Category Archives: Family

When I remember Grandmommy’s house…

When I remember Grandmommy’s house, it’s always Summer.  Or maybe Spring.  It’s at least warm enough to be outside.  We played outside a lot.  I have memories of poking underneath her azalea bushes, looking for Easter eggs with my cousins; running to the front yard with a dime clutched in my hand, trying to catch the ice cream truck as it made its way down the block; and catching fireflies after dark, putting them in an old mayonnaise or pickle jar with holes poked in the lid.  I suppose we visited other times of year, or perhaps it would be raining, because I also have memories inside the house, although this particular story took place on the brick patio outside the kitchen door.

Current view of Grandmommy's house courtesy of Google Street View (it hasn't changed much at all!)

Current view of Grandmommy’s house
(it hasn’t changed much at all!)

When we would visit, there was never a need to bring our own toys – Grandmommy had things for us to play with.  There was the stuffed dog – long, like a dachshund, but with blue velvet around the middle – I liked to sleep with my head on his middle part.  And the babydoll with a squishy belly and hard rubber arms, legs and face – I carried her around all the time, giving her bottles and rocking her to sleep.  It was the babydoll that got me in trouble one time – the only time my grandmother ever got mad at me.

The family next door had 3 girls – two, a few years younger than me, and Susan – a couple of years older.  Susan was tall, pretty, and most importantly the oldest.  She often decided what game we would play.

One time, I took the doll outside and met them in Grandmommy’s side yard.  Susan wanted to play operating room – she would be the doctor and her sisters and I would be the nurses.  So we got a butter knife, some Band-Aids, and a permanent marker.

Susan laid the doll on the patio table and pretended to cut her open with the butter knife.  When she was done, we put bandaids on her belly, and then drew scars and stitches on her arms and legs.  With the permanent marker.

When Grandmommy found out what we had done, she got mad – angrier than I had ever seen her.  She sat me down on her red kitchen stool – the kind with the steps that folded up underneath the seat – and scolded me for what felt like a long time.  She told me I was not allowed to play with the babydoll any more, and couldn’t take any toys outside.  I was more upset that she was mad at me than that I was being punished – I hated disappointing her.   But I’ve always wondered if Susan got in trouble too, since it was her idea!

Mixed Emotions

We are coming up on 2 important anniversaries.  Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death.  I think about him every day, and miss him more than words can say.  Fortunately, when I look back on my life, I have many special memories of our time together – riding in the car on road trips or just to his farm in Maryland, dancing to big band music at the officers’ club on a ech college gradnearby military base, moving me into my college dorm, the smile on his face when I graduated, and the hug he gave me the last time I saw him.  I am grateful for those.  They usually bring a smile to my face, albeit often with tears in my eyes at the same time.

I know I am lucky to have had him in my life for 48 years.  His life was a long, successful, happy one.  He worked hard, provided well for his family, and loved me unconditionally.  I know it is selfish to want him back, but I do.  Even with the Alzheimer’s robbing him of his memory and his intelligence, I miss his gentle smile and warm eyes.  But then I remember that several of my students over the past few years have lost fathers to cancer or heart attacks or other tragic causes, and I feel terrible for feeling so sad about my dad.  At least he got to see me grow up.  He got to know me as an adult.  And I got to know him too.  My loss isn’t easy, but it isn’t as tragic as these other men who were taken from their families, their daughters, too soon.

I know I will miss Dad every day, but I don’t want to go through the rest of my life as sad as I have been.  The problem is that I don’t know how to miss him without feeling sadness too.  I think I am afraid that if I let go of the sadness, it will feel like I don’t miss him enough.  I try to focus on the fact that he would not have wanted to go on in his condition at the end.  But it is still hard to let go and move forward.

Moving forward is what the 2nd anniversary is all about – processing inSunday will be my first wedding anniversary!  I have mixed emotions about that too. Don’t get me wrong – I am beyond thrilled to have married the love of my life!  It was a long time coming.  I am just sad that it didn’t happen years before, when my dad was still able to travel and could have been there to give me a hug and to welcome Jeanne into the family as my wife.

Recently, I have become obsessed fascinated with the idea of a medium being able to channel loved ones from the “other side”.  I am beginning to believe that the spirits of those who have passed remain with us, sort of like guardian angels, hovering over and keeping tabs on what we are doing.  The one positive thing I can hang on to about my dad passing away 3 days before our wedding is, as our Best Woman put it, that was the only way Dad could be at the wedding with us.  It isn’t quite the same thing as if he had been there in body, but I do hope that he was there in spirit – and was as happy for us as we were for ourselves.

We buried my father yesterday

We buried my father yesterday.  It was a long, difficult, emotionally draining day.  But there were amazing moments that will stay with me for a long time.  Because the funeral home in charge was in Delaware and the funeral was in DC, we didn’t have a visitation the night before.  Instead, the immediate family received the guests at the back of the church before the service began.

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

I was amazed at how many people were there – old family friends from my childhood years, who I hadn’t seen in decades.  Family and friends from all over the country – my mom and I counted 20 states and the District of Columbia were represented, if you include my cousin’s husband who lives in Minnesota but works several weeks each month in Alaska, and flew in from there.  The full list is: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington state, Texas, Alaska, and of course DC.  My Dad’s life touched many, many people and it meant so much to me that they wanted to be there to let us know how much he meant to them.

The priest gave a very nice homily, honoring Dad.  Then my brother and my cousin both gave eulogies.  I have to say, Terry, my brother, did an amazing job.  It was heartfelt, honest, humorous, and above all was a perfect tribute to my dad.  We laughed and we cried.  I only wish he was able to give me a copy so I could share it with you.  But he spoke from his heart, not his notes.  He didn’t have any of it written down.  And it never occurred to me to grab the iphone and record it – what I would give to have it to listen to when I want to remember his description of my dad.

After Terry was finished, my cousin, Shannon, who was one of Dad’s goddaughters, shared a few stories of times she remembered with Dad – also heartfelt and touching.  We then processed out to the Navy hymn, chosen by Mom to honor Dad’s Naval service.

From the church, we processed to Arlington National Cemetery, where Dad was interred with full military honors.  If you have never been to a military funeral, I am not sure I can describe it.  The solemnity with which they conduct the entire ceremony was incredibly moving.  First, we arrived at the administration building to make sure that everyone was there before we proceeded to the actual gravesite.  Once we were ready, everyone got in their cars and we drove to what was referred to as the staging area.

caisson

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

We stopped, got out of the cars, and watched as they moved the casket from the hearse to the horse-drawn caisson.  We then walked behind as he was taken another couple of blocks to where the grave was.  Marching in front of the caisson was the Navy Honor Guard flight – about 30 sailors in dress uniform with bayonetted guns on their shoulders – and a band that played as we walked, as well as at the graveside.

After the family was seated, the priest said a few prayers.  We then stood for the military honors. The Naval pallbearers removed the flag and held it tight over the casket.  While they stood there, a bagpiper played Amazing Grace, 7 men shot off 3 rounds each for the 21-gun salute, and then a trumpeter played Taps.  The pallbearers folded the flag, and it was presented to my mother. The Captain who handed it to her said, “On behalf of the President, the department of the Navy and our country, we want to thank your husband for his dedication and service.”  That flag will always be a reminder of Dad’s commitment to what he felt was his patriotic duty to serve in the Navy.

I have shed a lot of tears since that night in November when mom told me he was gone.  I imagine I will shed many more in the days and weeks ahead.  But I am glad that he is no longer trapped in a body that couldn’t walk and a mind that couldn’t remember.

view of AF mem

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

If I didn’t know it before, after talking to family and friends this week, I know that he loved me as much as I loved him.  I also know that he will always be with me – in my heart.  And I can always go visit him, at a lovely spot right between the Pentagon and the Air Force Memorial.  What an honor!

Peter and the Rock

I am currently participating in an Adult R.E. (Religious Education) class at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The minister is leading a course titled “Owning Your Religious Past” that is designed to address where we have come from in our spiritual journey.  She described it this way:

“Few UU’s are born into the faith, and when we find our way here, it can be with significant baggage from past church experiences. This class will help us sort through what was, what is, and what can be in our experience of religious community, its tools of self-exploration and sharing, finally enabling us to realize a faith that is powerful, nurturing, and relational.”

Last Sunday, the 2nd in the 5 week curriculum, we spent some time with our eyes closed, remembering a church from our past that had a big influence on us, either positively or negatively, mentally walking through the entire building, recalling sights, sounds, and smells.  We then spent a few minutes drawing a floor plan of it and sharing with the other members of the class what we remembered.

My memory was of the Catholic church of my childhood.  I remembered walking up the large flight of marble steps, through the heavy wooden doors, and into the sanctuary with my family.  We were usually late, rushing in as the first hymn, or even the first reading, was already underway.  We sat in the same general area each week – near the back, on the left side of the center aisle.  I still do that at my new church – although now I move to the right, near the side aisle, and am a bit closer to the front.

I think we are all creatures of habit and tend to gravitate to our “comfort zone”.  I remember often asking my dad why we had to sit so far back.  Looking back, it was probably because we were late, and he didn’t want to make a bigger scene than necessary.  He was never one to draw attention to himself.  But his usual answer at the time was to suggest that I look at all the candles on the altar and then tell me that if the place caught on fire, he wanted to be as close to the door as possible!

One of the sights I remember from many Sundays sitting in the pews was the Bible verse painted around the clerestory, just below the upper level windows. In letters edged with gold, it read

TU ES PETRUS, ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM

For those as lacking in biblical knowledge as I am, that verse is from Matthew 16:18.  As you can see, it was in Latin, which I never took, and it wasn’t until I was in French class in high school that I deciphered what it meant.  In French,  the name Peter translates as Pierre, while the word for rock is pierre.  Yes, the same word.  Sometime after I learned that, I was sitting in church one Sunday, looking at the words high above my head (probably trying to keep from falling asleep during the sermon), and realized that Petrus/Petram looked a lot like Peter. Aedificabo looked like “edifice”, which had to do with buildings, and all of a sudden I put it together.  I was sitting in St. Peter’s Church!  And there was a Bible verse I vaguely remembered hearing at some point in my Catholic school education about “You are Peter, and on this Rock, I build my church.”

It all began to make sense.  At least, the choice of Bible verses made sense.  (I mean, it was St. Peter’s Church!) I never did make sense of the dogma that was preached.  Which is why I no longer consider myself a Catholic.

I have been thinking about my childhood church a lot lately.  Taking part in this exploration of our religious past is bringing up lots of memories, but I also have realized this week that St. Peter’s is still a part of my present.  7 weeks from today*, I will be back in St. Peter’s Church.  This time, though, I will be sitting in the front row, listening to my brother eulogize my father, and missing my rock.  I just hope the church doesn’t catch fire!

 

*For those who don’t know, we have had to wait for my father’s funeral until we were given a burial date by Arlington National Cemetery.

10 Holiday Memories

I make pumpkin pie for everyone else and cherry pie for me!

These days, I make pumpkin pie for everyone else and cherry pie for me!

1) Making yeast rolls with Mom and snagging one from the bread basket before it gets to the table.

2) Learning how to make real whipped cream from Grandmommy and eating a spoonful by itself because I don’t like pumpkin pie.

3) Being in charge of putting out place cards and deciding who I want to sit next to each year.

4) Talking Dad into pouring me a taste of the wine so I could feel grown up for just a day.

5) Listening to mom sneeze 3 times at the end of the meal and her telling us Granddaddy always did the same thing.

These friends helped us celebrate holidays each year.

These friends helped us celebrate holidays each year.

6) Waiting for dessert until family friends come over and then having game night while we digest it all.

7) Carrying boxes (and boxes and boxes) of decorations down from the storage cupboard above the bathtub while mom fixes hot chocolate the next morning.

8) Helping untangle the lights with Dad because Mom doesn’t have the patience for it.

9) Taking each ornament out of the box one at a time and each of us getting to hang “ours” on the tree wherever we want.

This is my tree now, but I still like to turn out all the lights and admire it!

This is my tree now, but I still like to turn out all the lights and admire it!

10) Turning out all the lights except the ones on the tree and the candles in the windows, turning on the radio to the station playing carols, and listening to the crackle of the fireplace as we are surrounded by the warmth of family.

What are your childhood memories from this time of year?

Dad will be in my heart forever

For the last 3 years, I have known my dad was dying.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which we all know is incurable and ultimately terminal.  But I had hopes that he would be around for a long time – there are stories of people living with Alzheimer’s for 10+ years.  The thing is, he probably had it for much longer and we never knew.  Or maybe we knew, but didn’t want to face it.

For a long time leading up to the diagnosis, we knew something was wrong.  He would repeat questions or forget appointments or get into fender benders that he should have been able to avoid.  He would get angry for no apparent reason – he was basically a kind, gentle man, so that was very out of character for him.  At first, I chalked it up to his work-a-holic tendencies that left him out of sorts after retirement.  He didn’t have any hobbies, so he didn’t know what to do with himself when he wasn’t working a full-time job.  But then it became clear that it was more than that.

We originally referred to it as “dementia” – which covers a whole host of disorders and can be caused by a wide variety of problems, ranging from vitamin deficiency to strokes to the dreaded Alzheimer’s.  I think the hope was that he would get better.  But he just kept getting worse.  And then the doctor said what we had all been doing our best to deny.

Mom did her best to manage with him at home, but with my brother and me each about 800-900 miles away, she had a hard time being the sole care-giver.  About 6 months after the official diagnosis, the family decided that it would be best if Dad moved into assisted living.  That was almost exactly 2 years ago.  He moved in on November 1st, 2010.  On November 4th, he fell and broke his hip. Surgery was necessary, but as we had heard, the anesthesia accelerated the dementia, and he never really got back on his feet.

His first assisted living arrangement was near me.  This eased the responsibility on Mom, but she had to travel by plane to see him – something she did about once a month for a year.  I enjoyed being able to see him frequently, though.  I would often stop by on my way home from work, sometimes just to say hi and check on him, others to actually have dinner with him and visit for a while.

At the end of that first year, she decided that she wanted him back closer to her – a decision that was very hard for me to accept, but ultimately was the right one, since his new residence was in a facility that could better care for him as his medical needs grew.  He was there about 4 months when they moved him from the assisted living memory unit to the skilled nursing floor.

I was able to visit him 4 times during the past year.  The first visit was in January – about 2 months after he moved back East.  I was discouraged for the first two days because he didn’t seem to know me, but the last day I was there, he knew exactly who I was – he even introduced me to a staff member by name and as his daughter.  The next time I saw him was in May.  I only had a couple of hours with him – I was on my way to my 30th high school reunion.  Fortunately, he was having a pretty good day that day as well.

In August of this past summer, I was able to go again – this time for several days.  He still lit up when he saw me, recognizing me as someone he knew and loved, but was confused about which family member I was.  I spent time with him during the day, and even took him to the main dining room for a couple of meals.  It was hard to see the decline, but I was glad to have some time to just be with him.

Last month, Mom was scheduled for surgery – she arranged to have it at the hospital closest to Dad and to do her rehab in the same nursing unit.  I took the week off work to be with her – something I am now incredibly glad I did.

I noticed the decline in Dad almost right away.  He was much less able to communicate – rarely talking, mumbling when he did, and dozing off frequently (if he was awake at all).  I arrived on a Saturday and stayed until Friday, seeing Dad each day except Monday, when I was at the hospital with Mom all day.  Most of the time I spent with him was in silence – he was either sleeping or unable to respond to anything I said.  Occasionally I would get a nod or even a slurred yes or no, but that was about it.

At the end of the week, I had to return home – I had a job waiting, and my mother was being cared for by the nursing staff.  My brother’s wife was due to arrive 4 days later to help out when Mom was discharged.  I had plans to fly back for Thanksgiving – which was only 4 weeks away.  When it was time to go, I stopped by Dad’s room to say goodbye, but he was sleeping.  I told him I loved him, that I would be back and to do whatever the nurses told him.

That night, the nursing staff decided he needed to go to the hospital because he was severely dehydrated and needed IV fluids.  He hadn’t eaten much all week, and had had even less to drink.  They kept him overnight, and may have kept him longer to administer more fluid, but Hurricane Sandy was due to hit within a couple of days and Mom was concerned he would get stuck at the hospital.  He was there alone, because she was less than a week out of surgery and couldn’t go with him, so she arranged to get him discharged and brought back to his room.  But we all knew that his condition was of grave concern.  So my brother decided to go out with his wife, and together they decided to fly out a couple of days early to beat the storm.

They got there Sunday, the storm hit Monday, and by Tuesday it was clear that Dad’s time was running out.  He rallied a bit that afternoon, but was unresponsive again the next day. On that Thursday, my brother texted me in the afternoon that Dad was close to passing.  His breathing was very shallow and slow, although his pulse remained strong. The doctor put him on morphine that evening, since he seemed to be in some distress.

Several days went by with little change – on Sunday, my brother and I both commented that we were surprised he was hanging on.  We knew it was just a matter of time, though.  Between him, his wife, and my mother, Dad had someone sitting with him almost all day.  From what they have told me, Dad seemed peaceful – the morphine helped him rest comfortably, so that eased my mind.  On Monday, my brother stayed with him almost all day long – he had to leave the next day, and was hopeful that Dad would pass before he had to leave.  But in his stubborn way, Dad hung on almost 2 more days.

They left the morning of Tuesday, November 6th and Dad passed Wednesday evening.  I know my brother has some guilt over that – he probably has that refrain running through his head. “If only…”  But as his wife has said, Dad was probably waiting for him to leave – he always liked to do things in his own way.  I am just disappointed that I didn’t realize how close the end was when I was there – if only…

The night that Mom called to say dad was gone was one of the worst of my life.  Even though I knew that day would come, and over the 10 days leading up to it, I had been expecting it any day, it still felt like a blow to the gut.  My dad – my hero – was gone.  Really gone.  Not just locked away in his deteriorating mind, but gone from this earth.

I have lost my dad again.  I lost him the day he was diagnosed.  I lost him the day he fell and had to have surgery.  I lost him the day he moved to Delaware.  And I lost him on November 7th at 10:30 at night.  I guess the thing I can hold on to now is that I will never lose him again – he will remain in my heart forever.

 

Feeling the love…

I have gotten to see a sneak peek of our wedding photos on Facebook.  My sister-in-law is amazingly talented, so they are all exceptional.  I can’t wait to see the rest of them, but in the meantime, I wanted to share three that I just adore.

The first one was taken before we left for the church.  I love the archway as a frame for us.

The 2nd one was taken after the ceremony, on the balcony at the church.  You can almost feel the love shining out of the picture.

The last one is of us sitting in the “parlor” at the Bed & Breakfast.  We had been toasted by our “best women”, and were opening gifts.  The emotion I feel from this one is pure joy – one of the things I love most about our relationship is the laughter we share every day.

Thank you, Lori, for sharing our day and offering your incredible talent to document this milestone for us!  We love you!

A play-by-play of our wedding day

Last week was the worst week of my life and the best week of my life.  On Wednesday evening, my Dad passed away (a blog post for another day).  On Thursday, I left for Iowa to get married.  Jeanne and I had been planning our wedding since the end of September, and since the date for Dad’s funeral is up to Arlington National Cemetery and may be several months off, there was no reason to change our plans. We had planned for it to be a very small affair anyway – just us and 2 attendants – so we decided to go ahead and leave.  Between the original plan and the date of the wedding, we did add one guest – a cousin who lives close enough to drive to the location we had chosen.

Jeanne & I, along with our dear friend Lorena, drove about 1/3 of the way the first day.  We got back in the car Friday morning, arrived in Davenport at 2:15 pm, and met up with my sister-in-law who drove in from Wisconsin.  We got there in plenty of time to pick up our license at the court house, check into the Bed & Breakfast we had found, and get to the church for a 4 pm rehearsal.  All went smoothly that day, and we went to bed early to be well rested for the big day.

Saturday – our wedding day – was almost perfect.  The day began with sleeping in (which we all needed), followed by a yummy breakfast casserole, cinnamon rolls and a trip to the mall to get our nails done.  My color matched my flowers and Jeanne’s color matched her blouse.  It had been sprinkling as we walked into the mall, but when we left, the sun was shining – yay!  After a quick bite at Panera to make sure we all made it through the afternoon, we returned to the Beiderbecke Inn to get ready.  Jeanne was ready first and went downstairs to wait.  My cousin Michelle arrived and kept her company while our 2 attendants helped me get into my dress.  Michelle then came up to see me and give me two tokens to have with me during the ceremony – a hankie that was her mother’s and a pin that was one of Dad’s other sister’s.  The pin belonged to my godmother, and was a silver shamrock with a pearl at the center.  Both gifts were very meaningful and gave me a sense of having part of Dad with me on this special day.

When I was finally ready, I came down to meet Jeanne.  As I rounded the corner in the staircase, I could see her waiting at the bottom – her mouth hanging open as she saw my dress for the first time.  I was so happy she liked it!  We took tons of photos, inside and out, and then headed for the church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, a UU congregation very similar to our home church of Neshoba.

When we got there, several cars were already in the parking lot.  Our minister in Memphis had emailed the minister in Iowa to suggest that he invite members of his congregation to attend, since we couldn’t have our church family with us.  When we went inside there were already 2 families and a couple of other people.  More arrived before the start of the ceremony – we were amazed at how many people came to see 2 strangers get married.  One couple, Dana and Betty, told us that they had been married over 2 years ago, and when they had their ceremony, they had also been together 19 years.

The ceremony itself was lovely.  The minister said a few words of welcome, and talked about love.  One phrase that stuck with me was he told us to “knock gently on each other’s hearts, and open them to each other in gladness”.  Our friend Lorena, who we gave the title of “Best Woman”, read the chalice lighting words. Lori, my sister-in-law, who was the “Matron of Honor”, read a passage from Robert Fulgum.  Following that was a prayer that Lorena and Lori read together.

Then came the vows – we had each written our own and not shared them at that point.  I was already a bit teary because Lori & Lorena had each teared up a bit during the readings.  I went first because I didn’t want to cry at Jeanne’s and then not be able to get through my own.  Turns out I cried during mine anyway.  But I got through it.  Jeanne’s were touching as well, so I was glad I had a hankie in my pocket!

We exchanged rings and then all of a sudden we were married!  Our recessional was “Can I have this dance” by Anne Murray, so we danced for a bit in front of everyone, and then walked down the aisle.  As everyone left, we stood by the door thanking them for helping us celebrate.  Several of them gave us cards, and one woman actually gave us a gift.  It was a small figurine of 2 people (of indiscriminate gender) embracing – we found out later, it was crafted by a famous local artisan, Isabel Bloom.

We took more photos, went to the minister’s office to sign the paper work, and then went outside to take even more pictures.  Our Matron of Honor, Lori, is a wedding photographer by profession, so she knew just what poses to capture and how to take advantage of the light.  Most of the photos were taken on her camera, so we will get those after she has a chance to upload and edit them.

A few photos were taken on iphones. This one turned out well!

It was quite breezy on Saturday, so that presented a challenge, but Lori is experienced in dealing with challenging situations, so I have no doubt the pictures will be amazing.  As we got into the car to leave the church, the rain started up again – just a sprinkle, but we were thrilled that it waited until we were finished with pictures.

We returned to the Beiderbecke to put our feet up and visit for a while.  Michelle had brought Prosecco and sparkling pear juice, so she, Lori & Lorena toasted us and our marriage.  We opened gifts from Michelle and Lorena, opened all the cards from the members of the church, and then got ready to go to dinner.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped again!

We had a 6 pm reservation at Biaggi’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant that has locations around the country, but none in Tennessee, so we hadn’t heard of it before.  I just found it the way I did most of the parts of this weekend – searching on the internet for “Fine Dining in Davenport”.  The atmosphere was warm – literally and figuratively. We were seated near a fireplace in a back room – a round table set for 5.  Lorena sat next to Jeanne, Michelle was next to me, and Lori was across the table from us – perfect vantage point for the photographer!

The waiter, a nice young man named Angel, informed us that the manager wanted to provide a bottle of wine for our celebration, so we went with Prosecco again.  For appetizers, we ordered calamari fritti and lobster artichoke dip, shared around the table. Then it was on to soup and salad – I had a Caesar and Lori & Lorena shared a beet salad and a bowl of lobster corn chowder.  The soup was passed around also so we could all taste it.   Everyone agreed that the food was all delicious.  Then came the main course.  Jeanne ordered a seafood pasta bowl that included shrimp, scallops, muscles, and clams in a tomato sauce.  I had shrimp & crab cannelloni in a lobster cream sauce.  Michelle had chicken piccata, and Lori & Lorena each ordered a ½ order of a pasta dish – the cannelloni and a black fettucini with lobster and wild mushrooms – and then shared them.   We should have all gone with 1/2 orders – Michelle, Jeanne and I all had leftovers, while Lori & Lorena cleaned their plates!

Finally, it was time for dessert.  Lori had brought a stunning cheesecake made at a Wisconsin bakery, Simma’s.  Besides being beautiful, with swirls and plum-colored dots that matched my dress, it was the most delicious wedding cake any of us had ever tasted!  It was two-tiered, and we used the figurine given to us by the member of the UUCQC as a cake topper – it was the perfect size for the cake.

We had to say goodbye to Michelle after dinner, but it had been a wonderful day and we were so grateful she was able to be there to help us celebrate.  Lori, who was doing triple duty as witness, photographer, and driver, got us all back to the B&B for a relatively early night.  The drive home the next day was going to be long, so we retired to our respective rooms by 9 pm.

Even if our marriage is never recognized by the state we live in or by the federal government, we are so happy we made this trip.  We have hopes that it be legal everywhere one day, but in the meantime, we know in our hearts that we are legally married and that we will continue to love each other … at least one more day than we have so far.

Stop the world, I want to get off!

Do you ever have those days where you want to hit the pause button on life?  You would like the whole world to just stop spinning for a day, an hour, a minute – just long enough for you to catch your break from the carnival ride you feel your life is on.  These past couple of weeks have felt like a Tilt-a-Whirl – rushing by, filled with endless to-do lists that just keep growing, even as I check items off.

I’ve been teaching, coaching, working part-time at my church, organizing our booth at the Pride Festival again, helping to plan the new minister’s installation ceremony, writing lesson plans for 4 days of a substitute… I’ve been out of town for the past 6 days, which includes 4 class days, because my mother had knee replacement surgery.   So I was with her instead of with my students.  It was the right thing to do, but any teacher knows it is more work to be gone from school than it is to be there.

Oh, yeah – I’m also planning my wedding.  In November.  In Iowa. For the few readers I have who don’t know, since my last post, my partner and I have decided (after almost 19 years) that we actually do want to get married, even though our state and the Federal government don’t recognize it.  The Federal government is getting closer, though. A couple of weeks ago, DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional by a court of appeals, so we are hopeful!

In fact, between that and the fact that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was struck down, we figure it is only a matter of time before we start being eligible for federal protections and privileges.  That is actually one of the factors in our decision to drive to Iowa next month and get married in a state where it is legal.  When the day arrives that the government will treat us the same as any other married couple, we wanted to have the document saying we are in fact married.

I will write more about our decision and our plans in a future post.  But right now, I just want the world to stop and let me off for a while.  I want to stop time – freeze everything and everyone – while I take a little time for myself.  Time to think, time to get caught up on all those things that fall to the bottom of the priority list, time to process my emotions.  They are kind of all over the place right now.

Of course, I am excited about the wedding.  I am happy that Mom’s surgery went well.  I am grateful for my school and the administration that allows me to be with my family when they need me, while having a qualified, former math teacher cover my classes so they don’t get behind.  But I am also scared.  Really scared.

This past week, I was not only visiting Mom and helping her through surgery and moving to rehab.  I was also visiting Dad.  Her surgery was at a hospital about a mile from where Dad is, and she arranged to do her rehab in the same nursing wing of the retirement community where he lives now.  I hadn’t seen Dad since August, and I was a little surprised to realize there has been such a significant decline.  I knew that he would only get worse with time, but it still took me by surprise.

January 2012 – he introduced me to the person who took this photo as his daughter!

When I was there in January, he knew me by name.  When I saw him in August, he called me by his sister’s name, but still lit up when he saw me, recognizing me as someone familiar.  This time, for the short periods when he was actually awake, he didn’t seem to know me at all.  He did put his arm around me and hug me one day, but that afternoon, he was sleeping so soundly in his room that I couldn’t get him to respond to me at all.

The nursing staff tells me that, more and more, he is like that – he sleeps most of the day, and is pretty unresponsive most of the time.  He has lost a great deal of weight, and seems to be slipping away every moment.

I have plans to go back over my Thanksgiving break, but my real fear is that I will need to go back before that.  I know that he would not want to linger – he would hate it if he was aware of his condition.  I know that the man I knew as my father has been gone for a long time.  So I should be OK with whatever happens.  But my inner child, Daddy’s little girl, wants to scream NOOOOOO!  It isn’t fair!  I’m not ready to let him go!

In the meantime, I have to get back to work, teaching, coaching, working at church.  I have a wedding to plan.  I have a life to live.   And he would want me to live it.

Where did the summer go?

This summer has been a busy one.  I took on a part time job at my church, filling in as the office admin when they had an unexpected opening.  Originally, I was just helping out until they found a replacement, but I am going to continue doing part of the job – writing the newsletter, preparing the weekly order of service and announcement bulletin, and monitoring email and voice mail – for a while.  I won’t be able to spend any time in the office, as I did this summer, because of course, I have a full-time job teaching.  In fact, I go back to work this coming week.  We start early here in the South!  But a fellow church member and I have worked out a way to share the responsibilities of the admin position, so it should all work out pretty well.

I did manage to get out of town a couple of times this summer.  For the first time in over 18 years, Jeanne and I went away for more than a weekend without seeing family members.  We usually work our trips around visiting my brother or her sisters, or they involve traveling to a neutral location WITH family members.  This time, we took a road trip that wasn’t to Wisconsin!  We saw some friends for a couple of days and then moved on to explore a new city.  We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, visited several museums and other tourist attractions, and ate in recommended restaurants.  We were gone a total of 5 nights, but it felt longer.

5 days after getting home, I was re-packed and on my way to the airport for a trip to the east coast to visit my Dad.  I flew into a small regional airport, rented a car, and drove the hour and a half to where he is being cared for.  When we moved him there in November, he was in the secure unit for Alzheimer and dementia patients.  In March, he was moved into the Skilled Nursing unit, where he now lives.  I was able to see him for 4 days, most of which were good days, when he knew me by name.  It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to when he thinks I am someone else – usually one of his sisters, Pat.  The part that hurts is when I have to say goodbye, not knowing when I will get the chance to see him again.

It would take me at least 16-18 hours to drive from my house to Delaware, and the cost of flying just keeps going up, which makes it difficult to travel that way often.  Even flying involves changing planes and the better part of a day each way, so it’s hard to find enough time during the school year.

I definitely noticed a decline in his ability to understand his surroundings as well as to communicate.  But he still looks at the paper – I am not sure he understands what he is reading, though.  One day, he had a folded paper napkin in his pocket.  He took it out, unfolded it, and held it in two hands like a newspaper, turning it over and over like he was turning the pages of the Post.  I guess some habits will stick with him until the end!

For now, he also still smiles at me, letting me know, even if he can’t come up with my name, that I am a familiar face.  One of the activities directors even commented on the fact that he seems happier when I am there.  I certainly was happy to see him!  I even got to watch him “bowl” one day – they set up plastic pins and angle the wheelchairs so that the residents have a half-way decent chance of hitting them with the plastic ball.  Dad seemed to enjoy himself and even clapped for the other residents when they took their turns.

As my school year gets underway and I get busy with the daily tasks of teaching and coaching, I will treasure the memories I made this summer, and look forward to finding time to get back to Delaware.  I would love to see Dad “bowling” again!

While I spent time with Dad each day, I also found time to connect with some friends who were in the area.  I spent about an hour visiting a friend from high school who was vacationing with her family, and had 2 meals with friends from college who arranged to visit their vacation home that weekend, knowing I would be in town.  It was great to catch up with them!  I also made time to attend a Zumba class at a local Curves – I was going to miss both of my weekly classes, so it was good to work in some physical activity.

The last 2 weeks of my summer break from school were mostly spent out of town, which had the drawback of making the summer seem even shorter, but I wouldn’t have missed either trip.  Now to buckle down and get some planning done before the students return on Monday!  I also plan to get back to doing a better job of tracking my food and making progress with Weight Watchers.  The summer has been full of ups and downs in that part of my life and I really want to get back on track.

I had set a goal at the beginning of the summer, and have fallen a little short.  I am not going to beat myself up over that, or sabotage my efforts by giving up, though.  I am going to set a new goal, and do everything I can to reach it.  My next birthday is in about 6 weeks, so my updated goal is to lose 12 pounds by then.  I’ll keep you posted!