Like a River Glorious

Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth, fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth, deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do.
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

I called Dad this afternoon for my daily check-in – saw him yesterday briefly, but we still touch base every day at least once. You know. Neighborly. 🙂 He answered the phone with a smile in his voice. You know the tone – that recognizable lightness that can only come from a released burden or infectious joy. I knew that part of his smile was from today’s weather – it is as glorious as a Wisconsin day can be. Highs in the low 70’s, puffy clouds, no humidity to speak of, and an evening in the 50’s. THE 50’s. It’s spectacular. We earn every one of these days by living here in January and February.

But I digress.

So we talked about the weather, the glories of sitting on his deck and watching the deer, sandhill cranes, and countless species of birds. He then went on to tell of his two mile jaunt this morning. After Dad had his first heart attack in 1977, he became a walking man. Every morning he’d get up, make the coffee, and head out on the 2-mile route – up West Point to Ninth, Ninth to Packerland, and back again – with all appropriate hellos to fellow walkers, MacArthur crossing guards, and friendly neighborhood dogs. I have accompanied him only a few times on this route; this has always been Dad’s quiet time – his chance to find peace and order to face the day.

Through chapters of his journey with cardiac issues, especially over the last 10 years, his ability to manage the two-mile route waned. Too many nitros popped. Too many sore joints. Too many winter mornings of -35 making it hard for the body to warm up. It would take him months to get back to his previous gait and speed – and, the older he got, the harder it got. When he was able to walk at all over the last couple of years, it was about a mile, or less, a couple of times a week, or less. And he missed it. Terribly.

In the 3 – almost 4 – months that Dad has been living in Baraboo, he has been trying to find his gait again. He’s lost weight – 30 pounds or more – over the last year. He’s adjusted to cooking for 1, and he’s adjusted again to the smaller portions that are served at (what he refers to exclusively as) The Home. Dad’s apartment is right on the edge of town, with a lovely sidewalk around the building, that edges right along the woods. Today’s smiling voice told me that for three days now he’s been back to two miles. And he’d like to add more. He sounded so proud when he told me his hips don’t hurt, his legs and feet are back to normal, and he’s not popping nitros like he was before.

Yesterday he told me that he has laughed more in the last 2 weeks than he has in the last year.

This afternoon at the root beer float party [!] he sat at a table of eight that included a woman from the assisted living portion of The Home who is 104. She was in her wheelchair. And somehow, with their straw wrappers, they started a silly game of table hockey that went on. For. An. HOUR. And he said that table of eight, including the 104-year-old, behaved like second graders. And, for the record, they had the time of their lives.

He plays cards – mostly euchre – 5 or 6 nights a week. I played piano for the happy hour over there last Friday and let me tell you, those folks know how to party. It was a riot.

I said, “So, Dad, are you still feeling badly about the high cost of the rent at this joint?”

His reply?

“I am having fun. Every day. I see you and the kids almost every day. I miss your mom every day, but my life is richer than I ever thought it could be. It is the best money I have ever spent.”

And then he had to hurry off. Because it was time for Bingo.

 

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

 

Redeeming The Time

One year ago tonight, Dad took Mom to the ER… and thus began the final five days of Mom’s life.

That same night, in Baraboo, Auntie Katie came to spend the 4th of July with us. My kids used their first sparklers. The sky shone – for a moment – with fireworks – and then the rain started. We all ran into the house, the fireworks people shot off their entire retinue at once, and it was over.


Shortly after that, the phone rang with Dad’s report that he was just pulling into the ER behind the ambulance. I felt such a sense of relief – that Dad was going to be able to rest because Mom was going to be cared for once she was admitted. I didn’t tell either of them that I had already planned to come to Green Bay the next morning. So I slept well, for the first time in quite a long time. Mom had been steadily declining for several weeks. We were not surprised that she required more intervention and help than Dad was able to provide – we were just grateful that they had finally made the decision to do so.
At 8.30 the next morning, after dropping my oldest off at camp in the Dells, I called Dad to tell him I was on my way. His reply sent my anxiety back through the roof. They had sat in the ER all night – ALL NIGHT – and Mom had, with what little strength remained, refused to be admitted. So not only had she not received the help and intervention she needed, but Dad had not slept. I assured him that I was on my way, and asked him to hold down the fort for just 2 more hours. I would be there. We would take her back to the hospital and insist on her admittance. She was unable to eat, or drink. Dad was forcing sips of Ensure down her throat. It was, to say the least, a difficult situation.
I walked in around 10.30 in the morning to find Dad sitting at the kitchen table. Mom was on the couch dozing, and it was clear to me that something was very, very wrong. She was gaunt, and pale, and just simply not right. After he and I talked momentarily, I went in and sat with her, taking her hand.
“What are you doing here??” she asked, when she roused.
“Mom, I’m here to check on you and to help Dad. We need to take you to the hospital. We have got to figure out what’s going on so that we can get you feeling better.”
We put her shoes on her feet, and helped her to the bathroom. Helped isn’t a strong enough word; we carried her. How Dad managed this on his own for so many days is beyond me. This was Monday morning. The previous Thursday, Mom had her liver biopsied. We were biding our time until the results came back – but they were a day delayed because of the Fourth of July holiday. After the biopsy, she never really snapped out of it – it never seemed to me that she came all the way out of the anaesthesia. It had been days since she had had an actual meal. She had stopped smoking. [this was, to me, the truest indicator that something was very wrong. Stopped smoking???]
When we got her in the car – again, no small feat – and were halfway to the hospital, she decided that she wanted a cigarette. Dad hadn’t brought any. He turned around, ran in the house, got her cigarettes, and continued on the drive. She took a few puffs and then, strangely, dropped it and put it out with her foot – on the floor-mat of the car. It was noteworthy to me that Mom smoked her last cigarette on July 5th, 2010 – which was the day that the statewide smoking ban went into effect. She had told me that she wouldn’t be visiting us anymore after the smoking ban went into place. She was right.
Once we were at the hospital and they pulled out her chart from just the night before – the chart that had recommended admittance – we were able to skip the triage and just get up to the room, which was a mercy. Once she was comfortable, and medicated for her agitation, I was able to get a little more out of Dad. I wasn’t at all angry with him for not taking Mom in sooner – he did the best he could, and she could be a real pain in the rear. But when I asked why he had waited so long to do so, he said to me,
“I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. Because I knew she’d never be home again.”
I began to broach the subject with Dad of deciding NOT to do chemo if it was even presented to us as an option. Dad didn’t have the ability to care for her in the way that chemo would require – full time physical care. We needed to think very carefully about what our next steps would be.
From my vantage point of a year later, I can remember smells, sounds, and interactions from the 5th floor at St. Vincent’s that are far more specific than what I can remember about yesterday’s lunch. In hindsight, it is as though someone has shone a huge magnifying glass on the week of July 4, 2010. Even the colors of it all in my memory are bright. And warped. It is a strange recollection.
And so today, Auntie Katie, and our other dearest friends Kate and Christian will arrive. They will spend the day with us – rejoicing, remembering, relaxing. This afternoon, Dad will join us all for dinner and fireworks. He has accomplished much in the last year. I am immeasurably proud of him. He has found hope around every corner and that has helped us all to do the same.
There is a very sweet sense of ‘redeeming the time’ today. If I can’t be 10 years old again, climbing the steps at Lambeau Field with my family to watch the Shopko Fireworks, if I can’t hear Karen McDiarmid [the Shopko lady] sing the world’s slowest National Anthem, if I can’t be with Mom and Dad in Platteville celebrating the 4th with Aunts and Uncles and cousins, and if Mom can’t be here with us today, then we shall at the very least be together. It is indeed the least we can do – but it is also the best we can do. And it is all joy.

It is all joy.