I find solace in talking to friends who’ve been where I am now (and there are a number of them).  Friendship and community support me.  Family support me.

That enables me to do my job.

Now I focus on finishing the renovation — on sorting through the boxes, throwing more stuff out, and organizing what’s left.  I still have painting to do on cabinets in the main bathroom.  I have enough to keep me busy.

Reality may bite, but I bite back.

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Red Beans and Rice for a Weekend/Warrior

One of the things I’ve noticed since retiring:  I no longer really distinguish between weekdays and weekends as I used to do.  Then the weekend was the time of respite from the week of teaching, advising, conferencing with students, grading.  Wait.  Not from grading.  That tended to go on all the time.  Yet I became more and more reluctant to grade on the weekend if I could manage not to.  Those precious days were mine.

Weekends were when I had to crowd in time for everything else; sometimes I could run errands during the week, on Fridays particularly since I didn’t teach on Fridays.  But a lot of projects waited until weekends.  I know the term “weekend warriors” originated to describe people in the reserves, but I think a lot of us are weekend warriors of a different sort.  We work on the weekends to complete things that we don’t work on during the week.

Now though, the days are all mine.  Sort of.  Once I’d moved to Egan, my weeks fell into a different pattern:  MWF/TThSaSu.  Dialysis days and not dialysis days.  Dialysis days and doctor days.  And I’m sure that is the way the time will divide itself once more when Dad comes back home.

Since he’s been in Southwind, my time has been spent on renovations and being around while the contractor worked.  Sometimes I’d run errands while he worked; sometimes I’d go away for hours.  But on the whole, my days were spent in the house, doing errands, and visiting Dad.  Nights were when I managed to paint, to try to box up things, to move what I could.

Weekends — most of them— have been Lake Charles time.  My sister Kay and I joke that I have the M-F shift and that she has the weekend shift.  Weekends became the sleeping time, time when I tried to recuperate from exhaustion.  And tried to keep in touch with friends by having coffee.  Many times, sleep won out over going to dinner or having drinks.  I have a 5 on/2 off schedule, mostly — five days on, two off.

This weekend, though, I stayed here in Egan.  The last days that the contractor worked were primarily spent under the house and outside, replacing the plumbing.  So much of the plumbing in the house was ancient — galvanized pipes from the 1940s.  The “new” plumbing (circa 1966) was a jumble of four different types of pipe, from galvanized pipe to oilfield leftovers to pvc.  By Friday, the plumbing was all new, and I didn’t worry anymore about lack of pressure or anything.

Those days I spent indoors, working on painting and cleaning and trying to figure out what I’d packed in what and where I’d moved it.  By Friday, I was physically tired.  As long as I needed to go full steam, I could, but once that need had passed, my body knew it and simply shut down on me when it wanted to.  It didn’t consult me; it just did it.

And that’s what happened this past weekend.  By Friday, I was just exhausted and wondering whether I was coming down with a cold or had caught a bug.  When Tim the contractor left that afternoon, I lay down for what I thought was a nap.  I woke up about 7:30 p.m., realized I wasn’t going anywhere, and called Dad to tell him I really didn’t feel well; he told me just to sleep.  Which is what I did.  I had already missed seeing my friend Mike play guitar at a coffeehouse in Lake Charles.  I decided I was simply crashing and that Lake Charles would wait a few days.  I turned over and went back to sleep without setting an alarm clock.

Saturday morning I woke up about 9 a.m.  I spent my Saturday beginning to catch up on washing clothes, staining the new bed frame I’d bought, and reading and watching television.  I didn’t even dress until I went into town to visit Dad.

My brain had also decided to go on strike, I think.  I’d try to start the blog, only to find that I couldn’t manage more than a few sentences.  Nothing.

I hadn’t had that kind of exhaustion in a long time.  Not since I retired in May 2011.  It was what I used to experience post-finals every semester.  I was always grading like a madwoman at finals, and when I turned my grades in my brain would simply go on strike.  It wanted mind candy, murder mysteries mainly, and a break from any kind of organized thought.  I guess that’s what happened this past weekend.  I gave in to it; I read and watched television and worked around the house.

And I cooked.  Yesterday, hoping to tempt Dad’s appetite, which has flagged so much that he’s lost an alarming amount of weight, I cooked a pot of red beans and sausage.  He’d also requested cornbread, so I baked some, using a cupcake tin to make it easier for him to manage.  I knew my sister and niece were coming for the day so I decided to wait until suppertime to visit.  Two visitors would be sufficient, and since our friend Billie was also likely to visit, I thought it would be easier on Dad if I waited.

So yesterday I puttered around the house here in Egan in my nightshirt.  I didn’t have to dress; no one was coming until Kay and Rachel dropped in after leaving Southwind.  By then, I’d dressed and was washing another load of clothes.

They dropped in for a little while to visit.  Rachel hadn’t seen anything we’d been doing, and this was her first chance to see everything.  Kay and I visited and talked about plans for the house, for when Dad comes home.  After maybe an hour, they headed back to Natchitoches so that they could get home at a reasonable hour.  Kay hasn’t retired, after all, and she had to be at work early this morning.

After they left, I watched more television and folded clothes.  I put up the shower curtain in the back bathroom.  I started sorting through some of the stuff in the new office, making a path through the boxes and chairs so that I could manage to get around.  I bagged some things to throw out.  There’s now a pile of four or five bags waiting to be thrown out.  The dilemma now is where to throw them, since the garbage truck failed to empty the garbage can on Friday.

Probably I’ll take advantage of the fact that Egan has a garbage dump.  That means I’ll load up the truck and head off to the dump.  Probably not today, though.  Those bags will wait.

Today I’m just trying to get my brain to work again, and it seems to be willing.  At least, so far.

Now I simply sit here working on the blog, wondering when the plumbers will show up today to finish the last few things they need to complete. I hesitate to start washing or drying any more clothes.  There are a few dishes to wash, though, and I need to put the bed frame together so that I can take the mattress off the floor.  Hippie style mattress on the floor:  okay for the short run, but at 60 I really prefer not to have to haul myself up off the floor when I need to get up.  The charms of that simplicity have run out already, and I want to be a grownup again.

There’s a paper to proof for a friend. And since I’m heading to Lake Charles for the night, I guess I ought to put my few things in a shoulder bag.  I don’t need a suitcase, after all — I have clothes at both homes.  I just need my medicines and my iPad and my laptop.  And myself.  And a tank of gasoline.

In fact, I hope that the weather is sunnier than it is now.  I have dreamed of driving with the top down, and I’d like to do that if possible.  Of course, that means I have to clean out the car, which looks as though I live in it.  That won’t really take long.

It’s Monday.  The weekend is over and my workweek has begun.  It’s not the work I did for so many years, but it’s work nevertheless.  Some people worry about what they’ll do in retirement; I never really did.  I may not be doing what I’d planned, but I’m learning every day that retirement is truly what I laughingly referred to it as:  I never said I was retiring.  Instead, I said I was graduating.  Again.  And so I have.  I’ve graduated into a new life.

So maybe I do still see time in terms of weekdays/weekends.  It’s just not in the same work context, however.  Weekends still have their uses, apparently.  Mine provides renewal still — just from a different kind of work.

Mondays used to have their own song: “It’s just another manic Monday.” — No, Belinda Carlisle and the GoGos.  It’s not a manic Monday anymore in the same way that it used to be.  It’s Monday, but not so manic.  Kind of slow, in fact, which is a joy.  I can putter around the house,  I can take breaks, and I don’t have to grab books and teach and have office hours and grade.

I’m still a warrior of sorts, but a slower one, battling a new kind of front. Managing two houses, juggling my needs with Dad’s, and trying to find some kind of balance.  I still have goals to achieve — to join Anytime Fitness in Crowley, to make time to exercise, to travel to England and Greece and Italy and wherever I can manage, whenever I can manage.

Time to switch gears now, to take a break and dry some clothes.  It’s Monday, after all. At least the red beans and rice are ready for lunch.

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Life: A Trashy Foggy Friday

For the last couple of days, as the renovations slow and completion nears, I find myself with more time on my hands, more time spent in the house alone.

That time alone provided me with quiet and privacy, two things I’ve willingly lacked in the last weeks.  The trade-off has been worth it as I sit here in a much different living room, recliner kicked back and laptop perched on my knees.  The front door is open and I can see traffic pass on the highway in the morning fog.

Today the contractor will finish his work.  There’s still much for me to do, but I can complete it at my own pace.  The key work is done, and even if Dad were to come home tomorrow the house is ready for him.

Last night I limped around the house, cooked some supper (the stove is now clear and accessible at last).  Somehow the day before I managed not only to twist something in my back and left leg but also to injure my left wrist.  Getting up has been difficult since I exit the bed from the left and it’s my left side that is the problem.  I guess moving boxes and furniture by myself did this, but how I managed to hurt my wrist is still a mystery.

All I know is that last night I couldn’t even type.  This morning, it hurts, but I can manage.  Ah, the joys of an aging body. This gives me a taste — and only a minor one — of the pain Dad endures daily.  I’m annoyed but know this will pass, and some over-the-counter pain meds help.

It’s Friday, and as I opened the front door to see a foggy day, I realized it is also trash pick-up day.  The garbage truck was already rolling, so I quickly went out the back and hauled the heavy, filled-t0-the-brim can to the road.  My wrist now aches, but the can is ready for the truck to empty.

Having skipped last night’s blog because it hurt to type, I put out the laptop here in the living room and started the blog.  It’s slow, but I’m managing.  The contractor is here doing last-minute things — putting up a blind, putting in a safety bar in the bathroom for Dad, and putting the table back together in the little dining area.  At least that’s what we call the area. It’s small, and it’s not only for dining, but it’s as close as we’ve got in this house.

I take a break to go and put on clothes to wash.  Soon I’ll be able to put wet clothes in the (new) dryer and turn it on and then put yet another load of clothes to wash.  There are two hampers to clear, though not all of it has to be washed today.

The kitchen counters need to be cleared too, so that’s another little chore I’ll do at some point this morning.

Bit by bit, I start to regain a house rhythm that isn’t tied to construction and renovation. It’s the life of a house, the nuts and bolts of everyday chores.  Clothes to wash, boxes to unpack.  Re-organization into new zones of use — an office out of Dad’s old bedroom, the living room that will be his new bedroom, my own bedroom which now can return to being only a bedroom for a change rather than a hold-it-all room.  Kay’s room waits for her to sort and clear and order.

Yes, the house is finding its rhythm again.  Rooms are beginning to emerge from chaos.  Order peeps through too.  There’s more to do, but now there’s also time.

And that’s what I’ve really savored the last couple of days.  Time.  Yes, I’m still getting up and being ready for workers, but I’m inside alone. I can move from room to room without fear of interfering in something.  After today, only the last of the plumbing work has to be done, and that will be one day next week whenever the plumbers can find the time to come back.  Now, though, I can actually begin to use the house, to live in it again.

The construction zone is about to end.   Chaos still lives here, but not for long.

And I will be able to sleep without an alarm clock soon, too.  Another joy.  If I want, I can stay up late and read and watch television or work on clearing more boxes and discovering where I’ve stashed stuff.

Late nights are normal for me when I don’t have to adhere to a set daytime schedule.  Even as a kid, I loved to stay up late and work.  Now it’s no different.  The quiet time of night usually is when I enjoy tackling projects of many kinds.  When I was still teaching, it was normal for me to revert to a night owl’s schedule on semester breaks and over summers. For most of my life, I’ve had to force myself to follow a different circadian rhythm, and I will have to do that again when Dad returns.  But for now, I look forward to late nights.

Quiet time is something I’ve missed as the renovations have gone on, but only in the last couple of days have I realized that.  Now, though, I remember that as I have hours of time to myself for a change.  That will also come to an end whenever Dad comes home.  Then I’ll revert to living with someone.

For now, though, the time alone is wonderful.  Hours spent reading or working on something.  Hours when I can sit and chill at watching television.

Foggy days like today just call out for quiet time.  The fog closes in on you, in a good way — sort of insulating you from anything else.  If you’re not out driving in it, it’s even a comforting thing to enjoy.  It reinforces the quiet time, the time alone.  It calls for reflection and thought.

The view out the front door affords me a view of the field across the road, of trees, of birds.  of cars as they pass on the highway in front of our house.  Once Dad comes home, this will be his view.  Mine will be out the window in the office, into the back yard.  That’s a different perspective altogether.  Even with the blinds and curtains I plan to put there, I know I’ll want to work sometimes with the blinds up and the curtains pulled back.

From those windows I can see in the distance the house of the neighbor who lives in the area behind our lot.  More visible, though, are the old pump house and the shed at the back of our lot.  That’s where the riding mower is, where the truck is, and where the 1977-ish Blazer is.  Closer to the house is the garden area Dad used last summer, the large barrels nearly covered by the grass around them.  Clearly, I need to get the wildlife-refuge look under control.  The fig tree beside the pump shed is coming to life now as warm weather has come to stay.

Green grass and plants, trees and spring wait for me there.  I must be sure to orient one work area with a view there.

My own bedroom has one window, but it’s covered by blinds and one curtain, and will remain that way.  I want it to be a shelter, a refuge.  There will be no real workspace there when I’m finished, though there could be if necessary.  Instead, it will have a different feel.  I’ve re-oriented the bed, and the new frame will join it soon.  The head of the bed is on an east-facing wall, and it feels right.  I may change it, but not for now.  One small bookcase will stay, and the library table will rest behind the head of the bed, with space for a lamp.  My chest 0f drawers is in place.  The small chest Dad built for me in high school is there too.  The many baskets and boxes filled with my stuff and stuff from elsewhere in the house wait for me to sort through them, moving things into place or into a box for storage or into a garbage bag. The new light blue color on the walls (Clear Blue Bottle, as termed by Lowe’s paint department) replaces a darker, harsher blue that my Dad surprised me with years ago.  The color choice surprises none who know me; blue — any shade of blue, almost — has always been my favorite color.  Its lighter and softer hue opens the room up while managing to establish a comforting, enclosing refuge.

It’s going to be a grown-up’s room, too, not a 15-year-old’s.  I won’t use the mirror that’s been in place since I was in high school, with its remnants of high school and college life.  Instead, I’ve got an antique mirror in Lake Charles that I’ll put up.  Now that the two large bookcases have been moved to a separate office area, lots of wall space is waiting for something to go up.  I think I’ll bring some of my paintings from Lake Charles.  My DVDs will go into the small bookcase.  I’ll mount the television on the closet wall, freeing the window seat for use as something else.  Perhaps I’ll put a small window air-conditioner in the window once that’s done.

It’s only 9:30 a.m. now. Dad is having some physical therapy before getting ready for dialysis and I won’t visit him until later today.  After I leave him, I’ll drive to Lake Charles and join friends at a coffeehouse, where my friend Mike is playing guitar tonight.

It’s Friday and the weekend is nearly here.  The fog has lifted.  The garbage truck has emptied the garbage can.  The contractor is finished.  For now.  I’ve got one more project to complete, replacing the 46-year-old indoor-outdoor carpet in the small room off the garage and laundry room; that can wait, though, because that room has become the default junk drawer of the house and it requires full-time attention.  That can wait for the rest of the house to be cleaned and organized.

For now, it’s time for diet Coke and maybe a book.

Order is returning with spring as rooms are brought to life and new purpose.

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A Bookworm’s Confession

The carpet’s in, most of the inside renovations are completed, and today I got to sleep late.  No one was coming to work, it was dialysis day, and I planned on enjoying a day of relative leisure.

Even without setting an alarm, I woke up about 7.  Unlike most days, though, I could simply turn back over, close my eyes, and go back to dreamland.  It was heavenly.

Even when I woke up, about 8:30, I didn’t really have to get up, so I opened up the iPad Kindle app and started reading.  One thing I usually manage to find time for is books.

My love of books goes back to childhood.  My mother always told people she potty-trained me thanks to bribery.  She knew she was onto something — she promised me Little Golden Books and lace-trimmed panties.  I was hooked on books.  Dad will tell you that the problem became not convincing me to go to the bathroom, but getting out of it.  I have a vivid memory of my little potty chair and a rather tall stack of Little Golden Books.

In the summer before sixth grade I discovered the parish library would let me check out 10 books a week.  I ran through books that summer like a drowning person seeks air.  The joy of roaming the stacks expanded beyond the small school library I had access to in Egan.  That was the summer that I discovered science fiction, the great science fiction of writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Andre Norton.  This was 1962, remember, so much of the science fiction of the 50s and early 60s had post-apocalyptic settings that reverberated after Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Other topics included space travel and exploration.  I had a new love, thanks to that summer’s discovery.  I still enjoy re-reading Heinlein and the others.

By seventh grade, I had exhausted the library at Egan, which actually included a high-school library since Egan had a high school until the summer after my first-grade year.  My reading was voracious — anything that caught my eye got checked out.

Beyond the world available through library cards, I began accumulating my own library. Every Christmas my wish list included books.  Depending on my interests and obsessions, the titles changed from year to year.  Sometimes it was Nancy Drew books; other times, Trixie Belden.  Then in 9th grade English we read Romeo and Juliet, and that Christmas I asked for three of the four volumes of Shakespeare’s plays that the Sears catalog listed.  I guess the history plays only grabbed me in college, because that’s the volume I skipped then.

Somewhere along the line, I started buying my own books.  For college classes, for graduate school classes, for teaching . . . for any reason at all.  I didn’t really need much of an excuse.  I don’t think I ever really got rid of any, either.  Some were still here in Egan while others moved with me from dorm to apartment to apartment to house. Books followed me everywhere, but every time I moved there were more of them, and those boxes were heavy to lift and carry.

Now I find myself trying to minimize and downsize.   What is hardest for me to get rid of?  Books.  They’re everywhere in my house in Lake Charles, in every room.  I have double rows of paperbacks; some of these are so old that they cost $1.25.  I have two 8’x4′ bookcases that my brother built for me.  They’re packed.  I have an old library bookcase that is nearly 8 feet tall and about 3 feet wide; it easily holds double-deep shelves.  There are three other smaller bookcases, also full.  And there are boxes of books I’ve got selected to get ride of.  And that’s only in one room, the back “library.”  There’s a small bookcase in my bedroom.  There are three bookcases in the living room.  I have professional books and books for hobbies.  I have fun books, “junk” books.  What I face now:  the desire to simplify my life, to downsize, and to give some of the books away or sell some.

That goes against nearly 60 years of habitual collecting, but I am leaning toward paring down — at least as much as I can.

Even here in Egan I have books.  My childhood books are here, and they’re staying.

Books are lovely — I love to walk into a bookstore with old books.  It’s hard to resist, but I try.  I am trying not to live like a hoarder, though for me the rooms would be filled with books, not sacks of garbage or newspapers.

The advent of e-books now allows me the freedom of buying books without taking up shelf space or floor space.  I like that.  Nothing really replaces a real book, but the ease of traveling with one device and dozens of books, that can hold even more books — that is attractive, believe me.

I’m one of those people who goes to sleep with a book in the bed.  Who’s kidding?  I used to go to sleep with half the bed filled with books.  Now, though, it’s the iPad.  One device but many, many books.

Tomorrow, one of my tasks is to take books out of boxes and put them back on shelves.  These are not my books, mind you — they’re my dad’s.  My love of books is a family one, you see.  Everyone in our family is a reader.

Many times you’ll see us in after-holiday-meal stupor, sitting or lying around, napping.  But each of us also usually has a book with us as we nap.  It’s also pretty common to see us gathered in the same room, silent.  We’re all awake, but each of us has a book.

Books were how I discovered the world beyond Egan, beyond Louisiana, beyond Texas.  They’re how I discovered the pyramids of Egypt and the mythologies of Greece and Scandinavia.  They’re how I learned history.

Every day, I read.  Some days I may only read a few pages, usually at least a few chapters.  Sometimes I simply read for hours, even all night, if the book pulls me in so much that I can’t stop until I”m done.

Just this week, I’ve read a new book on Hawaii and one on the real-life inspiration for the Downton Abbey series.  That doesn’t count the new murder mystery by Susan Wittig Albert.  And it’s only Wednesday.

Tomorrow the contractor will be back — if it’s dry enough for him to work under the house.  That means I’ll get up about 7 a.m.  I can work on putting books up.

But in the meantime, it’s time to grab the iPad and open the Kindle app . . . and throw myself into another book.

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A Day Out

You know the kind of day where you’ve set the alarm, or at least think you have but haven’t, and then don’t get up when you’re supposed to?  That was today.  Last night I just crashed.  This morning I awoke to the phone call from the contractor, laughing because I had overslept.  I managed to drag myself out of  bed, dressed, and opened the door.  Immediately we began to clear the boxes and other things out of the living room.  FInally, when he began ripping out carpet, I left.  A day out while the carpet exchange happened seemed like a good idea.

Taking my purse and laptop bag, I headed out, stopping at the post office before heading in to Crowley. Faxing some papers from the parish library, I headed for breakfast at McDonald’s.  I sat at a booth,  reading the news online, and reading a book kept me busy for a couple of hours.

Before heading to Southwind, I got some shrimp and rice dressing for Dad’s lunch, hoping this would tempt him.  Once in his room, I sat for a while and we talked.  I managed to find out what was going on with his medicines and checked up on the overlay mattress that I’d requested.  Pain was once more the order of the day, though, and Dad managed only a few bites between longer periods lying down.  Most of his time is spent now lying down in bed since his arthritis is most noticeable when he’s sitting up in a chair. He lay there with his eyes closed; I sat and watched him between games of Words With Friends and chapters in a book.

Today I needed to be there for a notary public to drop by and notarize some papers for Dad.  After a few hours there, I found myself pondering just how the residents stand being there sometimes.

Maybe it’s the nature of nursing homes, but lately what I’ve noticed as I walk in are the people just sitting and staring.  To be sure, some aren’t; some are active, playing bingo or visiting with each other.  It’s the ones who are solitary, though, that catch my eye.  Day after day, the just lie in reclining chairs, eyes unfocused, mouths open.  Sometimes there are family members visit, but I don’t always see this.  After all, during the week I don’t manage to spend a lot of time there while the house in being renovated, and Kay is there most weekends.  I’m there for dinner each weeknight, and I pop in at other times.

Today, though, I was there for several hours in the middle of the day.  A busy, typical day, too.  Nurses give medicines and deal with residents’ health issues.  Aides help with other tasks.  Dietary workers bring trays to rooms for residents who don’t go to the dining hall.

At no time was it really quiet.  Dad’s roommate listens to his radio, not with the wireless earphones provided for him, but with the music blaring.  Dad lies there with his eyes closed, probably trying to tune the music out.  Occasionally he opens his eyes and talks, but not always.

The constant noises of staff working formed one layer of today’s soundtrack.  The radio in the room was another.

The most disturbing layer, though, came from a resident down the hall — a woman who wails and screams for an hour.  At no time does she relent.  I’ve seen her at other times, quieter, but rolling herself around the halls and wandering into other people’s rooms.  I’ve heard her a bit agitated at times, but nothing like today.  This is markedly different.  And much more concerning.

Does this happen every day?  What sets her off?  And why doesn’t anyone go down to deal with her?   Not once in that hour did I see any staff head to her room.

I know that nursing homes, even the good ones like Southwind, are often understaffed, especially on weekends.  Nights are also often understaffed.  Day shifts, though, are supposed to be the most fully staffed.  And probably the busiest, too, since all sorts of activities go on.

But today I’m just haunted by the images of those silent women and men, sitting alone though close to each other, wondering just what they hear.  Are they aware of everyone looking at them?  Do they hear the noises I hear?  Are they taking anything in at all?  In their isolation, they sit.  Hour after hour.  I don’t always see attendants with them, and seldom see anyone spending time with them or touching their arms or shoulders.

And by the sounds emanating from the room down Dad’s hall, wails and cries that rise and fall for long periods of time.

I was able to leave the sounds and images behind when I left to run more errands.  i only had to hear the cries for an hour.

When I called Dad later, halfway thinking I’d take a nap and maybe just stay home, I asked him what he was doing.  “Just lying here,” he told me.  “Just lying there? Doing what?” I asked.

“Waiting for my daughter.”

i’d be there in a bit, I told him.  No skipping.  My desire for sleep was not important.  Dad’s loneliness was.

I got up.  I got in the car.  I got a diet Coke and went to Southwind.  I walked in, sat down, and he held his hand out to me.

I got up, leaned over and kissed him, and held his hand.

For a long time, I just sat there, letting him have the comfort I could offer him.  My hands.  My love.  My time.

I hope other residents get the same time with their family members.  No one should be without companionship, without the simple gift of time.

Tomorrow, I’ll go back.  And the next day.  And the next.

A day out can be for r&r.  It can be to run errands.  It can be instructive, too, if we pay attention.

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Rainy Days and Mondays

Last night the thunderstorms and lightning kept me up for a while.  Knowing that there was a tornado watch near us kept me listening for the weather news.  Luckily, no tornadoes touched down here.  Instead of allowing me to sleep easily, the weather last night made me a bit uneasy.  At last, I finally got to sleep after setting the alarm and then reading for a while.

Rain bookended my sleep and my waking. Early waking and a slow morning meant that I just lounged around and watched television, waiting for the rain to pass and wondering when/if any work would get done.   A quick mail run was the only time I got out of the house for hours.  It was wonderful.  I haven’t had such an absolutely lazy day in weeks.  Charles came over with cinnamon bun bites and we enjoyed a morning visit.  He left just before the rain started to pour again, making it across the street just in time.

Most of the day, though, I was alone and quiet.

What a treat to be able to sit and watch television, though I’ll admit that periodically I moved another box or basket from the living room back to my bedroom.  I moved a library table in and placed it behind the bed and really like the effect.  Moving Dad’s stereo in and placing it on the cabinet that now houses the albums and DVDs took a good 30 minutes.  Moving the albums into the cabinet meant that I now can throw out the metal contraption that collected dust and served no real purpose other than to provide a surface on which to stack no-longer-used electronic devices.  Those will go to Goodwill, along with two boxes of dishes and glasses.  The metal thingy can go to the trash.

Hours passed, and I watched HGTV shows about renovation, then about buying houses in international locales.  At some point I switched to the history channel to watch Pawn Stars.  Sipping DDP and lounging — what a lovely, lazy day.

Only after lunch did Tim show up, and that wasn’t really for long.  About 3, the plumbers came to install the toilet and pedestal sink in the back half-bath.  It was just not a day that allowed for much more.

Late in the afternoon, FedEx delivered the package I’d been waiting for.  That meant I was free to head to Southwind.

I visited with Dad for a couple of hours; I made an appointment for a notary.  I shopped at Walmart.  It was nearly 9 p.m. before I finally got home.

Lots more remains to do, but I’ve just not done much more tonight.

At this point, we’ll be lucky if Tim and his dad can put in the carpet tomorrow.  The plumbers need the ground to dry up a bit more before they can work.  Tim tried using a pump to help dry out underneath the house more quickly, but that really didn’t work well since more water kept coming.  So for now, their projects are slow in progressing.  I can indulge myself a bit.

This morning I’d have given anything to crawl back into bed; my eyes were heavy and allergies made me sleepier.  But  I needed to be awake and waiting, though I could curl up in the recliner and enjoy a marathon HGTV morning.  Tonight, I’d love to be sleepy, but somehow I’m just not.  Oh well.

The list of things I need to do will wait until tomorrow morning.  The alarm will go off far too early — and it’ll still be dark when it does.  But that means I can rise and begin those projects I didn’t get to today.

After the last few weeks of hectic work, a change of pace is refreshing.  Tomorrow, I’ll have lunch with Dad, treating him to some Popeye’s shrimp and some rice dressing; he’s not that pleased with the food at Southwind, and now that his new dentures are in, he’s eager to try for “real” food. But that’s tomorrow.

Mondays begin the week, and if today was any indication of what my week will be like, it will be slow.  And wet.

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Sunday Return

If I’m lucky, I get to spend weekends in Lake Charles and enjoy my house.  Driving up to it, unpacking, and going into the house after 5 or 6 days away from it feels great, especially when the dogs recognize it’s me, even before I’ve put the key in the lock, and they start barking because I’m home.  That is welcoming.

I bought the house in 1986, and for years I had lots of parties.  Christmas parties to put up my tree.  Back-to-school parties.  Mardi Gras parties.  At times I know I had upwards of 80 people in the house at one time.  Entertaining was fun and welcoming friends to my house was a joy.

Gradually, though, my joy diminished and for too long the house was simply somewhere to sleep.  That begin in the early 1990s as my mother’s health deteriorated.  She died in 1993, in July.  Two and a half years later, my younger brother Phil died when a fourth round of cancer didn’t respond fully to chemo.  For those years, as I recall, I spent time teaching, helping out with Mother and then Phil, and then sleeping occasionally.  I didn’t take care of the house.  I didn’t care.  Other things were more important.  Frankly, I was too exhausted to deal with it.

That changed, though, over time, and I began to work at clearing out what I’d simply let pile up.  Between Hurricanes Rita and Ike, I worked on internal clearing of boxes and books.  Not very successfully, I might add.  After Hurricane Rita, I added on a big room, 20×26, and established a huge office/den.  I still had way too many boxes, though.  Way too many.  I rented a storage unit that year too, because I had to move out of my office at school and decided to pare down that collection of books.  I gave a lot away, but still had hundreds of books.  Some went to storage; some came to the house.

After Hurricane Ike, I did major renovations — I replaced all the windows with energy-efficient insulated windows.  The galvanized pipes went away and the new PEKS system replaced them.  I had the wood siding taken down, insulation put up, and then Hardie board siding.  The money ran out, and I have only recently begun again.  This time, I finally had the knob-and-tube wiring replaced.  There are still projects left — sheetrocking the living room walls, putting up a new ceiling in my bathroom, patching a small area of my bedroom ceiling, and tackling the kitchen.  I started that project, but didn’t get very far before Dad got sick.

Now when I go, I never have time for that house, not really.  I think about it, and I mean to do something each week, but usually just catch up with friends.  And sleep.

From Friday afternoon to Sunday morning really isn’t long enough for most things I want to do.  Even clearing out the boxes that are already packed to give away seems to take a back seat to everything else.  All of it will still be there next week. I’ll get back to renovations and projects there at some point.  Patience, patience.

Now my time is spent taking care of renovating Dad’s house, in Egan.

Driving back to Egan this morning, I realized that though I moved to Egan in 1957, Egan was waiting for me,  in a way.

My Dad might have been transferred here, but my mother had roots here, deep ones.  Her mother had been born in Evangeline when my great-grandfather Horn worked in the oilfield there.  But her mother’s mother was from here, and her grandparents lived here.  I had relatives here.  My mother’s grandparents moved to Beaumont in the 20s, I think.  My mother was born in Orangefield, near Orange, Texas, but grew up in Beaumont.

After we moved here, my maternal grandmother visited often, taking me with her when she visited her great aunts who were still around here, and often visiting when others from out of the area came in.  Her mother was one of the oldest children, and her youngest uncle was only three years older than she was.  In fact, his youngest child was in my class.  We graduated high school together.

I can look at one picture of my great-grandmother and her sisters and brother and recognize all of them.  Unlike a lot of people, I remember my great grandmother and her husband; she died when I was 9 and he died when I was in college.  My older cousin remembers our great-great-grandmother, but she was already dead by the time I came along.  No five-generation photos with me in them!

My great-grandmother’s father’s father and mother immigrated from Ireland during the potato famine.  They came in through New Orleans in 1851 and settled there, living for a while on Poet Street.  As my grandmother recounted, he held some stereotypically Irish jobs — a bartender, a cop.  He was even in the Civil War in the Louisiana / Confederate Navy.  Sometime after the Civil War, though I’m not exactly sure when, he moved his family to Egan.  Again, my grandmother told me that he worked on the railroad and homesteaded land here.

The old man wandered off at some point in his old age, and no one is certain where he went.  Some family members think he ended up in Ohio (I think) with a brother.  Other stories have him going back to Ireland.  But he wandered off one day and never returned.

His sons, though, married here and my great-great grandfather brought his family up here.  The ruins of their house were still around when we moved here in 1957, and we were close enough to it that my cousin and some others of us wandered over there a few times, but Hurricane Audrey took what was left of it.

When I drove home to Egan this morning, I was listening to the new Chieftans CD, The Voice of Ages, and it occurred to me that maybe some of this music would have been familiar to my immigrant ancestor and his wife.  Perhaps my love of Celtic music and design might be some kind of atavism.  My collection of Irish music bears out my love of the kind of music some friends of mine have had enough of after three or four songs.  Some of it makes me want to get up and dance; other songs make me want to cry in my drink.  But the melancholy strain of minor-key music just strikes some part of me as little else does.

Tonight, listening to the rain and thunder and watching the lightning flash, I wonder about those ancestors and what it was like for them to leave Ireland knowing they’d probably never see it –or family — again.  Yet here they stayed, and flourished.

I guess in some ways, Egan was always my home, even if I didn’t want it to be.  It was waiting for me in 1957, and it was waiting for me last year, too.

Maybe I’ll put on the Chieftans again.  The weather and the mood suit it tonight.

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Friday: The Deluge, During, After, and During Again

I awoke this morning to realize that the skies had opened sometime while I was slumbering away.  As I stumbled through boxes to the bathroom, I could see lightening and just then the crack of thunder that rumbled for what seemed like minutes.  It may have been.  It was, after all, 6:00 a.m. and caffeine had yet to hit my system.

Somehow I thought that the rains were coming later today or even tomorrow, but here they were.  Beyond the bathroom window, all I could see was heavy, sheeting rain.  Once I opened the front door and looked out, I could see just how hard it had rained, and how fast.  Our ditch out front was nearly full.  Ditches everywhere around us, in fact, were nearly flowing over.  Huge puddles of water dotted our yard and neighbors’ yards.

Arming myself with the first diet Coke of the day (I had weaned myself away from living on this, at least until recently), I wandered to the new area I have claimed as an office.  My desktop was already in place on a real desk (not a plastic Walmart semblance of one), plugged in and online.  I sat down on a chair (once I’d cleared off the pile of clothes that were stored on it), took a deep sip to jolt my consciousness, and started my day.

The lightening show, complete with sound effects, raged on outside.  Since there are no curtains or shades up yet in this room, the view was unobstructed.  When I was a kid in the camp, weather like this always meant that Dad would get called out to the field.  Of course mechanics did too, but somehow I always hated that the electrician had to be out in pouring rain.

Otherwise, the sound of rain usually calms me.  If I can stay indoors, and especially if I can stay in bed and sleep or curl up with a book, this kind of day is wonderful.  I can make a pot of tea and cocoon.

Not today, though.  I knew there were errands to run, business to take care of.  Whether Tim and his dad would be able to work was uncertain.  Yet by 8, Tim was here and we were clearing my bedroom.  By the time I left for Crowley, we’d moved one of the bookcases from my room.  I also managed to rip a toe with it, but a bit of blood didn’t kill me.  And the bookcase didn’t feel it at all.  Within 15 minutes, I was filling its shelves with books as Tim brought in boxes of those.

By 9, I left.  First came a post-office stop to pick up mail and send a book to one friend and some farm stuff to my cousin.  Then it was on to the bank, after which I sat in the truck and figured out Plan B.  Then a stop at the dialysis clinic to visit with Dad a bit.

There I stayed a bit longer than planned.  With the storms had come a power outage in Crowley, thus everyone was still waiting for the 11 a.m. shift to begin.  It was 11:30.  My father was sitting in his wheelchair, moaning with arthritis pain.  This has become commonplace, but never fails to wrench me.  Here is a man who for most of his 89 years has been a tough man who never complains.  I mean, never complains.  Yet in the last 10 months his pain level has escalated sharply as crippling arthritis has taken over his hip and shoulder joints.  Now, in the last few months, he not only says when he hurts, but moans.  That’s something I remember from other hospital rooms, but not from his room, or from his mouth.  Yet there it is.

So today when I found him like that, I stayed and rubbed his hip joint when he needed me to, or his shoulders, or just stood behind the wheelchair bent over with my arms surrounding him.  If I couldn’t make the pain go away, I could at least try to give him some comfort.  The power of touch is immeasurable.  It might not take the pain away, but it does offer love and reassurance.  When he calls my name over and over, or when he’s in such pain that he gets angry, I just keep my hands on his shoulders and upper arms, rather like comforting an infant or small child.  FInally some of the dialysis patients came out, and Dad was the first person the nurse took in.  I left, hoping that he’d soon be more comfortable.

We went through something similar yesterday at the dentist’s office.  At one point he was in such pain simply from the position of sitting in the wheelchair that we let him lie down on the dentist’s chair, reclining him to a prone position, to relieve the pain.  After perhaps five minutes, he could bear being in the chair again, and I got him back to Southwind and put him back in the bed.

Sitting is something I take for granted.  I haven’t really thought about it much, frankly, until recently.  I sit at the computer, or sit in the truck or car, or on a recliner watching television.  Sometimes I’m a little stiff when I get up, but that passes pretty quickly.  Changes in weather — colder weather, or rainy weather — can make my left hand ache, the hand I had surgery on in 1977.  But that pain passes too.

For Dad, though, sitting is no longer comfortable.  It must position his hips just at an angle that triggers the arthritis pain.  So far, nothing helps.  His pain medication works for a while, but is most effective when he’s lying down.  Consequently, he spends most of his time in bed now.

Which has led to the newest problem, one familiar to anyone caring for someone who is spends most waking time in bed.  Dad’s had a red area that the nurses have been watching, one near his tailbone.  Today the nurse called me to tell me it had opened, that now Dad has his first bedsore.  Only yesterday I’d been asking for one of the mattress pads that is made specifically for this purpose, one that has air channels in which the air pressure alternates as a pump constantly changes the pressure patterns.  One was to be delivered today, the day the first bedsore actually became a reality.  Perhaps, though, the mattress pad will prevent any future bedsores.

Such changes for someone who has been as active as Dad has been are difficult enough for me or for Kay to handle.  What they must be like for him is something I can’t really wrap my mind around.  Only last summer Dad was using his walker and putting in a garden in barrel-halves in the back yard.

Physical therapy continues, and he progresses, despite the issues with sitting.  He walks every day, pain or not, down the hall and back, and to the front door and back.  Steady progress, though slow.

After I left Dad, I grabbed lunch at a drive-through window, ate it as I drove home to Egan, and then went back to work at the house.  I moved a few boxes, unloaded some more stuff and began to make some order from the chaos in the office room.  Tim and his dad finished early today, so after they left, I worked.  I read some.  I continued writing this blog.

By mid-afternoon, Kay had arrived, and we sat and talked for a while.  Then I loaded my car with my weekend bag and laptop bag and drove to Lake Charles.  First stop:  Starbucks and a large, a very large mocha.  I visited with a friend.  We went to dinner with another friend.

And the rain began again.  After dinner, I drove home in the rain.  I parked in the driveway and unloaded my bags in the rain.  I came in, put on my nightshirt, fed the dogs and cats, and went to work, finishing the blog.

So as I sit tonight in Lake Charles typing, listening to the rain and watching the water pool in the yard, for the first time I really appreciate that I can sit for long periods of time without such pain, and that the weather changes irk me when my left hand hurts a bit.  I don’t take for granted anymore the fact that I can sit so long, or that the pain I have in my hand bothers me.  Nothing I experience can compare to what Dad goes through, or what other people like him endure every day.

I distracted Dad as I could, telling him about the house, about moving books and bookshelves and refilling bookshelves, and that the mice continue to challenge me.  He responded for spurts of time, talked to me, asked questions, and then always halted as he bent over in pain.  And moaned.

It’s colder tonight.  My hand hurts a bit.  I can get comfortable with an aspirin, though.

I hope his night is better than his morning and afternoon were.  I’m glad he’s lying down and hope that has eased his pain.

The kind of pain I’m really feeling isn’t physical tonight.  It’s the pain of frustration that I can’t make his pain disappear.  It’s the pain of watching the father who was always so strong become so helpless.  It’s the pain of hearing someone who never complained, who was always dignified in his pain, moan audibly.

I can find comfort in the presence of my pets tonight.  Their touch comforts me.

Rain can calm at times.  It can also disturb.  Tonight I’m left a bit melancholy.

I’m tired of the rain.

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