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Speaking in Cursive

Walking through this extraordinary life.

Author

mkbannach

I am a wife, mother of 4 sons, hairstylist, and animal lover. I always try to find the humor in every situation. Thank God for that, because life is full of situations....

My Mom, Nancy with the laughing face.

I have been planning to write this for a while now. Trying to find the words . My mom has been placed on hospice, at her memory care facility. While we all knew that eventually this would be the outcome, you are never prepared. Mom may have lost the ability to remember us, or walk, or feed herself , but she is so much more. She will die from complications of dementia, but she LIVED a life worth remembering. A life filled with love and sacrifice, and generosity. The life God had planned so perfectly for her.

I have often wrote of how stubborn my father was, but in many ways, my mother had him beat in that department.She was stubborn in all the right ways. She was the middle child, a tomboy with braided pigtails. She was often sick in her youth and it steeled her to be tough. She was mischievous and impish. She loved to tell me the story of how when she was little she would help out at her father and uncles barbershop. One hot day, they needed her to fill up their water spray bottles for haircuts. She had to walk outside repeatedly to the water pump to fill them up. She grew frustrated and decided to just spit into them instead. If she put her mind to something, it got done. One way or another.

Nancy Joyce Day was movie star beautiful. I know that is how my dad noticed her. Porcelain skin, with bluish green eyes that would change color depending on her outfit. Beautiful brunette hair with just enough wave to make it behave. She was trim and stylish. All of these stayed the same. After 6 kids, she still could turn heads. She was so pretty, but she never knew it, or acted like she did. She was naturally beautiful, but loved to enhance it with her Mary Kay make up. I remember watching her apply her lipstick, the left upper, then right upper lip, then smacking them together with the bottom. She didn’t spend more than 5 minutes getting ready, but it would look perfect. The same with her hair. She is the reason I chose the career I did. The way she would allow me to play with her hair, brush it, curl it, and put make up on her, when I was little. Mom kept up her beauty routine into her 80’s. Only stopping when she was placed into memory care.

Mom, became a mother at a young age. Things were not easy for my parents and their new family, but this began the life God had planned for her. To be a Mother, caregiver, a Grandmother. There is not a doubt in my mind, this was what God created her to be. When you think of what a Mother is and should be, she was All of them. And it came completely natural to her. Holding a baby, rocking them to sleep. Caring for a sick child all night long, sacrificing her own health and sleep. The absolute unselfishness mom showed everyday is unmatched. She always put her husband , children and grandchildren first. Always.

There is that scene in the movie A Christmas Story, where the mom had made dinner and she has dished everyone up and is about to sit down and eat, when they start asking for more food. Without skipping a beat she gets up and adds more food to all their plates as the narrator says ” My mother hasn’t had a hot meal in 15 yrs.” That. Was. My. Mother. I can remember, watching her clean off the table after we had all finished our meals, and she would take bites off of our plates, or from the serving spoons. That was how she ate, standing up, after we had our fill. She was the type of mother who would give you the last piece of anything, even if she hadn’t eaten a bite herself. I can remember, as a child, late at night, hearing my mom in the kitchen. Back then, peanut butter jars had a metal lid. Every night my mom would sneak into the kitchen after everyone was asleep,starving I am sure, and get into the jar. Somehow, she Always dropped the lid, and I could hear it hitting the floor and spinning. My sister’s and I would giggle. Funny how I find myself in the kitchen in the middle of the night now. When my dads health required dietary changes, she learned all she could to cook his food the way the Doctor’s wanted. Never complaining.She did what she had to do to keep him healthy as long as she could. She did it too.

We may not have had the biggest house, or the best clothes, but we never went without. Mom always kept a clean house, and clean kids. She couldn’t let us go running around looking like ” ragamuffins” as she would say. She stayed home to raise us, (and her grandchildren and most of the neighborhood too.) Coming home from school you knew there would be cookies or a cake freshly baked and dinner cooking in the oven. My mom spent most of her time in the kitchen. I am sure she wasn’t always thrilled about it, but she never made us feel that. She showed her love for her family through her acts of service to us. And there were so many of them.

When my dad became disabled, and could no longer work, mom started watching neighborhood kids to help make ends meet. A lot of the kids would get dropped off early in the morning and stay until supper time. It didn’t take long until the local grade school called and asked mom if she could take some before and after school kids. So the house was always filled with kids. Babies, school age, boys or girls it didn’t matter. My mom helped raise so many children. Including her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am pretty sure if you are reading this, you, your child or someone you know was loved on by my mother.

I don’t remember a time when we needed her that she wasn’t there. So many times, last minute things for school were needed, and somehow, she made it happen. She was the mom on the street who knew how to make the garters for homecoming. So she would make them for whoever asked. She sewed costumes for plays, and programs, and weddings and pageants. Sometimes, with only 24 hrs notice. She was Allerton Avenue’s beautician. When word got out she could give permanent waves, most of the girls, and some men, quickly were getting a very unique perm from mom. We like to joke that as she was rolling the hair up in the perm rods, if a clump of hair wouldn’t go the way she wanted, she just cut it off. She wouldn’t let that stop her.

She had an amazing way with words and phrases that most of us use today. She pronounced wash with an r , as in, warsh. “Go warsh your face”, or “you better get warshed up for school.” Crayon, was pronounced Crin , as in “Do not leave your Crin’s all over the floor!” She had phrases and terms that were unique and sometimes salty. When we would get wild, she would refer to us as a “Whirling dervish .” If we were naughty she would tell us she would ” bring one up from the floor” to get us to settle down. If we were arguing, we were told we “couldn’t pair off” . When we refused to clean our rooms, she threatened to “pitch” all our things. To express her astonishment she would say “Jumpin Jehoshaphat!”, which took me until adulthood to realize it was a real phrase from the bible. Some things she would say were heavily seasoned with salt and sass. A favorite was “tighter than dicks hatband” . This phrase could be used in many situations. The same could be said for “Balls on a blue goose”. Some are so salty and sassy that I can not print them. Just know they were as colorful and as funny as she was!

Mom was always there to help, at a moments notice. Most of her adult children at one time or another, moved back home. For a multitude of reasons and different lengths of time. For myself, it was because I was on bed rest with a twin pregnancy, and had two toddler sons. We had moved an hour north and my husband had to work. So, I moved back in, with my two older sons, very pregnant. Mom knew she would be doing Everything for me and my kids. She was 60 years old at the time. She bathed my kids, made all their meals, helped potty train the younger one And took care of other grandchildren. She also took care of me , as I sat on the couch, she brought me my food, washed my clothes, wrangled my sons, read to them, tucked them in at night. Then when my dad would go to bed, mom and I would put on a game and she would make me a hot fudge sundae. With walnuts. Every night. Mom helped me eat for 3.This went on for 4 months. My mother, ensuring her baby would have two more healthy babies.

My mother loved sports. Any kind, and every Wisconsin team. They were her team, her guys. My mom would watch sports in what we called “the back room” after dad had gone to bed, at 7 p.m. Usually the volume on mute, so as not to wake him. Sometimes, she would get a little carried away, and a bit of a sailor mouth would emerge. Win or lose. The excitement would get the better of her and she would be up jumping up and down, fists in the air! There was always a game on. Whatever sports season it was, that was her favorite. One time my husband and I had taken her to the hospital to visit my dad. In the elevator was a very tall young man. Without skipping a beat she looked up at him and asked ” Do you play basketball?” She was as feisty as they come. Granny was spry! She would’ve absolutely loved the Bucks Championship season.

My mom spent over 40 plus years of her 66 year marriage being my dads caregiver. Suffering from multiple conditions, my mom had to be all things to him a lot of the time. When he got his kidney transplant after years of dialysis, mom lovingly nurtured him back to reasonable health. In charge of a multitude of anti rejections meds, she carefully filled his pillbox, she kept records of appointments and lab work. All the while, continuing to watch her grandchildren and others. She kept up with the house and the yard. Never missing a beat.

Her puppies meant everything to her. Everything. Spoiled isn’t a strong enough word. She would prepare chicken breast meat to add to their bowls. She would sleep on the couch at night with them because that is what they wanted. They had bows and ribbons in their hair and scarves around their necks. She was heartbroken when they died, but always had room to love one more. Shelter dogs, pure- breds, little or big. It didn’t matter. She had Dachsund’s and Westies, and German Shepherd’s and mutts. And she loved all her grandpuppies too, often watching them for all of us.

My mom wasn’t boastful or “braggadocious”as she would say. She was tough as nails when things got hard. She was courageous when most would run. But she never shouted it from the rooftops, all the sacrificing she had done. She was quiet about all she did.She relied on her faith. I know was blessed by her and her prayer chain from church. She would make cakes to be delivered to homeless shelters through church. She volunteered for many things throughout the years. Room mother, Girl Scout Leader, seamstress for the plays. Her whole life was built around doing for others. How blessed am I to have watched it modeled so perfectly.

Mom was young at heart with an old soul. She had an unmistakable laugh that filled a room.A sharp sense of humor and a love for life. She had a little shimmy dance she would do when she ate some ice cream. She loved to show you her tap dancing moves. She loved her pool and going down the giant slide into it. She could do yoga better than people 40 yrs her junior. She bowled until she turned 81. She loved going to lunch with her friends or to the Fireside with her daughters. She was always grateful. Even during the absolute most difficult days of her life. She found joy in the absolute ordinary. There is such beauty in that.

Looking back at my childhood now, I am sure she was tired, and hungry and absolutely overwhelmed. But she Never let on to that. My favorite memories with my mom, are when I became a mom myself. If I needed her, when I didn’t know how to stop my baby from crying, she would drive over and sit with me, even late at night. We would take daily 3 mile walks, pushing strollers full of babies, solving all the worlds problems while we did it. I loved watching her with the grandchildren, my kids and my siblings. The absolute pride she had for All of them was unmatched.They made her laugh like I have never heard before. They gave her joy like a kid on Christmas morning. Watching my mom, be a mom and grandmother shaped who I became as a mother. My mother, lead by example. Show compassion, to everyone, even those who don’t show you the same. Sit with the lonely, feed the hungry,help the sick. Put other’s needs and wants before your own. This was her everyday. All day.

My mom gave everything she had to everyone. All the time. Even though she did everything right to stay healthy, dementia found her. And while it stole her memories, it didn’t steal who she was and IS at her core. A caregiver. A nurturer. A gentle sensitive soul with a spark inside. Many of you have seen pictures of her with Romeo, the stuffed animal, a German Shepherd, I got her almost 2 years ago now. For some reason, of all the dogs my mom had over the years, Tina, a German Shepherd from 50 years ago was the one she remembered. Mom would often tell stories of how protective Tina was over all of us, like a mother herself. Clearly, mom related to Tina. My mom may not know her children or grandchildren anymore,but she Knew she was to comfort Romeo. To rock him gently, and pat his back. To sing to him, and cover him with a blanket when he was cold. The person God made my mother never left. She is still there.

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My mother was and will always be my best friend. I could talk to her about anything.I confided in her about everything. I called her everyday. We could talk for an hour or five minutes. It didn’t matter. What I would give to call her now, to hear her say “Hi Mare.”. I have it in my heart though. For the past 2 years I video chatted with her once a week with the help of the activity director at her memory care facility. While our conversations were much different, with me doing most of the talking,it still filled my heart and soul. I recorded most of them, for the days to come, when I know I will need to hear her voice and see her face. Because I simply can not imagine a world without her in it. So I won’t let there be.

I don’t want my mom to only be remembered for the fact that she no longer could. She was and is so much more than that. She was and is a bright, beautiful, funny and compassionate person who had a laugh like no other. Spunky and feisty and one of a kind. We are blessed to have her as our mother.

Lately, I have been picturing my dad calling her home, saying “Ma, I’m hungry, what’s for dinner?” And my mom responding ” I’ll be there soon Richard.” What an amazing feast that will be. Maybe she will even get to eat a hot meal.

A Mother’s Hands

Lately, I have been fixated on my Mother’s hands.

Hands that held countless children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, neighbors and friends. Gently rocking them to sleep. Comforting them in sickness. Guiding them in their lives. Wiping tears away in sadness.

Hands that cared for my father through decades of illness. Preparing special foods for him. Cleaning and wrapping his wounds. Organizing his medicine and appointments.

Hands that took care of a home for over 66 years. Cleaning after 6 children, then their children, and their children. Cooking 3 square meals a day 7 days a week. Washing ,ironing and folding clothes for her family. Baking cookies and cakes.

Hands that sewed, and mended and darned. Making garters for homecoming, and costumes for plays, and flower girl dresses. Creating curtains and bedspreads and baby blankets for her family.

Hands that combed and brushed her 5 daughters hair. Learned how to give perms to them and their friends. Kept them from looking like “ragamuffins”.

Hands that cheered for her children in their activities. That rooted for her teams, The Packers, The Brewers, The Bucks and The Badgers.

Hands that disciplined. That grabbed our hands from crossing the road into traffic. Protected us from danger.

Hands that prayed. That took communion. Called others on her prayer chain from church to tell them who to pray for, or to ask for prayer for those she loved.

My mother doesn’t remember any of these things anymore. My last visit with her, she didn’t recognize me or my husband. I showed her a picture of myself with her and my dad, sitting next to her,she couldn’t recognize me in the picture either. But I am convinced while her head doesn’t remember, her hands do. Now, as she holds her beloved “Romeo” and rocks him like one of her babies, she takes her hands and pats him gently, speaking to him lovingly, and somehow I know he understands. He too feels all the love in my mother’s hands.

Bone for bone we are the same.

Bones get tired and can’t carry their own weight.

Mom don’t you worry, I will do the remembering.

Mom and Romeo.

I Miss You As Long As You Are.

It happened today. I know it won’t be the last time,and eventually there will be no going back from it. My mom didn’t recognize me on our weekly video call. She stared blankly at me when I said “Hi Mom.” I waited for the awareness to come to her eyes. It didn’t. The activity director, Jen, lovingly told her “It’s Mary.” Slowly I could see her coming back to me. But those few moments were and are heartbreaking.

Mom has been in a memory care facility for dementia for 2 years. With 1 year being during this pandemic. So the majority of my time with her is via video phone calls. While her recognition and memory of other relatives has faded, for the most part she has been able to remember her children. Until recently, I have noticed her mixing us up or thinking my brother is my father. So today was hard. But I knew it was coming eventually. When we talk, mom will fixate on one thing or time frame. With me it is 3 different events in my life between 25 and 35 years ago. When I was Jr Miss in 1987, when I took state boards to become a hairdresser, and when I had my twins. These 3 themes are on replay and repeat. But I do not care. I am happy to go back there with her. I sent her a photo of me with my Jr Miss sash on from 1987, and she has misplaced it( because I moved it from where she had it and now she can’t find it.) so every phone call, she asks about it. “Weren’t you “….. and her voice trails off, as I fill in the blanks, “Jr Miss” I say. And she is transported back there. The light comes back in her eyes. Or when she asks “didn’t you cut my hair?” I know she is referring to being my model for State boards. When we are chatting and one of her friends enters the area she will say “this is my daughter, she had twins.” These must be moments, memories embedded in her brain about me. I know she has these moments with my siblings too. We will meet her wherever she is. For as long as we can. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

There is this horrible meme that floats around Facebook, that people share thinking it is funny. You know the one…” Keep it up mom or I will put in Shady Pines Nursing home”…. or something along those lines. Listen, I am Not easily offended. I have all sons. But, when I see people so carelessly throwing that around it feels like a knife in the heart. Because when you are actually faced with that decision, there is absolutely Nothing funny about it. It tears you and your siblings apart. When the Dr. says ” Your mom can not come home anymore.” trust me, no one is laughing. I have already had this talk with my sons. That when that time comes, if it does, that I understand. That the mom I am now is telling them, it is ok, that I know how hard that decision is, but that I know it is made in love. The mom I will be then may yell at them, and cry and not understand, but the mom I am now does. And people will make comments not meaning to hurt, like, “I won’t ever do that,” or ” My mom will just stay with me.” Trust me, easier said than done. My siblings and I tried for years to keep my parents in their home. We did everything we could. And it killed us to have to sell their home, and place them in a facility. You don’t ever get over it or forgive yourself. I want my sons to know they have no reason to ever feel it. Furthermore, we have been absolutely Blessed with mom’s memory facility and team of caregivers. They have had to be her family this past year. They have stepped up gone above and beyond what their job description is. We are forever grateful to each one of them.

When we were about to hang up I said to mom ” I miss you mom.” She turned her head and looked off into the distance and quietly said, ” I think I miss you as long as you are.” I know it is a jumbled up sentence, that may not make sense, but to me, it has two meanings. I knew she was trying to tell me that she misses me a lot. That it has been a long time since we have all been together. I knew what she meant. But for me, that one sentence, “I miss you as long as you are.” summed up all I have felt since she has been living with dementia. I miss my mom, who she was, what she was, what we did together. I miss my daily phone calls to her, my visits with her at home. I remember after having my oldest son, I would walk over to her house, with him in a stroller. My mom and I would walk 3 miles everyday, and talk and solve all the worlds problems.I miss that. I miss going to lunch with her and my sisters, or going to plays, or baking cookies. You see, I have been slowly, grieving my mom for 2 years. It is a long goodbye. One day, maybe soon, she won’t remember me at all, or what I meant to her. But I will remember her. I will miss you as long as you are, Mom, and even after that.

Heaven sends Blue Jays too.

In Mourning For My Father.

It has been one year since you died. Yet, it seems as though time has stopped. The sun sets and it rises each day. The moon glows at night. For me, I seem to be stuck somewhere, a year ago, that weekend, that morning. Life goes on about and around me. You are missing. The gigantic presence you had ( for such a small German man) is no more. At least not earthly. I search for you, still. I am sure I always will. I am in mourning. This is what it feels like.

I had made you a Christmas shirt and filled a stocking with your favorite German candy. I had planned to come visit you and mom in the nursing home for Christmas. Instead, I saw you for the last time, in a hospital bed fighting off the infection that finally claimed your life. You were hooked up to tubes and wires, and you couldn’t speak. I whispered in your ear how much I loved you. I know you heard me. The family made the difficult decision to switch you to hospice care. A little over 24 hrs later you were gone. Freed from your earthly chains.While I am grateful for the first time in over 40 yrs you were pain free, I am forever hurting. An ever present aching in my heart and bones. I have hours and days of pure joy and happiness, but you are always there. This is constant mourning.

In some ways, a lot of ways, I lost mom that day too. The pandemic came right after your passing, (seems fitting) and changed Everything. Especially how and when I can see mom. I only can “see” her now via video chat with the help of her memory care activity director. I can’t just go visit her, I can’t make Christmas cookies with her this year, like I have for decades. Leaving slightly burned, unfrosted ones for you dad. I can’t bring her Christmas gifts or go to plays or dinner with her. So yes, in many ways I lost her too. However, I know she is safe and well cared for, and I know that makes you happy. She mentions you dad, when we do speak. She cries, gently. Her memory may be fading, requiring full time care, but she Knows she is missing you, and that she loved you. She may not understand, but she is mourning too dad. Last week when I spoke with her, she said ” I know your dad isn’t here anymore, but he came and told me his soul is.” And that was probably the most beautiful thing I have heard this year.

You have missed so much this year, dad. Most of it, I thank God everyday that you have. Still there have been things I so wish you could’ve been here for. Engagements, graduations, new jobs etc., but I believe somehow you do see it. The holidays were your favorite time of year. Last year, I was numb at your passing right at Christmas time, most of it is a blur. This year we are restricted to what we can and can’t do. I know you wouldn’t have liked it. You used to love people coming over for Christmas, or going by your kids. You loved surprising mom with gifts she didn’t know you bought her. Like the jacket you brought over to my house many years ago to wrap for her, to open Christmas morning. You loved decorating the outside of the house with lights and a cute penguin statue donning a hat and scarf. You loved watching gospel singers sing their Christmas songs. You dressed up as Santa for local parties. I am struggling this year, dad, trying to feel Christmas. Because of everything. Yet, Christmas always finds me, as I am sure it will this year, with help from you.

For a while now, I have been seeking out cardinals. Everyone says it means a visitor from heaven. Barb is getting cardinals , a couple even, by her. I put out the seed to attract them, and nothing. Nothing except for this blue jay, who makes a ruckus with his loud call. Like a horn. I can spot it a mile away it seems. Last week at work I could hear his unique call. I went outside to look and saw high in a tree, a hawk, perched on a branch, and a blue jay giving him a piece of his mind. Then more came to join in. I could see they must’ve been protecting a nest. I stood in awe and watched this blue jay make the hawk leave. It brought me back to the feeling I always had of protection from you. I felt safe when you were in the room.This morning at work, I could hear the blue jay, loudly speaking across the street. And then I remembered, Billy Blue Jay. How you always called for him, and left food out for him. I stood at the salon door, looking out the window, as Billy just sat there, on a wire. I whispered “I see you dad.” and he flew away. Maybe, for me, I won’t see Cardinals, maybe you will visit me in different less obvious ways. I have some of yours and moms things here, in storage for safe keeping. And I remembered, you had a stuffed blue jay. I searched through a few boxes, and I found him. I found your Billy the Blue Jay. Just like I know if I keep searching, I will “see” you in places or things I wouldn’t expect to. And maybe, that is what constant mourning is. Seeing or hearing or feeling you, when I least expect it. Where the grief swells up like a tidal wave, and eventually bursts, into a sea of tears. Only to repeat. Forever. If so, that is ok. Because you will still be here. In Trauer Um, Meinen Vater. Until we meet again.

Carried by Love

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I have been spending a lot of quarantine time organizing old family photo’s. One thing seems to stand out to me. I was either in my mother’s arms, or in her hands. Never far from her touch or her sight. What comfort these pictures bring me now, of my dear sweet mother, and the love she showered upon me and my siblings. How BLESSED I am to have had that in my life. The gentle guidance and reassurance of a mother’s touch.

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As a small child, I was painfully shy. I remember needing to be near both my parents, but especially my mom. I recall hiding behind her, grabbing on to her leg, hoping no one would speak to me. And then she would say, “This is my baby.”  She never forced me to talk to them, or come out from hiding. Her gentle nudging helped me to outgrow my shyness, and become comfortable meeting and talking with people.

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I can still hear my moms heartbeat, as I sat upon her lap with my head pressed into her chest. She would be on the phone, or watching her shows, but I was happy to hear her heart and breath. I was safe. I was calm. How grateful I am to have a mom who knew the importance of stillness, of quietness. I would listen to her voice echoing through her body as I drifted off to sleep. I still can hear it, and it beckons me home like a lighthouse on the shore.

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I know how very fortunate I was to have a mom who was home with us. Who read to us, and played with us. She let  me put make up on her, and do her hair. She would spend hours cooking and cleaning, and like any child would, I took it all for granted. But as a mother myself, I so appreciate everything she sacrificed for us. She wanted to be a dancer, or a nurse. In a lot of ways, she still was. We would dance around the house for hours, she had her certain moves, she still does to this day. And she spent many a sleepless night up with a sick child. When I was very young, I would get a little too excited about Christmas. So excited I would break out in hives from head to toe and be sick to my stomach. For several years, my mother sat up with me on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas morning, would help me open my presents. Never making me feel bad for being nervous or worried. Rather, comforting and caring for me, until it no longer happened.

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Mother’s Day is so odd this year, for everyone. Most of us will not be with our Mother’s or our children. My mother now is in a nursing home memory care unit for dementia. I haven’t seen her in person in month’s. It breaks my heart, and I would give anything to snuggle up next to her, listening to her unmistakable laugh, hearing her heartbeat. To just share more of my life with her. But I can honestly say, I am who I am because of her. Because of the sacrifices she made to raise her children. To carry them with love.

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“Bursting with empathy, I’m feeling everything
The weight of the world on my shoulders
Hope my tears don’t freak you out
They’re just kinda coming out
It’s the music in me and all of the colors
Wish we didn’t live, wish we didn’t live so far from each other
I’m just sitting here thinking ’bout the time that’s slipping
And missing my mother, mother”.
Happy Mother’s Day.

Grieving alone, with the world

IMG_20200415_093905This is how I picture you, in heaven. Standing high on a mountain, looking around and taking pictures, or shooting a video to show us.

I found this photo, shortly after you died. I keep in my bible, as a bookmark. I see it everyday. And everyday I imagine you this way. I miss you so much. I surround myself with things that are yours or remind me of you. Yet some days, no matter how hard I search for you, I can’t find you.

You left us right before the world went mad. Perfect timing on your part. I think of that daily, that I am so grateful you aren’t here right now. That this would be so hard and traumatic for you. With all the Dr. appointments you had, and lab tests, and being in the nursing home. Alone. And then I get mad at myself for being grateful you are gone. How can you being gone, bring me comfort? I can’t even grieve properly (is there such a thing?) because the earth is sick, and things are at a standstill. Life has literally turned upside down since you have been gone. I wonder, would it feel like that anyway, losing you, without a global pandemic? You have been gone 4 months, it feels like years. Maybe partly, because I, like everybody else, have no clue as to what day or month it is anymore. It doesn’t matter. I have been off work for a month now, so there is nothing to distract me like work did. In some  way, it makes sense the world is hurting too, because the world always revolved around you, to me.

I find myself searching for you everywhere. Trying to pick up signs from you.  When I see my dachshund, I see you with your doxie Fritz. When I make meatballs and gravy, or chicken and spaetzle soup I can see your face light up. But especially when I hear birds sing. I can clearly hear you imitating  every bird that flew into your yard. You could mimic them. And you named them. Billy Blue Jay for one. I was getting sad because everyone I knew was seeing cardinals, visiting them from heaven, they say. Not me. And cardinals used to fly into my yard all the time. I hadn’t seen any. Until this morning. I have a bird feeder right in front of my dining room window. Every day I check, multiple times for one to appear. I listen for their distinct call. I will run to the window, but nothing. Then this morning, in the quiet, sat a pretty little cardinal. And I just stared. And he stared back. I mean it. I didn’t have my phone to take a picture, and honestly, I didn’t want to. I wanted it to just be. To be etched into my memory.

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Your 88th birthday would’ve been April 19th. I am anxious over it. And sad. Sad that, like in past years, I would take a picture of you and your twin grandsons who have a birthday a few days after you. It was our tradition. For years. I am mad that  it is over.  One of the many stages of grief I suppose. Anger. I just wish we could’ve had more. More birthdays with you, more Christmases and pool parties and weddings. It breaks my heart knowing you won’t see my sons get married or become dad’s themselves. I have to believe you Will see it though.

 

Mom misses you. Most days she remembers you aren’t here. “Your dad is gone you know.” she will say to me. As if to almost get confirmation. She, like everyone in a care facility, is on lock down. No visitors, and no leaving. It breaks our heart. We all call or facetime her as often as we can. Last night, when I called, her dementia had taken over, as it often does in the evening. She thought it was morning and Halloween. She was confused. But she said to me, “Your dad tells me everyday to get ready, to get dressed.” It made me scared and sad at first. But I had a different perspective this morning. I am sure she Does hear you. After 66 years of marriage, how could she not? Your voice must be filling her head. Heck, I can still hear you saying ” Mother, are you ready yet?”  You would chide her as she put her “warpaint” on, as you us to call it when she was applying her make up. She relied on you as much as you did her. Even though your last few months on earth were spent apart, you were still one. You always will be.

 

You would be happy to know, that most of your kids talk or text everyday. We are in constant communication. About you, mom, the mad world. We laugh and cry with each other. We support and comfort each other. We know family Is everything. We give each other a place to grieve and pray. You would be so proud. It is ALL you ever wanted. You are never far from any of us.

 

So much has changed since you left us. The world changed. Forever. All I can think is, while you were on the earth you were filled with pain, your life was never easy. And now, the world is suffering, every continent, every country, every community, and you are finally pain free and at peace. I hurt for the world and for all of us, down here missing you.

Lessons From My Father

My father passed away  December 16th at the age of 87. He left a legacy of lessons for his children to pass on for generations.

My dad was born to a German immigrant mother and a father who abandoned the family. Raised by his mother, grandmother and step father. He didn’t know that his step father wasn’t his birth father until he saw his birth certificate at age 15. This changed my father forever. And shaped who he was to become as a father himself. His youth, and the hardships he endured, molded the man, who never gave up or in. The man  who was determined, driven and strict. The stubborn, musically gifted, artistic and funny father he was. These are the lessons he left our family.

 

Be Punctual. Always.

My dad was never late. Ever. Not even once. And he made sure his children were the same, or at least while under his roof. If he said Thanksgiving dinner was to be at noon, you got there by 11. If you started work at 8 you got there by 7:30. To him it was a matter of showing respect, to your boss, your teacher or your family. It showed you cared enough to plan ahead for anything that could cause you to be late.  If we were going somewhere as a family, my dad would yell up to the bedrooms, “The bus is leaving in 15 minutes.”  We all knew it would really be 10. I believe there were a few times the bus left, with a few less passengers.  This punctuality obsession I now have my husband refers to as ” Jack time.” He will ask me if the time I say we have to be somewhere is the real time or am I telling him Jack time. No need to ask.

 

Wear Many Hats

Figuratively and Literally .

My dad was a Jack of all trades, But, a Master of them too. He could fix Anything. Anything. In his working years he was a welder, a painter, a maintenance man, and a butcher to name a few.And he was great at all of them. We didn’t go get new things if they broke, because dad could fix them.  He was known as Mr Fix It on our street. At any given time there would be a neighbors lawn mower in the garage for him to repair, another neighbors item to be welded.  He created beautiful lawn furniture, Swings and benches and picnic tables that many of us have in our yards. He was the Best at grilling out. Sticky Chicky was the favorite. A delicious barbequed chicken that he had convinced all of us, was a secret sauce he had concocted in our kitchen. He would empty out the cupboards to make us think he had mixed an elaborate recipe.He never told us, we will never know. But I can still taste it.

If you have been  blessed by many talents, share them, give them away

 

Eat The Foods You Love

My dad LOVED to eat. He loved Meatballs with Gravy ( extra gravy please). He loved Culver’s Cheeseburgers and McDonald’s chicken nuggets . He ate his hot dogs with peanut butter( don’t judge it until you try it) and sardines with peanut butter( feel free to judge this). He craved chocolate, especially German chocolate. Food made him happy, and sometimes was used to soothe him. Every single time my dad was hospitalized, we knew he was getting better, when he would request( or demand) for someone to bring him a cheeseburger. He would be on that phone by 8 a.m. calling one of my sisters to bring him Culver’s. He spent many years on dialysis, and had to watch everything that went into his body, so once he had the kidney transplant, food was once again a joyous experience. It really was the way to his heart.

 

Sing Sing Sing

Music was everything in our home growing up. Silly songs, Gospel songs, Polka’s. My dad sang them.   There wasn’t a child that sat on his lap that didn’t hear “”Kitties and Doggies” . My personal favorite was “I’m walking behind you because I can’t stand your face.”He would get out his harmonica, play You Are My Sunshine and we would dance around the living room. That tradition carried on 3 generations. My dad’s all time favorite song was Edelweiss . And his favorite way to hear it was when it was sung by his children. It made him tear up. Every single time.  If there was a party, a wedding, anything, and there was a microphone, my dad would get up, grab the mic and announce to his kids to come sing it. And we did. Every single time. It made him happy. And we have it on video and in our hearts .

Edelweiss, edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, edelweiss
Bless my home-land forever
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, edelweiss
Bless my home-land forever.

Be Prepared

Have a plan. Then have a plan B, and C…. My dad was nothing if not prepared in any and All situations. He was organized, and ready for whatever may come his way.  His garage was his castle. Every tool neatly in its place, cleaned and ready to go for it’s next use. There was never any ” where did I put that?” with dad. He could tell you where every single item in that garage was. Every year, when it would be time to Open or Close the pool, my dad would call for help. He would have Everything already out waiting for us. The cover to the pool had arrows and the initials N S E W printed on it, so we knew which way to put it on. If something was to be done, it was to be done Right , and the first time. Because of his readiness, it always was.  I will not lie, that had a tendency to drive us all nuts, but now, I understand. He taught us how to adapt to life by being prepared for anything. That life will throw you curve balls, but if you have your “tools” neatly in place, you won’t have to search to find them. And you will be able to handle it.

 

 Never Quit. Ever.

When I say my dad was stubborn, it is the understatement of the year. My mom always called him A Stubborn Old German. And he was. He wanted things his way. While that proved to be difficult at times for others, I firmly believe that is why he overcame so much time after time. All his surgeries, all the hospitalizations, dialysis. Diagnosis after horrible diagnosis, he just kept going. You couldn’t keep him down for long. There were so many times, we didn’t think he would survive a surgery, or make it through another night , and then, almost like clock work, that phone call asking for a cheeseburger would happen. He was Determined. He was Driven. And it taught all of us how to just keep going. To work hard. There was no lazing around. Many a morning, dad would wake us up, usually before 7, telling us not to sleep the day away. There was work to be done. That drive and determination in every fiber of his D.N.A. is what let him live probably two decades longer than someone else in his condition. While being stubborn can be a negative, it can also be an amazing blessing. He raised children who became hard workers, driven to succeed and get things done.

 

Laughter is Everything

 

My dad had a way of turning any situation into something to smile or laugh about. In sad times, trying times. And we had a lot of those, he would say or do something to make us laugh. I remember one time when I was little, maybe 9 years old. I had a friend sleeping over. There was this small hole in the carpet, and I was beyond mortified that my friend would see it . Dad had recently been disabled, so times were difficult. I am sure a hole in the carpet was the least of his worries, but He knew I was worried about it. So, he handed me his cane and a golf ball. We golfed for hours in that living room. That memory is etched into my brain. My sisters and I were cheerleaders, and sometimes dad would pick us up from practice or a game. But dad simply couldn’t just pick us up. Oh no, he would pull in, blaring his custom car horn programmed to play our school song. I remember wanting to crawl back into the school, but I saw how it made all our friends LAUGH and smile. Any time we had an issue with someone growing up, dad would say ” Did you tell them you know R.J. Bauman personally?”  It made us laugh, and it helped. He would spend hours singing funny songs, drawing Kilroy Was Here pictures or telling us jokes. He had a very inappropriate business card he would hand out to total strangers, the look on their faces was priceless. He faced every obstacle in his life with determination and humor. That gift also has been passed down 3 generations. The ability we have to laugh when times are hard, is the direct result of watching him do the same.

 

The Legacy a Father Leaves

My dad never knew his real dad. And that haunted him. He searched for years on his own. Then we joined in to help. We got close. We found an additional sister he never knew. His father left her family too. But that stopped with him. My dad never left. Ever. Times weren’t always easy. But he never walked away. His presence was everywhere. He was strict, which taught his children to be respectful. He was stubborn which taught us to be determined and go after our dreams. He sang and played his harmonica all the time and now his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are talented singers and musicians and know every word to Edelweiss. His love of food taught his  family that simply just getting together to eat is all the Christmas present you need and now plenty of grandchildren enjoy a hotdog smothered in peanut butter. His undying love for our mother, his wife of 66 years, his comforter and care giver, was evident in his eyes. That showed his children, grandchildren and generations to come that True Love does exist. That times can be difficult and beautiful at the same time. The legacy my father leaves is this, a father Stays. He stays and raises his children and shows them how to carry on when he is called Home. Knowing he has prepared them for whatever happens in their life. That the tools they need are safely placed where we can find them. 10599133_10152290042475108_167294392677951294_nEnsuring they will sing and laugh through the good  days and the bad . And we will do it all on time, if not sooner. Jack time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Here

My Faith was tested. It was pushed to the limits. I have never felt so helpless, overwhelmed and unprepared in my life. If it could go wrong, it had. 2019 was trying to kill me I was sure.It was trying to suck the life, Joy and Faith right out of me. Somehow, it didn’t. It made my Faith and my Joy stronger. Even Here, in the deepest, darkest days, Even here, I wasn’t alone.

Brett was admitted to the hospital August 4th. After a summer of sickness, and E.R. visits, we were prepping for his colonoscopy. My worst fears came true. As Brett began to vomit blood, I screamed for my husband to call 911. The tests confirmed Severe Crohn’s disease, a stricture blockage and ulcers in his esophagus. He was as sick as I had ever seen anyone. But it was different, he was MY Son, and I was helpless. I couldn’t fix him. He wouldn’t let me leave. So I stayed for almost all of his 14 days in the hospital. He wanted the room dark, blinds drawn, t.v. on E.S.P.N. ( he never watches sports) on mute, for 14 days. I had brought my bible and journal. So I spent time finding comfort in the Word. I was worried sick about Brett. They wanted to transfer him to a teaching hospital for possible surgery. I once again had to close my salon so I could be with him.( By the month of August I had shut the salon down a total of  almost 4 months. Two months for my broken arm, two weeks and a few days for when my parents were hospitalized and put into nursing homes and now this. ) Most days were spent quietly with Brett, while my husband worked.  My husband would come as soon as he could get off of work each day. But I felt so alone, in the muted darkened room. I had to reach up for help.

 

When the doctor names the pain you feel
And the air around you changes
When you don’t know what is coming next
You’re afraid to turn the pages
When the answers don’t give you relief
And they only bring more questions
When you wish that you could run away
But you don’t know what direction
There’s no waking up from this a bad dream
There’s no way to stop a slow motion emergency
Even here
In the unknown
Even now
You are not alone.   JJ Heller
 On the 8th day in the hospital, Brett was going to be transferred an hr away. I would go with him, in the ambulance, and Mark would join us when he could. That day also happened to be our 30th wedding anniversary. Earlier in the year we had booked a cute little cabin on the water for a get a way to celebrate it. As the summer went on we knew it wouldn’t happen, so we canceled it. I never thought I would end up spending it like this. The transfer was taking longer than expected. I was tired and weary and afraid for Brett.  My husband and I ended up saying some cross words to each other and in the midst of it he told me the company he had worked for 15 years would be closing their doors at the end of August. I felt the air leave my body.I stood still. How could this be happening. I know in that moment God took over. I felt a peace and calm, and I knew I needed to be there for Mark. I knew we would be okay. What I didn’t know, was that Mark had found  out about the job loss the day Brett was admitted to the hospital but wanted to spare me the stress. He knew I was beside myself over worry with Brett. So he took that burden away. I feel so badly he felt he had to. When the transfer was finally happening, I walked down one hallway with Brett on a stretcher and the paramedics and Mark walked the other way with the nurses. I turned, and quietly whispered “Happy Anniversary” to him as tears poured down my face. The nurses stopped in their tracks. These sweet women who had comforted Brett for 8 days were now comforting us. Mark came and gave me a quick hug and we said our goodbyes. I knew we were heading into so many unknowns, but I knew Who was going before me.
  Find me in the River
Find me on my knees
I’ve walked against the water
Now I’m waiting if you please
We didn’t count on suffering
We didn’t count on pain
But if there are blessings in the valley
Then in the River I will wait.   (Find me in the River by Delirious)
 Brett was transferred to one of the best hospitals in the country and got amazing care. We were close to family there for support, food and a place to rest our weary bones.  They ran more tests and confirmed the severity of Brett’s condition and even added more to it. Brett was diagnosed with Severe Fistulizing Crohn’s Disease. Which the Dr. said was good news bad news. The bad news was obvious, the good news was that it is almost a guarantee for insurance approval for Remicade. Remicade is a medication administered via infusion to try to bring on remission. I felt relief and fear all at once. But this is what I had spent all summer praying for. Answers and a plan. Just give me a plan. I live and die by a schedule, a calendar and a plan.  This year had thrown all of that to the wind. I knew God was teaching me, His schedule, His calendar, His plan. I need only be still. So after two weeks in the hospital we were going home. A bag full of prescriptions and a plan. He was quickly approved for the treatment and he started them 3 weeks later on my 50th birthday. Honestly the best present I ever could have.
I had been feeling sad about my birthday, but not for the typical reasons. I was sad because my mom couldn’t remember it. She has dementia, so I knew eventually it was coming, her forgetting important things, but I wasn’t prepared. I was born on their 16th wedding anniversary, so she always had a speech she gave to people about me. ” This is my baby daughter Mary, she is the 6th child, 6lbs 6 oz. on our 16th wedding anniversary.” She literally said this for years, to any friend of hers I was meeting for the first time. So when the days were drawing closer to our special day, I would ask her “Mom, do you know what day is coming? “No”. she would say. I would tell her it was her anniversary, then ask her what else happened on their 16th anniversary. ” I don’t know unless it was something special.”  Gut punch. Every time. But I kept asking, because I just needed my mom. I would quietly say, “It was me mom, I was born on your anniversary.” So to have the distraction of Brett beginning his treatment was exactly what I needed.

Exodus 14:14

14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

As difficult as it was on us to have my husband lose his job, I also feel it was Gods perfect timing. I needed him home, we all did. We had been through so much this year, we were so overwhelmed, so we all needed the break. The lord is faithful and He provides. We had savings, and I was back at work. Mark was able to be home with Brett in the early days of his treatment. I could breathe easier knowing he was there. But then the rains came…the flooding rains. Our area was hit with over 7 inches, and we had a leak in our roof. Of course we did. I actually laughed, because, why not? I mean what else could happen, wait don’t answer that. So 13 grand later we are getting a new roof. ( Our second new roof this year as we had to put a new roof on the salon building after the tornado damaged it. No, I am not kidding). And God is still faithful. He never said we wouldn’t suffer, that wouldn’t have trials. He simply asked us to lean on Him. So I do. Every morning, with my coffee, I sit quietly with my bible, my journal and my devotional. And I thank God for getting us through. For the patience He is helping me learn when things don’t go my way on my time.I am learning I can’t and don’t control everything. Those were my lessons I needed to learn. My kids always tease me about how often I ask them if they are okay, if everything is alright. It is a habit. While Brett was so sick, I would probably ask him 40 times a day. I was so worried I would miss something. Every time the poor kid entered the room I would grill him. I am working hard to let that go too. Brett’s therapist mentioned that maybe I could try to only ask a few times a day. So I am trying. I bite my tongue, sometimes it works.

 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2

 

As I sit quietly here tonight, I am in awe of the work God has done for my family this year. This year filled with trials and tribulations. God is good. Brett is doing amazing, he has gained over 30 lbs back. He smiles and cracks jokes again. Mark starts his new job tomorrow. It was such a blessing having him home. He completed almost every honey do list I had. He was here for Brett when he needed him most. And for me. And I have a peace and calm I haven’t had in a long time. A clarity to see things how they really are. Each night when I lay my head to the pillow, I say “Help me Jesus.” He hears our prayers.

Even here.

 

Another New Normal.

Two years. We started this journey two years ago. Doctor appointments, tests, nurses. Two years of googling symptoms, of thinking I could cure him myself. Two damn years of worry, and fear. Today, I exhaled.

  My son Brett, started losing weight. Slowly at first. Enough to notice. Of my four sons, he was my “husky” one. So 20 lbs at first wasn’t alarming. It was more a wonder. Has he stopped just shoving food in his mouth, not caring what it is? Is he starting to control some of his oral fixations? Having autism, food for him is comfort. Certain foods, more than others. Anyone in the autism community knows all about  the chicken nuggets and bacon obsession. So could he be maturing?  Not wanting to miss anything, we made an appointment.

The Dr. Brett saw for years had passed away, so we would be seeing a new one. I was leery as Brett doesn’t do well with Dr.’s or lab work, or anything related. His old Dr. understood him. Knew how to talk to him, to get him to explain his symptoms. I was hopeful we would be lucky twice. As soon as we left his office, I had a gut feeling. That nagging feeling that this wasn’t the Dr. he needed. He seemed to blow us off, told us not to worry, his metabolism was probably changing. I so badly wanted to believe it. So I left the office, praying he was right. Brett also had a rash on his chest that wouldn’t clear up, he was not worried on that either. He said he would do some labs and get back to us.  When nothing showed up, I should’ve been happy. I wasn’t . I knew there was something wrong. But I did nothing. I let my fear of ruffling feathers, of making a scene, of using my voice stop me.

Over the next year we made multiple trips to the Dr. They ran more lab tests, but nothing further. Because he is on disability, and has long term care funding, he has a personal nurse, She would come often to monitor him, check his BMI. She had him drink ensure. He was now down 40 lbs. We were doing everything we could think of. Everything. I am so mad at myself. Furious. I should’ve marched in there, somewhere, and had a sit in. I should’ve been the mom in Terms of Endearment, when she demands they give her daughter the medicine. I should’ve screamed. I couldn’t find my voice. I will never forgive myself for that.

During all this time, my life was in a tailspin. My parents are elderly and failing. At the same time. So my siblings and I had to place them in a nursing home, sell their home and grieve all that was. My head was somewhere else. I stopped fixating on Brett, I had so many irons in the fire. I had fallen and broken my wrist so was off work for 2 months. I was worried about bills. I lost focus. It happens, I know. But as a special needs mom, there is this saying, ” I can’t die, like ever.”  It means that he will need me, us, forever. There is no moving out, no getting married. I dropped the ball.

On June 1st, Brett got sick. We thought it was a 24 hr bug. At least that is how it presented itself. He wanted me to sleep on the couch with him. To watch over him. Like I did when he was a child. As quickly as it came, it was gone.  Until Fathers Day morning at 4 a.m., when it came back. I asked if he was in pain. He said yes. I asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. Surprisingly, he said yes.  Thank God he did. He found his voice that day.

I am incredibly grateful for the NP he saw in the E.R. . As usual when we go into unfamiliar situations, I will whisper “he has autism” to whomever has to interact with him. It matters. It changes how he reacts to them, based on how they speak to him. She Listened to him, and to my husband and I. She showed concern and compassion. She immediately ordered a series of tests. Including a CT Scan and an ultrasound. For the first time in 2 years, I felt heard! After several hours, she came back in to tell us.  She sat down next to Brett, looked him in the eye, and said “I think we figured out why you’ve lost 60 lbs. You have Crohn’s Disease. I was simultaneously relieved and panicked.  Brett being Brett looked at her and asked ” Is it curable or is it like an STD?” Oh how we needed the levity. She laughed and then honestly told him ” It isn’t curable. Our goal is remission.” As hard as it was to hear, I was forever grateful. I looked at her and just smiled. I was crying inside. I was angry at myself. But I was happy we at least had the start of an answer.

Since June 17th, we have had many appointments. We have had many setbacks. We have made emergency calls to the specialists. There is more medication than I can keep track of. Today, we had a very big scare, and we ended back at the hospital. But in the end we were put at ease. He has more testing coming up in two weeks, where they will determine what medications will hopefully put him into remission, because right now he is in a flare, a serious one. My husband and I are stressed beyond limits. People tell me I look tired. I am. Not sleeping from regret and worry will do that to a gal. We truly live minute to minute. That is how quickly this disease acts on him. And we live in this new normal. A zombie like state. I hover over him, picking up his every signal only I can decipher.  We hope for good news with every new test they run. We pray what he eats stays down and gets absorbed. He is severely under weight, anemic and tired.  But he is still Brett. He still says highly inappropriate things, things that make us laugh.  He spends more time with us now, which is new, out of fear I suppose. He is scared, so we are his safe place to fall.

I have relied heavily on my faith in Jesus. For comfort for Brett, for peaceful nights rest for him as he struggles in pain or nausea. I have prayed for patience and grace for myself, so I don’t lash out at others around me, because there is a tornado inside me. Calm, I pray for calm. In my mind as it races and jumps ahead to years my husband and I are older, and beyond. We can’t die. I have cried countless tears, at home, or work. I have many  a

client grab me in their arms and hug me. They see the load  I carry.  I have been held up in prayer by our friends and family, and people I don’t know. I believe it is working. I am working on letting go of the anger I have at the Dr and Myself for not speaking up. Fool me once, that is what they say right? Never again. I am so impressed with his Dr and NP and nurse right now, I can not sing their praises enough.  His nurse today spent a half hr just going over his CT results with us. She knows how to talk to Brett, and understands his humor. At one point in the Dr’s office today Brett had enough, dropped an F bomb and stormed out. We looked at her as she laughed along with us.  “Welcome to the wonderful world of Brett “. we said.  Our new normal.

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