The Snowman

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you! Friends, family and blog readers, thank you for reading and sending me messages this year. I know that I don’t write as often any more, since the blog was about my mom and I but every once in a while I think of something that is important to me or that you may relate to in some small way. This has been on my mind this week.

This is a hard time of year for people.

I know that there are articles about grief, sadness and loneliness this time of year and I won’t bore you or try to replicate them. I just know and feel how hard it is for people around the holidays.

To the woman in the elevator this week at the assisted living building I was visiting. I understand.  It was just she and I in the elevator and I could tell she was sad. Really sad. She looked so lonely and broken. I was trying to think of something to say to her as we slowly made our way to the 7th floor. Her face full of wrinkles and the saddest eyes. I finally ended up saying, “You look nice today.” She looked at me and nodded. Maybe she had recently lost her husband or maybe her children could not come for the holiday. Maybe she was in pain. I kept thinking about her during my day.

To the family of the people we have lost over the past month. I understand.  It’s never easy to lose someone you love. Ever.  But it is especially hard over the holidays. Your family is not the same and it is supposed to be a joyous time. Waves of grief fall over your heart. I have lost young and old over the past month. Cancer, the main thief, stealing the ones we love.

Many of you read The Piano Player that I wrote last December. Sadly he passed away last month and I miss his sweet smile, his laughter and gentle teasing. The hard part of the job is not to become attached. There are important things to remember called boundaries. He was one of my favorite visits and he is missed. I think people come into your life for certain reasons. He and I shared a few family issues that I didn’t share with him but I watched him handle his issues with grace and strength. There’s my lesson. Grace and strength.

To the husband of the wife I take care of who hasn’t been my easiest family member. I now understand. When I first met the husband in a rehab center, I could immediately tell he was in control of his wife’s situation. He was rude to his daughters and frankly, wasn’t listening to anyone that was trying to help him. When we got his wife home, we had a rocky start. He continued to be rude, condescending, demanding and highly opinionated. I had to deep breathe with him on all of my visits. I really needed to understand him and realize where he was coming from. I will admit that I lost my cool with him on one occasion. And I’m not proud of that.

Over the last few months I have realized that if I suggest things to him and make it seem that it is his idea, things work out much better. I let him talk and listen and I try to understand where he is coming from. Normally it is from a place of love and concern for his wife. I just know that he likes to be right and does not like to be challenged. I have worked around this since my dad was the same way. I finally look forward to my visits with him and he isn’t even my client/patient. My heartbeat does not accelerate as much as it did before when I would have to see him.

Last Friday we had a nice chat together. He brought up my comment I had made to him last month about the fact that I am adopted. He had asked what my nationality was I told him proudly that I had just found out, via a DNA test. He asked if he could ask a few questions and I was fine with what he was asking. Normally I would not answer those private questions to a stranger but I felt alright with where he was going with it.

He shared that he too was adopted. His father had up and left him when he was a baby. It was late 1920’s and he never knew why he left. He knew that he was a successful attorney in St. Paul and that his mother remarried and the new husband adopted him as his own. He never ever saw his father again but had heard that he had been hit by a train and died. Never once did they ever connect. As he was telling me this story, his daughter was standing on the stairs just listening to him tell me this story. She called me afterwards and said that he only told them that story once and that he doesn’t talk about it. She was surprised he told me the details. That story also stayed with me. We are surprisingly connected.

When I was about to leave he gave me a bag with a gift in it. We had just talked about the fact that he doesn’t think he will be around this time next year. He didn’t really want to put up his old tree but he did for his wife. He’s much more frail and I know that he thinks about his mortality and worries about his wife. Somewhat like my father thought about my mom before he died.

I told him I had to get going since I was already running behind. He waved me goodbye and told me, “Merry Christmas! See you next Friday!” I got in my car and opened it up, hardly believing he gave me a gift. After our many months of “debate”. Here is what he gave me:

 

 

 

I am hardly the world’s greatest nurse but you know what? I’m going to keep it in a special spot and when I’m feeling like I am the worlds worst nurse I will turn it on and see the colors flashing.

I understand all of the feelings this month, more than you know. The fragility of this season. The high and lows, the great expectations, the missing of loved ones, the pressure, the sadness, the grief and the longing. It’s alright to feel that way. Really.

Know that I am wishing  you the best holiday possible.

Jodi 🎄 (The World’s Greatest Nurse)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Piano Player

It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to share a story. I know I wrote my last post in May and at that time, it had been a year since my mom’s death and now it has been another six months without her. Time moves on.

Over the last few years I have been writing about her, I have shared stories about the holidays and many of the issues we went through. For many people, it is a time for family, being around our friends, good food and parties, faith and traditions. For others, it is a hard time mixed with sadness, grief and a sense of nostalgic meaning.

I have a fairly new hospice case, a sweet gentleman with a shy grin and a constant baseball cap on. This week it is a U of M cap, slightly tilted off to the side with a smudge of dirt on the front of it.

He is happy to see me and pats me on the back. I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites but in all honesty, I love coming to see him. Our banter has been the same over the past few weeks.

He: “You are here to set up my rat poison, I see.”

Me: “I see that you haven’t used your oxygen all week!”

I enter his warm kitchen and we sit down at the table. We talk a little and I start to set up his meds. I can tell he is watching me, just like my mom used to do. I can tell he is a little winded and he is telling me about riding a bike at the Y today. I warn him that he needs to keep that quiet or he will be kicked off of hospice. He gives me a mischievous grin. I grin right back.

I finish the medications and he is quiet. I know he has gone through a lot this year. It’s been hard for him and at times I know he struggles with family issues. Same issues I struggle with.

He confesses he is not excited about the holiday. I want to agree with him but I don’t. I just listen. He talks and I listen some more.

At the end of our visit he stands up and like he always does, goes to his beautiful baby grand piano. I have heard the story of the piano before.  After many years of admiring it at the home of one of his customers , he bartered a job for him and the customer let him have it. Unbeknownst to him, he got it home and it was built the same year he was born. He felt this was a sign and I agree.

He asks what I am in the mood for and I respond…holiday music. He starts to play, no sheet music and eyes shut. He plays a jazzy version of a song I can’t name but I recognize, and then he plays Silent Night. I wish I could explain how beautiful it sounded. He is now breathless from playing but still refusing the oxygen I have encouraged. I could listen to him play all day, he is that good.

We get to the door, I am running behind on my visits and need to go. I remind him I will be back the day after Christmas and he pauses. “That’s my anniversary!” I know he has been missing his wife, she has been gone for a few years. He gives me a look that I recognize and he gives me a hug. I know how hard this is for him and all of us at the holidays. Loss, grief, longing and his own mortality.

He wishes me a Merry Christmas and I yell back to him…”Wear your oxygen!” He laughs.

The Piano Man almost moved me to tears on his snowy, cold sidewalk.

I have had friends lose their mother and their father this year. Friends have also lost their brothers and their sisters. Grandparents, neighbors, Aunts, Uncles. Thinking of all you who have lost a loved one this year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Jodi

 

 

 

The End

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I am up early on this Saturday morning. I can hear the birds talking and can see the beautiful sky slowing waking up. I can’t sleep. Sleep has been my enemy this past week and I can feel that I am exhausted while I type this.

Early Wednesday morning, my Mom left this world. 4:20 am to be exact. I’m now up at this time and I feel she is shoving me out of bed. I feel she wants me to write but I’m not sure quite what she wants me to say. I will do my best.

For the past year she has wanted to die. This is a fact she has repeated over and over again along with wanting to go to bed. She has asked me this questions in the car, in her bed, on the toilet, watching the birds and at meal time. Sometimes she looks at me to say, “Hey, I’m talking to you. Yes, you!”. I’ve talked about this conflict in past stories.

Last Wednesday, she was not feeling good. She was sick at dinner, refusing her medications and getting weaker. Friday, Cathy the nurse, talked about starting a little Morphine for her but I wanted to use Tylenol first. I don’t think she has ever had Morphine before and I was worried it would sedate her too much and if the Tylenol helped, lets start with that.

Saturday came and I was really worried about her. We had taken her off her Aspirin and I was worried she had a small stroke since she was leaning so much. We couldn’t get her to eat much and her head was tipped down so it made it hard to feed her. We were having a birthday party for her on Sunday since most of the family could not see her on her actual birthday. I called the family to update them and hope that everyone could come.

On Sunday, we got her out of her beloved bed and put her in a tip back chair so we could attempt to feed her. Most of her family came and we sat in a lovely courtyard with the birds flying overhead and the breeze on her face. She would wake up every once in a while and I would tell her who was there. It’s the last time she also had her beloved coffee, only taking small sips. It was nice to spend this time with her, along with her family.

On Monday, I knew that it was serious. I found her in bed with my bright shirt on, hair neatly combed and she looked like the bed could swallow her up. Her mouth dry and we worked on getting small sips in her. Through out the day, she kept trying to tell me something. I could tell she was frustrated that I didn’t understand her. At the end of the sentence, what came out clear was…I love you. A little garbled but I got it. Over and over again.

I had a special moment with one of mom’s aides when she told me that Mom was her favorite. She said that they didn’t hit it off at first but that they grew to love one another and spar back and forth. We had so many people checking on us. My Pastor Beth came to see her and gave her a blessing and anointed her. That was a very meaningful moment since her faith has been so important to her. I left about 9 PM, telling her what was in my heart and not expecting her to be alive much longer. When I left, she just patted my left cheek, the same one that I had dreamt about last week.

When you are a nurse, you are the one to get the call that a Client has died and its so difficult making that call to let family know of their loved ones death. All night, I kept listening for the phone to ring. It didn’t.

Tuesday, I got my kids to school and headed over there right away. When I arrived, a male volunteer was holding her hand. He really loved my Mom and he came in early, before work, to say goodbye. He liked to call her Mean Jean. It was a very touching moment.

Mom was now not able to talk. We had started a small amount of Morphine for her to keep her comfortable. When I would say the word “Mom”, her eyes would flutter. What an important word for her. Mom.

It’s hard to express how kind people were. We had a busy day of people coming and going. The nurse, the social worker, massage therapy, music therapy and two Pastors that again blessed and anointed her. I love that she was blessed twice. The room smelled of oil and lavender. I swear a bird came to the window and knocked as if to say, “Hey, I’ll fly with you when you are ready.”

When I left on Tuesday, I was exhausted. My enemy, sleep, was winning. I had fallen asleep twice in her chair and tried to lay by her side but the bed was too small. They traded out her normal bed for the hospital bed. All those months of crawling in with her, I could only sit by her on the bed.

When I left her, I knew. I knew that she wanted to die without me there. I told her she could go and that her job here, was done.

My phone rang at 4:20 am and she was gone. Her soul at peace.

As you go about your days and weeks, remember my Mom when you see or smell:

Lilacs. We had them on the farm and she loved to put them in a pretty vase.

Fresh brewed coffee. Black, as it should be.

A Snicker bar. You can have more than one, my Mom says its ok.

A rhubarb plant or stalks. I think she would love if you made some for me!

A child’s laugh. She loved kids to the moon and back.

A Dairy Queen. Boy, did she love our hometown DQ. A small cone or if she was really crazy, a Snicker’s Blizzard.

Lemon Bars. I made her recipe yesterday and it filled the house of her memory..

A choir singing. Picture her humming along.

Any kind of book. She taught me that the best escape is a book.

Finally, do some random act of kindness. She was all about helping her family and friends.

Thank you for all of your sweet messages via FB, email, texts and calls. I only can read a few at a time. Your words are important in getting me through. One of my friends said, “You loved her well”. I love that. We both loved one another well.

Jodi

The end of hospice.

The Kiss

In the past few days, Mom has started to decline. She has been refusing medication, doesn’t want to eat and has been sick after meals. Her hospice nurse called me yesterday while I was working and we talked about adding/stopping medications and overall keeping her comfortable. I had nursing visits, along with baseball practice for the girls so I couldn’t get up there right away but they assured me she was resting peacefully.

Last Thursday morning, I had a dream about Mom. It was the kind of dream you have right when you are about to get up for the day. In the dream, she sat down by my side of the bed and kissed my left cheek a few times. I remember how vivid the dream was. She had gray hair, vs her stark white hair and she had her older glasses on. I could even see the numerous books on my nightstand. I felt like she was right in my room and I woke myself thinking…how did she get in here? I told Steve about the dream yesterday and it being so real, I felt I could touch her.

Today, we have opening baseball for the girls and we are trying to figure out our schedules and my priority is to see Mom. Emme, my six year old, has a gold heart on her dresser and I asked her if I could have it.

No.

I told her I was going to give it to Grandma today when I sat with her. Since I was giving it to Grandma, she was fine with that. “Grandma can have it!” So I gave Mom the gold heart and it sits by her bed.

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I am so happy that in the past month she got to see my brother Ross, went for a car ride, felt the wind on her face, got a quick glimmer of “home” and celebrated her 89th birthday. I have enjoyed every minute that I have spent with her and I know my Dad is waiting. I am also grateful for the staff that take care of her with such love.

Before I left, we were sitting in the warm sunshine outside the patio. We could hear the birds sing, see the plants sprouting and could smell the fresh air of Spring. She is also asking for her Momma and I tell her what a good Mom she has been. She looked at me with one eye open and I know she heard me. What a good Momma, indeed.

Jodi

Day #9 of her second round of hospice.

The Blessing

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Today, I got to spend a few hours with Mom at lunch time. I got a call late last night, that she was sick at dinner time and I wanted to see how she was doing today. I also brought her some cards for her to sign for her friends in Starbuck. I have been behind on sending them, her friends have been so good about sending cards and little notes for her. We read them and put them up on her wall, so she can see them.

Today, I am very impressed that she wants to sign her name. We practiced a little after lunch so she would get in right. She hasn’t had to write her name in a long while. Her first attempt was impressive, she just kept forgetting to put the e on the end of her name. The very last attempt, she strangely started to write Marie, hence that is her middle name. She was very concerned that they look awful. I explained to her that her friends will not care, they just like hearing from her. She took great pride in her handwriting.

We talked about Thanksgiving coming up and I told her that I would come and we could eat together. All those years of cooking for family. I will most likely bring her a plate from our house, I’m not sure if I could get her in our car or if she would tolerate the ride. Back in her room, she wants to crawl in her bed and I sit in her chair and we watch each other. I think that has been her biggest past time lately, she just watching me. She has her blue dog and the aide, Alice tells me that she has had a good day and Mickey, the activity aide states that she pinched her butt today. All is good.

As I sit in her brown chair, I think of all the people who have helped me in the last few weeks. I think it is important to acknowledge the people that are such a blessing in your life and how thankful you are for their help.

My mom’s hairdresser who is her “hair advocate”. She had a fit when she found out hospice washed her hair, after she just did it. Without charging Mom, she fixed it when they don’t do her hair the way she thinks it should be done. Mom always liked having her hair done.

My Mom’s new social worker, Sheila Mattson. She answers complicated questions with ease and on occasion, has to explain things to me over and over. Medicare, M.A. and hospice together is a complicated mess. She is calm and determined, which I love. She and I calculated how many pads my Mom would go through, because M.A. will pay for it. I still think its funny we are estimating that like math wizards.

The man named Steve, who is a volunteer at Clare Bridge and works at General Mills. Staff explained to me this week, that he comes every other Wednesday and that he really adores my Mom and looks after her because she reminds him of his own Mom. Since my brother is not involved, I love that she has a male figure that she can talk to. I have met him once, but I don’t go up on Wednesday nights, because it is our church night. I love the fact that he looks after her.

All of my friends who ask about her when they see me. I have always felt that to inquire, means that you care. All of our parents are getting older and sometimes, just the fact that one of us is going through something, we can learn from the shared experience. It is so hard to watch our parents get older.

To my neighbor Mary, who took the girls to Grandfriends Day yesterday. My Mom would have loved to go to any event at school. I know that she would not want to miss anything if she could help it. The other Grandma could not attend and the girls wanted to ask Mary and she said YES! I know that they were proud to have Mary go. Thank you Mary!

I’m thankful that I get to share my experience. This week, I was interviewed by a college student regarding hospice care. It is such an important field of nursing and I know that Jessica will get an A on her paper! Good luck Jessica!

I have said this before, but my Mom’s hospice nurse is an angel. I think you are lucky to connect with someone and that they also provide such loving care to your mother is a bonus. I love that she always hugs her and my Mom responds to her.

I’m also thankful that I never started smoking. If I had, I would be up to two packs a day by now.

I can honestly say that I am also thankful for my Mom’s ex-roommates daughter. I saw her today at lunch time. She ignores me and I am ok with that. She reminds me that its ok not to follow rules so closely and that Mom’s end of life care should be celebrated and that there are no rules. Eat candy, have nuts and drink coffee until you can’t take another breath. Isn’t this disease awful enough to limit what they can enjoy? She still makes me want to have a glass a wine after I see her though.

I am blessed to have a wonderful husband and two girls who love their mother-in-law and Grandma, no matter if she forgets their names. I love the smile that they can get out of her.

Thank you to Sophia’s choir director, Barb. She has been organizing Sophia’s All District Choir to come and sing for Mom and the residents. Sophia sang at Orchestra Hall last week and we were talking about how Mom would have loved to see Sophia sing. We talked about bringing the singers to Mom and like magic….we have December 4th on the calendar for a private concert. Is that just amazing? I know that she will love hearing them sing. Thank you to all who helped plan this.

Lastly, I received a beautiful letter from my Dad’s side of the family. It was from a cousin of Dad’s who reads my blog and lives in Florida. She wrote at the end, “I pray the Lord is with you and your family in the days ahead”. Thank you Phyllis…I hope so too. Day #67 of hospice care.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Jodi

The Forty Fourth Year

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First of all, thank you to all of you who have asked about Mom. For those of you that don’t know, she had a small stroke two weeks ago and it has affected her left side and her speech. Her speech is slowing coming back but she is tired and weaker and I made the decision to start hospice care last Thursday. She is still loving and funny…just weaker. She still slaps my butt every time she catches me or the girls. I catch a half smile from her when she does.

This has been strange for me, being on the other end of hospice care. My background has been cardiac care with more recent, home care and hospice. It was strange to answer questions and not the one asking them. In the past few days, I have signed more paperwork than I can count. I have also been on the phone with the economic assistance program and Department of Aging for three hours last week. We ordered a new wheelchair, discontinued some medications, spoke to the bath aide, encouraged a pastor visit and music therapy, requested a massage and finally today, spoke to the social worker. All through this, my friends and family have helped me, mainly my husband. Steve…I thank you and love you. My girls have taken her for walks, gotten her ready for bed, scratched her back and given her Ensure. I’m so proud of them, sometimes I could burst. Here is hoping one of them will decide on medicine. They can also take care of Steve and I when we get old.

Today, I met with the social worker and I was asked to describe Mom. I sit and look at this simple piece of paper and think of how I can articulate mom’s life. How can you write everything down that is in your heart and do her justice?

I would want this social worker to know that she loves toast and cheese and that she makes doughnuts from scratch. I want her to know that I taught her how to drive a stick shift in her mid-sixties and how it took forever for her to learn on that old, tan Ford Escort.

I want her to know that she tried for twenty years to have children. I’m sure watching her brothers, her sister and friends have babies and she being unable to conceive. I want her to know that she finally got a boy and girl and how much she adored us. You don’t have to carry a baby for nine months to be a mother.

I would love if she knew how much she loved starting the day with coffee and a long walk. How she did leg kicks and stretches in the morning to stay fit. She needs to know that Mom loved playing the slot machines in Yuma, but only playing the nickels.

Of course I will fill her in on her love of all children, helping with Girl Scouts, Sunday School, Bible Choir and her devotion to Sophia and Emme. She always said she waited a lifetime for those two and we have fifty quilts she handmade to prove it.

She would need to know that even when she was getting more forgetful, she would still remember to send me stamps in the mail and buy Steve white tube socks. I would remind the social worker of how much she loves Steve and all of her nieces and nephews. Always a card with a little money in it.

My parents were married for sixty years and during that time together she traveled, hunted for mushrooms, canned everything and anything, searched for agates, entertained friends, helped with reports and looked for my shoes at night, knowing that I finally was home, safe and sound. She told me that years later. Good for me to remember.

I want to share with her that she read at night, hummed while she baked, was deathly afraid of snakes and once killed a bat with a tennis racket. She loved being tan, was a devout Lutheran and never pierced her ears.

Lastly, I want her know what a good mother she is. Always helping, always busy, always caring and always loving. Its hard to sum up your mother on one sheet of paper. Oh, and she could make anything out of rhubarb and her lemon bars are amazing.

She and I have been together forty four years. I am so lucky.

Jodi