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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Mom Winked, part II

img_1043Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. In her memory, I’m re-publishing this blog post which I wrote a few months after she died. She still winks at me every now and then; when I’m looking for a healthy weeknight dinner and her recipe for “Gourmet Goulash” practically jumps out at me, urging me to whip up a dish of sour-creamy comfort, or when I’m walking through my neighborhood trying to work out a worry and I notice a cardinal flying low and slow over my shoulder. I found this forgotten photo of her recently. I like to think she’s waving at me, sharing a private joke, or whispering, “Don’t worry, be happy!” 

For Rosemary Steele Sheppard, 5/22/20-1/28/13.

An old friend hugged me at Mom’s rosary in January and said, “She’ll wink at you every now and then.” I immediately thought that was a cute idea, but doubted it would ever happen. A few weeks went by, then a few months, and I forgot about her prophecy. Then, my dad got sick. In April, three months, almost to the day, after Mom died I found myself at my father’s bedside at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. He’d apparently fallen, although he couldn’t recall, and had suffered a subdural hematoma, or bleed in the brain. It would need to be drained, and at his age, 90, that was no easy feat, but the neurosurgeon was optimistic. Sure enough, it wasn’t easy; in fact, it was extremely difficult, and Dad endured nearly every setback that anyone could have imagined over five weeks in the hospital. Shortly after surgery he lost the ability to swallow food, water, medicine, secretions, anything. As a result, he aspirated and acquired double pneumonia, which necessitated that his lungs be suctioned every few hours. This was a horrible experience for him and for anyone who happened to be near him at the time. When he breathed or spoke, all you could hear was a terrible drowning gurgling. He became so weak, he couldn’t even turn over in his hospital bed without assistance. Eventually, he was able to be fed through a tube placed directly into his small bowel, and slowly, ever so slowly, he began to regain strength. Dad was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where he worked with therapists for three or more hours everyday for four weeks. Initially, he did well; then, his hallucinations and anxieties overwhelmed him to the point that we, his offspring, decided he should just go home. Nothing could be worse than his daily terrors that he was being held captive, that his children and grandchildren were in grave danger, and his abject disappointment that there was nothing he could do about it. So, in late June, we hired an ambulance to carry him 80 miles to the home in which he’d lived for 60 years with my mother.

Upon arriving, he asked where he was. We all assured him, “You’re HOME, 302 E. Sarah Street,” then tucked him into his bed for a nap, saying that he’d feel better after a good rest. Visitors began arriving, all joyously asking, “Isn’t it great to be home?” To which he’d respond by looking around the room and saying, bluntly, “Am I really home?” or “Is that where I am?” We suddenly realized how naive we’d been to think that upon his arrival home a shift would instantly occur and all would be well again with our father.

Eventually, Dad grew a bit stronger and we grew used to the aides who came every 12 hours to look after him. But I, ever the control freak, had stayed for several days to “oversee” the help. I made lists and posted them on the kitchen cabinets, organized pantries and pillboxes, bought supplies, interviewed the Home Health nurses, and spent hours at a time at Wal-Mart shopping for items to make Dad’s transition home easier. One afternoon in early July, when Dad had gone to bed for his nap, I, completely exhausted, melted into the swimming pool in the backyard. I swam lap after lap in the warm bathwater-like pool, finding comfort in the physical exertion. Suddenly, I saw a fluttering disturbance in one of the overgrown bushes surrounding the pool. I stared for a few seconds and a beautiful bright crimson red bird lighted on a parched branch of one of the remaining shrubberies, and seemed to stare at me while I treaded water in the middle of the pool. I smiled; cardinals were one of Mom’s favorite birds to watch from her perch on the patio. Then, the Polaris pool vacuum swept up that side of the pool and sprayed an arc of water into the air, scaring the red bird into the air. I laughed as I recalled an afternoon late in Mom’s life when I persuaded her to leave the comfort of her bed and come outside for some fresh air. With much difficulty we got her on her walker, outside the back door, down the ramp and settled into a deck chair when the Polaris spit its stream of water right at her. Squealing, and wiping drops of chlorinated water off her hair and face, Mom muttered, “A lot of good this did me,” then stood up, grabbed her walker and went right back into the house. I found myself smiling at the memory and suddenly took in a small gasp of surprise, “Did Mom just wink at me?” I think she did. I smiled to myself and turned around for another lap. Before going under I saw the cardinal’s mate on a fence opposite the shrub looking towards us. “Don’t worry, Mom,” I whispered; “We’re taking good care of him.”

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

tree-onlyAs an empty-nester, I tend to romanticize the holidays. I anticipate the reunion of our family of five through a filter that’s been blurred by months apart from my children, one shaded by snow, frosty windows, hot toddies and hugs all around; hurried trips to the airport to pick up loved ones, jovial conversation around the dining room table, late night games by the fireplace. Then, we’re all together again and reality slaps me in the face. WAIT A MINUTE! It’s 75 degrees outside, there’s no snow, no fire in the fireplace, no hot toddies. Just margaritas and beer like in July. No board games…just kids on their phones texting, snap chatting, tweeting, and looking up occasionally to express their opinions on where to send for take-out. Ok, that may be an exaggeration but still. It’s hard to come together as a family after months of everyone living in different states, living lives separate from one another. At first we all talk at once, louder and louder trying to be heard. Then, someone gives up and goes to bed. The next day we start again, laughing, sharing details of our lives, enjoying each other’s company. Then someone (usually me) asks one too many questions and the room goes silent. Everyone scatters like ants whose anthill has been disturbed and it may be hours before we find ourselves in the same room again. Food and a good football game on t.v. help. Slowly we come together, one daughter snuggled under a cozy throw, her feet in her sister’s lap. Another one quietly colors in one of those new color books for adults, designed to be “calming.” Eventually, someone asks if we remember going to see the Harry Potter films on Thanksgiving weekend, and another searches for it on t.v. Before I know it, we’re all huddled together watching “Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone” and all seems right with the world.Then I make a teeny, well-intentioned suggestion that maybe it would be fun if we put our phones away. Even just for half an hour. Before I know it there is yelling, eye-rolling, a phone sails through the air towards me and someone leaves the room, slamming the door behind her. And I feel silly for even suggesting such a thing.

I started writing this just after Thanksgiving. It’s now January 13th, Christmas was 19 days ago, and two of my adult daughters (who happen to be university students) are still home. The sensible one with a job returned to her life in Dallas immediately after Christmas. What are college administrators thinking? Whatever are these young people supposed to do with four to six weeks off? They can’t work, there’s nothing to study, and their friends are scattered. They have no money so they can’t travel. So, what am I left to conclude, except that it’s up to me to entertain them?  Oh it all starts out swell, with the Christmas tree lights twinkling, carols playing softly in the background, delectable food and treats spilling out of the fridge onto every table in sight, that ole anticipation of Santa Claus keeping everyone on their best behavior while feeling warm and fuzzy. (Or is it the eggnog?) Anyway, let’s face it. By January 2 we are all cranky. We’ve started our new year’s resolutions which, typically, involve decreasing our intake of delicious food and drink which made the time before Christmas jolly. We would like to return to work, school, normal life. But, because both Sewanee and Auburn are so rigid about academic calendars, we all sit here staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” As a stay-at-home mom I feel responsible, not only for their wellbeing, but for their entertainment. After all, what if they don’t enjoy being in San Antonio and never want to come back again? The thought motivates me to act in ways I typically don’t. I invite my daughters out to restaurants for lunch – on Mondays and Tuesdays! And to movies in the middle of the afternoon. I celebrate happy hour everyday, making sure everyone’s favorite beverages are available, along with three kinds of cheeses and crackers. I search for new recipes that will delight all at dinner nearly every night. Other nights I order pizza. Just when I’m feeling tired and  missing my usual routine of exercising and trying to eat healthily, watching whatever I want to watch on T.V. rather than the new season of The Bachelor, and getting in my car and not being blasted by alternative music, a friend will call who hasn’t heard from me in six weeks. She’ll inevitably say, “Oh, the girls are still here?  You’re so lucky! How wonderful!” Afterwards, I sit alone for a minute and quietly appreciate the fact that yes, they’re still here. And, yes, it’s pretty wonderful. Then I make another grocery list and head to H.E.B., remembering to turn down the volume before I turn on the radio.

p.s. They’ll be gone on Monday. Give me a call!