The Ravioli

Happy New Year to my Friends and Readers! One of the questions I get asked about frequently in book clubs or events is if I still continue to write. I really have not had the time with my nursing job, especially the last two years. And that is how long it has been since I have shared a story. I’ve missed writing. I want to share with you a story about D.

Years ago, I took care of his wife. He was very devoted to her, although not the easiest to deal with. I quickly picked up on the fact that he likes things a certain way and you need to make things his idea for it to work. At times, he would frustrate me and on one occasion, I lost my cool with him. I remember sitting in my car wondering if they were better served with another nurse. Which sometimes happens.

He reminded me so much of my dad. Both WW II vets (Navy), both engineers, both determined and like to be right. Both very devoted to their spouses and both born in the same year. A few months ago, I brought my dad’s Navy book that my Grandmother Hazel had documented in, following all of my dad’s ship destinations. He quietly paged through it and I could tell it brought back so many memories for him. We had wondered if they had been in the same ship, but he was stationed on the USS San Fransisco and my dad USS Cottle, the year 1944. He is of a brave generation, that only a few remain.

After D’s wife passed away, I knew I would miss him. Its no secret in our office that I love the hard to deal with curmudgeons. And that is D.

Last year, he called and asked if we would take take care of him due to issues. Again, I return to his home and this time I get to take care of him. I’m secretly thrilled since he has grown on me.

So, over the past year we have formed a bond. I call him when I’m coming over, knowing he is pacing until I get there. I read his long notes he writes to me as we sit in his office, with a picture of his battle ship hanging on his wall. The notes have become harder to read and it details his decline that is hard for me to watch. We weigh him when I’m there and laugh when he is correct on the number he is at. He shows me all the awards he has received on the wall, work and military related.

It is a true story that I almost killed him a few months ago. His weight is going down and I have been baking for him. That day I baked him banana bread, warm out of the oven. I put lots of butter on it and gave him a piece before our “meeting” and I was reviewing the staff’s notes when I heard a gurgle. I looked over at him sitting on the couch and he had a look of panic. I could tell he was choking and I got up and he couldn’t speak and was turning blue. I didn’t even hesitate, I went behind him and shoved him forward, all 6’2 of him. The bread flew out and I’m pretty sure my heart rate was over 200.

I had to let his family know and their comment was, “He would have died happy!” We are now to the point where he can tease me about it, I still continue to bring him food but now it is soup.

On my visit last week, he made a comment that he wanted to make me lunch. I don’t typically eat lunch and I don’t make it a habit with my client’s but I could tell this meant a lot to him. Our visit takes a long time, he runs me through the mill with his handwritten questions he can’t read. He’s in the kitchen for a long time and he returns to the dining table with ravioli and a glass of milk. I can tell his is so happy sitting with me, asking me repeatedly if I maybe want his Boost instead of the milk. I smile at him.

It’s more than the ravioli.

I’m sure many of you know that this has been a hard two years. You are either the hero or the enemy to many families. They are upset because you’re vaccinated or you’re not. One family wants you to wear a mask, one family insists you don’t. Two think I have a tracker in me. And the questions and loneliness families feel. Its difficult to explain it, unless you are knee deep in it. Sometimes I come home and wonder if I can continue to do this.

And then a soon to be 99 year old makes me ravioli. And packs me a Snicker’s bar and two cookies for my way home. And sends me a Christmas card to my office and his name is taped to the card because his daughter said he wanted to practice his handwriting and that it would look ok on my card. Just like my mom did towards the end.

This is the best part of my job. Getting to take care of D.

Wishing you love and good health in 2022. As always, thank you for reading The Lemon Bar Queen.

Jodi

The Caramels

I know that it has been awhile since I’ve last been here with a story.  Though today something has been pushing me to write.  Maybe it is the holiday. Maybe I’ve lost my mind. Maybe its just a story that I need to share.

Yesterday I received an email from a daughter of a client that we had taken care of for many years. We actually took care of both her mother and father until they moved into assisted living and then memory care. Thus we stopped caring for them. She was wondering if I would stop by and see him. His wife passed away a few months ago and I told his daughter I would drop off caramels for him. For three years I have made an extra batch for him. And brought him gin a time or two. Like a good nurse.

It is no secret in our office that I adore George.

When I could not visit them for some reason and another nurse needed to do the visit, I would always remind them no matter how much they loved George, I would continue to be his nurse. No matter how much they begged. You can’t have favorites.

Until you meet George.

When I first met George years ago, we found out that he had worked for Cenex and his route included Starbuck, my hometown. We have no doubt that at some point, he met my dad over the years. His name for me was “Starbuck Girl”. I still love that.

Over the years, George has lost his sight and his hearing. He is blind and deaf. This does not stop him from being productive, trading stocks, writing emails or being able to tell you are in the room. He knows me by smell, which I am not sure is good or bad.

Today I stopped by to see him and he is back in his apartment in assisted living. He had briefly moved when his wife was in memory care. He was a devoted husband.

When I arrived, the first thing he said was, “You look beautiful!” It is our running joke since he is obviously blind. It still makes me laugh when he tells me this.

We had a quick lunch together, catching up on our families and I made him some hot chocolate while he ate his caramels.

When I came back, he took my hand and told me how much he missed his wife. He had spent 2/3 of his life with her and this was the first Christmas without her. Just his tone, his love for her softly spoken. He missed her and stated grief has been hard.

I told him that Christmas was just as hard for me. Both my parents are gone and I haven’t felt like celebrating for awhile. Their absence felt. Just like his wife.

We agreed that he should put up his tree, hide his caramels from the staff and that I would come again soon. He has missed our talks. I have just missed his kindness. So similar to my dad’s. They are ironically the same age, though my dad is gone.

Grief is a bugger at the holidays. I know that many of you feel it. Many of you have lost loved ones and friends this past year. Its a hard time. I know…

When I left, he asked when I would come again. I told him that I would bake him a treat in January and he requested cookies. He also thanked me for taking care of him and his wife.

That got me.

I hope you all have a George in your life. Kindness, love and devotion.

Happy Holidays to all of you! Thank you for still reading my stories. Thank you also for reading The Lemon Bar Queen. Your messages about the book have been emotional and unbelievably touching. Your love is felt.

❤️🎄

Jodi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Bar Queen 🍋 The Book

Blog followers,

The Lemon Bar Queen, my memoir about my mom’s memory loss, is finally here. It dawned on me last week that I hadn’t let my blog followers know that it had been published. I’m very excited to share it with you.

This has been a two year labor of love. I’m so proud of how it turned out! We had the book launch the beginning of October and I’ve had two fun book signings at my hometown Dairy Queen and Caribou Coffee near my home in Plymouth.

I’ve had a wonderful response and I’m on my second printing. I’ve also met the nicest people in this process. I love hearing your own stories about my mom and about your own loved one. Yesterday, at my Caribou event, I met the sweetest woman. Her mother has been taking care of her dad in Texas. Her mom is struggling with his memory loss and the daughter is so far away. I completely understood her feelings. It’s hard not to get teary.

All your kind messages are saved in my “Thank You” folder. I’m so glad you’ve connected with the book.

If you’d like to order it, it’s currently on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and Itasca Books of Minneapolis. I’m open to events and book clubs. I have seven book clubs on my calendar and I’m so excited to meet fellow readers.

Thank you for following along the last six years. Many of you have kept me afloat as I hope I’ve done the same for your journey.

If you have any questions or comments about the book, please reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you! ♥️

Jodi

The Beagle and I

I know that this spot has been technically saved for my mom but in this case, I think you will understand why I am writing. I also know that it has been awhile since I have been put thoughts to words on this forum.

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That sweet smile, always present. 

Our sweet beagle died on Monday of a short bout with congested heart failure. Barley had been diagnosed two weeks ago and the vet figured it would be six to twelve months before it took him but it went so much faster than we thought.

Barley was a rescue dog from Kentucky that we adopted five years ago through Second Hand Hounds in Minneapolis. We finally convinced my husband that it was time that our family get a dog and for some responsibility for our girls. I also thought it was a great idea for a dog to visit my mom. We always had hunting dogs growing up on our farm and one of the first dogs I can remember was a beagle named Happy. Rumor is I fed him way too many of my mom’s homemade doughnuts and he left the farm that day, never to come back. I think getting Barley was a way of saying I’m sorry about Happy and I will take good care of Barley.

I’m not sure of Barley’s life in Kentucky. I do know that he looked rough when we were finally approved to adopt him.  We also found out a few years ago that he is full of buckshot, which we are hoping wasn’t on purpose. We met him at his adoptive home and he rushed at us with tail wagging and slobbery kisses. I was smitten. I had to call and beg Steve that we would be a perfect fit. And I do mean beg. He has always said that Barley is “my” dog, especially when he would get into some trouble. And he might have gotten into a fair amount of mischief in his five years.

We are only going to mention briefly the sudden weight gain after a few months by girls who continually left out their food. He’s had it all. Girl Scout Thin Mints, Hot Cheetos (thanks Sophia), Frosted Flakes, waffles, blueberry muffins, chicken, Emme’s retainer and candy wrappers licked clean. His favorite spot was Sophia’s garbage can and shelf attached to her bed. We are also pretty sure he could move a chair and get to our stove. There is nothing he disliked except a healthy raw carrot. We tried numerous diets, only to be foiled by the girls leaving out food. As soon as Sophia would leave for the day, his first move was her room. Most of the time, he was lucky. And happy, no pun intended.

We are also only briefly going to mention his escaping the yard. Especially when we were gone for the day, accidentally being left out. The last Barley adventure landed him in the Plymouth police car. He was thrilled with the treats in the squad, the police were not as thrilled with his escape. No collar on, but he was chipped. Fortunately my neighborhood knows his cute mug and I was alerted he was on the run. Everyone knows Barley in the neighborhood.

He was such a good boy.

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Last May, I had some unexpected minor surgery to remove a mass that was benign. One ovary and both Fallopian tubes were removed. But what replaced my  body parts were a sudden onset of anxiety, self loathing, deep sadness and overall lack of my self-worth. It was awful. Drowning. Tired. Angry. Sad.

There were times I wanted to be sucked into the ground. Disappear.

I have never felt this way in my entire life. I saw my primary doctor, talked to my GYN doctor, went to a healer, started to see a wonderful therapist, shared with my close friends and even went to a vortex healer. I hated this feeling of despair.

It’s hard being a nurse and helping families, having an irritable teenager, church on Wednesdays, school events, family issues, sporting practices and games and overall managing a household. I felt overwhelmed.

There was talk of hormones, delayed grief, post traumatic from the emergency surgery and the term perimemopause.

One morning, I broke down at work. I could not stop crying. My heart was beating out of my chest and I could not control my sadness. I went home and crawled into bed and heard the thump of Barley jumping on the bed and him crawling in besides me. He settled in close to my head, one paw on my heart and just licked my face. He didn’t sleep but just stared at me like…how can I help you? What can I do?

And so there is Barley and I.

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Barley thought we might have run too far that night.

Over the last few months, he has been close to my side. Almost too close at times. Waiting to be petted, kissed or even better…a treat.

We have started to relax by the fireplace at night. He, in his bed, made up by the girls. Me, close by, normally reading. Sometimes he just stares at me and other times comes over to lick my face or lay on top of me. Right on top of me. Normally with a paw right on my heart.

I think he knows about the feelings I’ve been having. And in his dog way, becoming the best therapist a girl could ask for. No amount of medicine is similar to this.

When I knew he was going to die, I could not stop sobbing. Ask my neighbors Glenn and Mary. They graciously came over and got Emme to school, stayed with me while Barley took his last breath and Glenn helped me get Barley in the car.

I think Barley  knew he was dying because right before he died, he looked in our bedroom mirror for the longest time. Just staring at himself, while sitting side-saddle. I hope he knew how much we loved him and how much he helped me the last few months. Always a lick, smile or stare. My sweet boy. Better than any pill.

He passed away on the rug, right by the door. Peacefully and with me touching him, just like we’ve both done to one another.

When I arrived at the vets, they told me to go in the boarding door. I wanted to make sure it was open so I left Barley for a minute and walked in. There, staring back at me, was the cutest beagle puppy. No other dogs around and he was just sitting staring at me. I’m not sure if that was a sign from Barley, a younger version of himself staring back at me but still….

Man, we loved that dog. He will be missed.

Jodi

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cousin

I know that I don’t write often any more and that this space has been typically reserved for my mom but I’ve been up since 4:15 am this morning and I am writing.

Now that my mom is gone, I try to only share stories that have meaning for me or families/clients that have touched me in some way. I want to switch gears this morning and tell you a little bit about my cousin Tom.

Incredibly handsome, funny, athletic, smart, music lover, cook, charming and loving.

He was 10 years older than I was and he was my parents Godchild. He was the third child of my mom’s sister Gloria and my Uncle Kenny.

Growing up he introduced me to his immense love of the Doobie Brothers, his love of soccer and golf and his wisdom on boys treating me with respect. When I graduated and moved to Minneapolis, he got me my very first job at The Sunshine Factory, a restaurant close by my apartment. He looked out for me and never hesitated to listen to my younger woes. I know there were many.

He would call me and ask if I wanted to go to his soccer games. He’d pick me up, always smelling of Azzaro cologne and he’d explain his love of soccer. I’d sit on a blanket, trying to understand his love of this game but also just enjoying watching him play. Afterwards, he’d take me out for dinner and we would continue our talk of sports.

When I was in high school, he felt I needed better shoes for playing sports and bought me my first Nike cleats for softball and my Mizuno volleyball shoes. We debated between getting the white or black pair. I didn’t even know they made volleyball shoes. He was on top of it. I was not only proud of my new shoes, but even prouder that he attended many games and I was wearing the shoes that he bought. I loved Tom.

Tom took his life September 1st, 2003.

I was 8 months pregnant with Sophia and I was in the Dayton’s dressing room trying on maternity dresses when my cousin Nick called me to tell me Tom had died. At first, I thought he was talking about our family friend Tom Van Housen. I was immediately heartbroken but knew that he had lived a long, wonderful life. Nick realized I was thinking the wrong Tom and gently told me it was my cousin Tom.

I remember sitting down on the dressing room, sobbing. A woman next to me asked if I was ok. I wasn’t. No one was ok.

That time is a blur.  Questions, sadness, heartbreak, funeral. We will never see Tom again.

My mom cried. My dad asked me why. Our family now minus one.

I remember pulling out my cleats and volleyball shoes, still dusty, dirty, worn and broken. After all this time, I had kept them in the back of my closet. Surviving many moves, many games and a reminder of what Tom had given me. I still have them.

I asked Mike, his son, if I could write about him. I don’t want to be disrespectful. Fifteen years without him and it still feels like yesterday when he would call. “Hey, Jodi. I’ve got a game at 5 pm, I’ll pick you up.”

Before he died, he had invited Steve and I to a party. I know that I was incredibly tired with the pregnancy and I had declined. He was very sweet, upbeat and asking about me like he normally would. I talked to him for a long time on the phone, happy that we could connect. You really never know anything. It would be our last conversation.

In nursing, you deal with a lot of depression and mental health issues. It’s a darkness that you wish you could fix. It comes in all shapes and sizes, coming and going. Many times staying and won’t release. Looming, stifling, congested and dark.

A while ago, I had a hospice patient hide a gun under her mattress and when her family left, she shot herself. She knew that she had limited time left on this world. The bullet bounced off her sternum and she survived. Only to be shunned by her faith for trying to take her life. I still picture her and her comment to me, “I even failed at death.”

With nursing I’ve had may people ask that we just give them something. People have begged. Families ask if they can ease their pain. Pain means so many things to different people. We can’t, of course, but I understand.

In my mom’s last year, she stated more times that I can count, “I want to die”. Over and over and over.

Yesterday, a woman told me she would jump off a bridge if we moved her out of her home. She would be unable to get out of her home due to her illness but I heard clearly what she said. It’s hard to hear but yet you understand.

I wish there was something more we could do for depression and mental illness. That darkness that is present for so many.  I have said it before and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with taking a medication to help you through your darkness. I’ve had this conversation with many families and if you only knew how many people take something for anxiety, depression or for any forms of mental illness. Maybe that stigma would go away and people would feel more comfortable treating their depression. That darkness.

It’s no different that the treatment of any specific disease. Parkinson’s, cancer, thyroid, cholesterol, blood pressure, gout, reflux, memory loss…

In conclusion, our family holds a golf tournament every year in the fall to benefit SAVE, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. It is the Tom Boxell Memorial Golf tournament which brings education and awareness to the community. The mission of SAVE is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma and serve as a resource to those touched by suicide. If you have interest in attending, I can send you the details of the upcoming golf, dinner and raffle.

If you are sad, reach out. I may not have the right words to say but I can listen. And I’m a good listener.

In memory of Tom Boxell. ❤️

Jodi