Posts Tagged With: comfort

Sweet Bluebonnet Spring

Well, it’s still spring, though the bluebonnets are gone now.

Despite that, as I drove up to San Augustine on Friday I kept hearing Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway” in my head, especially the lines “And when he dies he says he’ll catch some blackbird’s wing/Then he will fly away to Heaven come some sweet bluebonnet spring.”  That beautifully simple song of hers has been one of my favorites for a long time.

Music was in my mind a lot this week.  One of the things Kay and I had to do was select music — for the memorial photo DVD that the funeral home created and for the funeral service itself.  There were actually a few clear choices — hymns we grew up hearing Dad and Mother sing together around the house, harmonizing.  Songs we sang when we went to church with Dad, the shape-notes of the Church of Christ hymnal.

We grew up hearing Mother and Dad sing a lot — they sang to us, with us, sacred music, popular music, country music.  She had a lovely alto voice and he had a beautiful baritone.  Many nights he sang me to sleep — with Jimmy Rodgers songs, songs like Gene Autry’s “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Red River Valley” . . . more songs than I can list.  We sang in the car when we traveled to Beaumont to my maternal grandmother’s house or to San Augustine to the farm. That’s what most people don’t know, that we sang together so much.

Music was an important part of our lives together and thus of planning Dad’s service.  Selecting music wasn’t hard.  On the DVD:  “Precious Memories,” “I’ll Fly Away.”  During the service:  “I’ll Fly Away,” “Shall We Gather At the River,” “Trust and Obey,” “Blessed Assurance,” “In the Garden.”  Each of those songs had some connection with Dad.  He enjoyed listening to Alan Jackson’s “Precious Memories” album.  The others are songs I have many memories of — of listening to Dad sing them in church, of his baritone in harmony, especially if he was singing with Mother, which he often did.  “Shall We Gather at the River” was important to him; it was sung at his mother’s funeral.  But while “In the Garden” was playing, my cousin Carolyn leaned over and whispered to me that she remembered that song.  At our great-grandmother’s house in Beaumont, she remembered our grandmother playing the piano while Mother and Dad sang “In The Garden.”‘ And at the end of it, my mother immediately segued into “Tampico Bay” — that was Mother.  Playful, humorous — and Dad loved that about her.

Music was just something we always shared.

All of us kids loved music.  I’m the only one who took piano lessons — for 6 years.  I still play at times.  I have the piano that Mother and Dad bought when I was in fourth grade.  My Aunt Jean, who taught piano, actually picked it out.  I remember my mother’s mother sitting down and playing it every time she and Poppa came to visit us, though she didn’t read music.  Mother had lots of albums, everything from pop music of the 1950s to sacred music.  Dad had albums we bought him– Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson.  He had lots of country music.

If you look at my house, you’ll find what I refer to as the “wall of vinyl.”  My first music purchase was “Elvis’s Golden Hits.”  The second:  “Rick Is 21” — Ricky Nelson.  You’ll find the Beatles, the Stones, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Steppenwolf, Willie Nelson. You’ll also find classical music.  Then there are the CDs.

My grandmother Ella, Mother’s mother, taught me to dance to Cajun music the way most kids learn here:  she put me on her feet and that’s how I learned.  She’d put music on and dance around the house as she cleaned house.  She loved to dance — indeed, when I lived in Beaumont in 1975, I was out one night with friends at a local honky-tonk in the boonies of the Golden Triangle area.  Club 88.  I was out on the dance floor and when I got back to our table, one of them asked who the old lady I’d bumped into and hugged was.  “Be careful how you talk about my grandmother,” I answered.  “No, seriously.  Who was it?” he popped back.  “My grandmother.  Really.”  And over she came, meeting everyone.  She was 67 at the time, widowed, and out with friends.  We still have her records too, from 78s to 45s, and her stereo cabinet.

Even a couple of days ago, a friend sent me a message of condolence, telling me he’d thought of a Lucinda Williams song, “Lake Charles” (appropriately enough) —

“Did an angel whisper in your ear
And hold you close and take away your fear
In those long last moments.”

Oddly enough, I replied, that very song had been rolling around in my head too.  I found it very sweet that he thought of it, and very comforting.

That’s what music is for me, many times, as it is for many people, I think:  comforting.  I use music to calm me, to express my frustration or anger, to energize me for driving, to contemplate.  I used it to grade for decades.  Like literature, it serves a multitude of purposes in my life.  I cannot imagine life without it.

I’ve been in Lake Charles for a couple of days now, with my pets and my house, sleeping in my bed and feeling both at home and at odds.  Readjusting will take time, I know, and I’ll be back and forth to Egan.  I’ll stay there at times too.  There’s still business to take care of, a house to pack up and things to put into storage.

But tomorrow I’ll be on the road to San Augustine, to the farm, to pick up the plants we could’t fit into the car on Sunday.  Then I’ll head to Kay’s to spend the night, because on Friday I’ll be there to watch her get her master’s degree.  Dad knew she was getting it and was very proud of her.  I want to applaud her and celebrate with her.  So I’ll be packing some CDs and the iPod.

But today I’m here in my house, sitting at the dining room table that was Mother’s.  Today, a bit over a week after Dad died, I am playing Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams songs, gently soothing me into my newest life, a journey without Dad’s physical presence, but not really without Dad.

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Peace and Love: Journey’s End

Dad died very peacefully early this morning, at home, in his sleep.

We called in hospice on Sunday and by the time the nurse left on Sunday afternoon, after a 3-hour visit, I had lovely medicines to help Dad — morphine (given sublingually), some lorazepam gel for restlessness, and some fenegran for nausea.

The initial dosage of morphine worked well Sunday night — .25 ml.  He slept well.  On Monday, though, he felt pain — through his bath and the nurse changing the bandage on his arm. A couple of hours after the hospice aide and nurse left, I called hospice about 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, and the nurse I talked to walked me through what she wanted me to do — step up the dosage and frequency of the morphine, pair it with the lorazepam the next time THAT could be given, and then back off the frequency if possible so that we were back on the once-every-2-hours schedule.  By 6, Dad was more comfortable, finally.  By 9, he was sleeping.

And a few hours later, my sister (napping in the recliner near his bed) woke up and found that in the 30 minutes she’d been napping, Dad had slipped away.  She woke me up immediately at 1:30 a.m.  We petted his face, kissed him, and called hospice.  The hospice nurse was there within 30 minutes.  By that time, I’d texted our neighbor Charles, who came over.  We called our friend Billie, who dressed and came over.  A few minutes after she arrived, her son Joe joined us.  So there we were, with the hospice nurse, and we visited and talked and it felt so comfortable and natural.  When the funeral home workers came a bit later, one of the two was actually one of our cousins.  Again, more visiting and talking.  By the time they were ready to leave, the second man told us his family was here, told us who he was related to, and once more we knew who he was talking about.

Then Kay and I were alone.  We sat a bit, talked, and then began gathering what we would need for 9 a.m., when we were to meet the funeral home director to make plans for the services.

Small town life is very comforting at such times. We weren’t alone much, but instead shared that time with friends of such long standing that they’re family.  Dad was with us, he left with one of our cousins (through our mother), and then Kay and I were alone to talk and plan and start the process of preparing for the next few days.

We got his suit and clothes to take with us.  We sorted through hundreds of photographs to select just under 40 to bring to the funeral home so that they could scan them and make the memorial DVD that will play.  Kay had actually already begun that process and we had such fun looking at photographs that went back to Dad’s childhood, to World War II, to his wedding to Mother, to our childhoods, to later.  We found such wonderful memories as we sorted and selected.  Happy, lovely photographs of Mother and Dad throughout their lives together; of Phil and Kay and me at various ages; of other family members; of friends.  We found it difficult to actually settle on the 30-35 selected — and fudged with nearly 40.

I completed Dad’s obituary that I had begun a couple of days earlier.  I paid some bills online.  I texted my first cousins and then my close friends.  I didn’t post on Facebook immediately, though, because Kay and I wanted to wait until she had talked to her daughter and let her know.  We didn’t want someone else to tell her or for her to read it on Facebook.

Only when that phone call was over did I sit down at the computer and write a Facebook post about Dad’s death and our tentative plans for services.

Because we’ve lived in Egan so long, we knew we wanted to have something here.  A 4-hour visitation at a local funeral home in Crowley on Thursday late afternoon/early evening would be where our many friends and Dad’s former co-workers could pay their respects.  Some of my friends and some of my sister’s friends will also be here for that service.

But then Dad wanted to be buried in his hometown, the tiny Bland Lake Community near San Augustine, Texas.  Not a problem:  we’d learned it could be done when Mother died in 1993.  Arrangements were no trouble; the funeral director here will contact the funeral home there and coordinate all the events and movements.  Such a relief not to have to work through all that on our own.

We simply gave information, talked about our wishes, and then selected a casket and a few other items.

A few more minutes and we were gone, headed to one of the Crowley flower shops to select flowers.  There was no discussion necessary, either — red roses, Dad’s favorite flower.

Then a few hours in Lake Charles allowed us to relax a bit.  We stopped at the Starbucks near the university, then picked up one of my friends (her car was being serviced), and had a Lady Day — our shorthand for a manicure/pedicure.  It was such a treat to relax and get pampered and then walk out with neat nails and hands and feet.  And nicely painted coral toenails, too!

After a coffee break, another errand, and a brief stop at my house downtown, we were back on the road to Egan, back to the tasks we have to get through by Thursday and Friday.

A few more phone calls, and the funeral plans were done.  A few more, and I’d talked to cousins and I’d related the tentative plans and time schedule.

At 9, Kay and I were eating homemade vegetable beef soup.

Now I’m writing this blog, and then I’ll turn off the lights and get some sleep.

More phone calls to make — but not necessary to make them right now.  My eyes are so tired they hurt and I’m finding it hard to focus.

There’s a beautiful song by Nanci Griffith, a Texas singer-songwriter I’ve long enjoyed –“It’s a Hard Life.”  The song has been looping in my head for a few days, but one line in particular: “Now I am the backseat driver from America, / I am not at the wheel of control.”   That lyric and another one of hers from “Gulf Coast Highway” :

“And when we die we say we’ll catch some blackbird’s wing/ Then we will fly away to heaven come some sweet bluebonnet spring.”

Peace and love today, with rest already here, and journey’s end almost done.

I am not at the wheel of control, and it’s a sweet bluebonnet spring.


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Homecoming Week

It’s Friday morning, and Dad came home on Monday.  It’s been a week for homecoming, for adjusting, and for many discoveries.  A long week, but one worth it all.

From last week until Monday I worked to get the house cleaned, organized, and ready for Dad.  My friend Patty came from Moss Bluff a couple of times, and the two of us managed to get a lot done.  By Easter weekend, when I needed to see Dad, I was working still, and exhausted.  Kay came in on Saturday, and I just stayed in my bed and slept.  No visit to Lake Charles.

By Monday morning, things were ready.  By 11, Dad’s hospital bed had been delivered and set up and I put fresh new linens on it, with a blue comforter.  The bed is in what was the living room and is now his bedroom.  I angled it with the head toward the kitchen and the feet toward the front of the house so that he could see the television and look out the front door if he wanted.  I drove to Crowley, signed the discharge papers, loaded his clothes in the truck, then wheeled Dad (holding more stuff on his lap) to the truck and left.  A few minutes down the road, I pulled in at the dialysis clinic and reversed the procedure, getting the wheelchair out of the truck bed, unfolded, and getting Dad out of the truck into the chair.  I sat with him in the waiting room until the dialysis tech came to get him, and talked with her briefly.  Then it was off to run errands.  Medicine first, then a couple of other stops, and then back to Egan.

I unloaded a few things, leaving the rest until later.  I set up Dad’s medicines in his pill box and put some clothes away.  Most were dirty, though, and I left those near the laundry room for later.  Back to Crowley, a quick stop for celery and other things, and then to dialysis.  By the time I picked Dad up and got him home, I was truly tired.  Getting him out of the truck and into the house wasn’t too hard, but learning to get his wheelchair up the ramp and in the house was a bit tricky.  He was really tired, so I put him to bed.  While he slept, I made shrimp etouffee and cooked rice.

He ate some etouffee, enjoyed it, and then after taking his medicine, slept.  I tried to sleep, but gave up — he was restless, I was anxious, and didn’t really sleep steadily. At 3:30 a.m. I looked for him and he wasn’t in bed; he’d managed to get out of bed and into the kitchen– without a walker!  I have no idea how long he’d been there, but his skinny legs were pretty shaky, and I managed to get him back to bed.  He was confused, thought it was suppertime, and had been ready to get something to cook.

Needless to say, I did not sleep any more that night.  Luckily, the recliners in the room are very comfortable.  My iPad kept me company as I watched and worried.

Tuesday morning was a busy one.  Physical therapy came to evaluate and assess his condition; a physical therapist will come twice a week to work with Dad.  While the PT was still there, the home health nurse came to evaluate and assess Dad as well.  Dad was pretty alert by this time, which was good to see.  He interacted with the PT and nurse and held conversations.

He slept; we had visitors on and off that afternoon.  Tuesday night was better — I gave Dad his bedtime meds a bit later, to assure that he slept through the night.  Or I hoped so.  I slept, on and off.

Wednesday morning was pretty uneventful.  I cooked breakfast again; he ate.  He always wants his coffee, though I notice he doesn’t drink as much as he used to do.  Still, it’s something he wants. The home health aide came to help Dad shower. By 11:30, I’d delivered him to dialysis again and headed back to Egan.  My friend Patty had come again to help; she was catching up on Dad’s laundry while I took him to Crowley.  I came back and we worked some more.  Charles came over and visited some; I love friends who bring chocolate cake with them!  That was a perfect snack.

Errands, errands:  this time to Jennings, to find a bed alarm (the home health nurse had told me I could get one at the medical supply pharmacy there), a new shower bench (adjustable, because the one in the shower is too low).  I then headed through Egan to Crowley, stopping for another couple of errands.

Dad had been clear all morning.Wednesday afternoon, though, when I picked Dad up at dialysis, the tech told me he’d become a bit disoriented.  He still was so — and stayed that way through yesterday.  Every day at dialysis seems to tax him a bit harder.  He slept on Wednesday night and wouldn’t eat supper, though he did take his medicine.

Yesterday, I puttered around the plants on the front porch.  Carmichael’s delivered the portable oxygen concentrator that’s been in repair for nearly two months.  Physical therapy and home health came again.  Billie sat with Dad so that I could take Dad’s tax information to his CPA in Iota.  I quickly picked up mail and came home.  After Billie left, I warmed up some lunch and he ate, slowly; he finished his small bowl of etouffee.  Later in the afternoon, he wanted cake, and ate the whole piece. That was good.  He was still a bit confused, though less.  His back has been giving him a good bit of pain, and the pain meds help.  He does sleep a lot, though.  But I have to pay attention: last night while I was working on my taxes on the computer here in the office, I heard him — he’d gotten out of bed and was using the walker to head to the back bathroom, which has always been his.  Only when his walker wouldn’t fit in did he believe that he had to use the front bathroom.  By the time he’d turned around and gotten back to the living room, he was too tired to do anything but go back to bed.

Even confused, he manages to do things that surprise me.  Yesterday he kept talking about cooking peas.  He was dreaming, I kept telling him.  I wasn’t cooking peas, and neither was he.  He kept insisting, though.  It was about 5 when I finally noticed a plastic container out on the kitchen counter.  You guessed it — frozen peas. Just when he got them out, I have no idea.  But believe me, I’m learning that he manages to do things whether he should or no.

By this morning when I got up at 6:45, I’d been awake for awhile.  Dad was awake too, and I started breakfast while I gave him his meds.  In between, I finally started writing this blog again.  It’s 7:45 now.  In the last hour, he has gotten out of bed and used the walker to go to the bathroom by himself. He’s eaten part of his sausage and most of his biscuit and jelly.   He’s resting again now, after taking a pain pill.  I told him I’d let him sleep for a while.  I need to shave him and help him change clothes before I take him to dialysis.  While he’s there, I will run errands.  I also need to put the bed alarm on the bed — it’s a pad that fits under the sheet, wired to an alarm.  When Dad is off the pad completely, the alarm sounds.  I’m sure it will startle both of us if it goes off.  But I don’t want any more 3 a.m. surprise visits to the kitchen.  Nor do I want to find any more containers of frozen peas (or whatever) on the counter and wonder when he got those out of the freezer. I’ll unload the groceries and the shower bench.  I probably ought to load the extra garbage bags and boxes and take them to the dump as well.  By 3:30, I’ll be at the clinic waiting for Dad, and wondering what to expect.  Will he be confused again?

Homecoming Week in high school and college is usually about football games and parades and celebrations.  It’s been Homecoming Week here, just without the football game or parade.  Celebrations?  They’ve gone on all week, every day.  I celebrate that he’s home and asks questions about the house occasionally.  I celebrate when he wants to look outside and I coax him to sit on the front porch bench for a few minutes.  I celebrate when friends drop by and he engages in conversations.

Those celebrations are important — he’s home.  He knows it and is comfortable.  He’s glad to see friends.  Even with the confusion and the weakness, Dad knows he’s home again, and I think he’s relaxed more.  He smiles more than I saw him smile while he was in Southwind.  Sometimes, I think, he wasn’t sure he was going to come home.  Now he’s secure in his home of nearly 46 years.

It’s been a week of adjustments — for both of us.  By today, I know the schedule to expect from home health:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, physical therapy; Wednesdays, aide to bathe Dad; twice a week, home health nurse.  I’ve figured out that my free time to run errands will be on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while Dad is at dialysis.  If I need to make an appointment for me in Lake Charles, it needs to be on Tuesday and Thursday morning, when Billie can sit with Dad; I need to be back by 1 because she works at the library in Crowley on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.   Friday afternoons by the time I get Dad back from dialysis, Kay will be here, and I can have until Sunday afternoon to head to Lake Charles to my house.  I know I’ll have a week to 10 days in June; I’m trying to figure out how to have a longer break — I want to go to Greece to a friend’s niece’s wedding, and to see my apartment in Athens, and to hang out with friends there.  That’s my goal, anyway.

I can tell that every day I will start Dad’s breakfast by 7 — a biscuit, one patty of sausage, and some coffee.  He doesn’t want an egg right now.  I’ll cook.  We eat supper together every night, which is good for both of us.

He sleeps.  While he does that, I do laundry.  I watch television.  I wash dishes and I cook.  I check on him frequently, sometimes talking with him if he’s awake.  Reassuring him if he’s confused.  Today he told me about a trip to town, seeing someone he used to work with.  I guess his dreams take him places he can’t go anymore. I don’t fuss at this; I just accept it and nod and talk.  Frequently, he tries to get out of bed because we “have to go . . .” somewhere; I reassure him that no, we don’t, that he’s at home and we don’t have to go anywhere yet, that he can go back to sleep.  Keeping calm is easy, I find, and if I’m calm, it sets the tone for him.

Now I also I putter around the front porch plants.  They’re all looking healthy and green.  The agapanthus are beautiful and blue; I have some other smaller blue flowers as well.  My friend Carolyn gave me some lovely yellow flowers in a blue pot.  I have two kinds of ivy in hanging baskets.  I’ve planted a lot of herbs.  I have a hibiscus tree in a big pot.  The windchime reminds me often just to close my eyes and listen, to sit and enjoy the moments.  The hummingbird feeder and bird feeder haven’t gotten any action yet, but I’m hopeful — and they’re cute, anyway.  The yellow bench with the blue and tan floral cushion is comfortable and inviting.  It’s lovely to have the small space so handy, so available — and so welcoming to all.

As the week winds up, I now find time to write as well — finally.  It’s as though I’ve been racing for days to get ready to get Dad home, and then to get Dad settled and to figure out what’s going on.  Now, I think I have a handle on the general scheme of things.  I’ve still got chores to do and appointments to set up; I need to set up a follow-up visit with Dad’s primary physician.  Today while he’s in dialysis I’ve got to buy groceries and some cleaning supplies.

Charles reminded me yesterday that I need to spend time here in the office space, too.  I’ll need my own space, he says, and he’s right.  So I’ll start working on clearing up the boxes that are still stacked here.  I’ll figure out where my own craft supplies really are so that next week I can begin working on jewelry again.

In the meantime, I have discovered that when I go to Lake Charles, I have to crate my three cats and set them on the front porch there while I flea-bomb the house.  Yes, that house now has fleas.  Oh well, at least I can bring the laptop and iPad and some cold drinks and sit on the porch there in my rocker.  I don’t have any plants in pots on that porch, but I do have lovely roses that are in bloom.

Two porches to enjoy — and my pets.  Dogs here in Egan, cats in Lake Charles.  Friends in both places.  Dad at home, comfortable and feeling secure.  Kay to relieve me on weekends.

And time to enjoy, to write, to read, to create.

Who needs a parade?  I’ve got porches!

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