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 Voice

The year was 1990 and I was starting my first week of nursing assistant classes. I had found out that my first rotation would be at a nursing home in downtown Minneapolis. I remember feeling fearful and worried since I didn’t know where it was or what to expect. I remember calling my Dad, who told me to take a test trial run first and that I would be just fine. He was no real help, but I did take a test trial and remember getting all turned around. One way streets, police everywhere and having no idea where to park. I remember my first day there like it was yesterday.

I remember the long hallway leading to the Alzheimer Unit. The door was locked and you had to put the year into the key pad. I was so nervous being in this unit. Of all units, I get placed in this one, one of huge fear for me. We got our first patient and I kept hoping I would not get a man and that I would get a gentle female. Ann, my teacher stated, was picked just for me.

I remember reading her chart first and reading her history. I can’t remember all of the information but I remember reading the first word under her diagnosis, DEMENTIA. Nothing else, just that word. I remember she had family and it listed a short health history. I thought to myself, I can handle this. I gathered my paperwork and went to find her room. I knocked on her door and Ann was sitting in her wheel chair, wide awake and gave me a half smile. I introduced myself and started in asking her questions. I am sure I overwhelmed her with my eager ways and as I look back, I was so naïve. I kept asking her questions and was not getting a response. I reworded questions and statements and still she did not speak. I didn’t know what to do. Did I miss something in her chart? Why is she not telling me her name? Why is she ignoring me and just giving me a sweet, shy smile.

I excused myself and went to find my teacher. I explained to her what the problem was and that I wasn’t getting anywhere with her. I kept thinking that this is going to be a challenge if I can’t get her to communicate. I remember my teacher stating that at the end of the month, I need to give a report on her as a case study. Great, I thought.

So for the next month, Ann and I met every day. I would go home at night, research in all of my nursing books and think of ways that I could get her to speak. I hated that this disease had robbed her of her voice. Every day I would get her out of her room, which she preferred to be in, and bring her to some different destination. We found the huge windows that faced the freeway 94, we strolled the hallways and watched all the people waiting to catch the bus, we attended activities in the building and I noted that she loved to hear people sing. I even caught her humming, but no words ever escaped her lips. For one month, I tried my best to get her to speak. I knew that time was running out and that I had a week left with her. I attended to her cares, gave her medications and we just sat together. I am sure she got sick of me telling her about my day, how nervous I was to drive in this area and my crazy goal to become a RN one day, if I could handle becoming a nursing assistant. For that month, I never saw a family member come and visit her and it made me angry. She was never a behavior problem, she never shouted out or grabbed somebody as the passed. Why wouldn’t someone come and see this lovely woman?

Each and every day, I loved coming to see her. This woman, even without words, made my day. She never ever spoke to me, but it wasn’t because I didn’t try. The last day I had with her, we were sitting by the big window on the floor, sun streaming through and we were watching the people walk by. I told her that it was my last day at the nursing home and that if I was able, I would come see her again if she wanted. As I glanced at her, slow tears are coming down her face and she reaches over and pats my hand. I can still picture her small, veined hand on my own young, nineteen year old hand. She finally communicated with me and I also remember trying not to cry.  After that whole month of trying my hardest, I got more than I needed from her in that single moment.

It has been 24 years since I saw Ann and I know that she is long gone but she has stayed with me this whole time. Ann, I’m sure was very instrumental in me picking nursing. I also know that there are many Ann’s out there. No voice and not able to make her needs known.

I write this because today, I thought of Ann. My cousin Bart called today and he wants to bring his Dad, my uncle and visit Mom tomorrow. I was so happy to hear this. Not many people visit Mom and I know I have talked about it before. I told him that the visit may not last long but that I was so happy to hear he wanted to visit and that he was bringing her brother. Family is important, even if you can’t communicate. Who knows how long Ann’s voice had been missing and maybe her family just didn’t want to come or that it was too hard for them. Even without a voice, visitors are welcome. Just so we are clear, Mom still has her voice. Boy, does she ever. I love to hear her talk about the birds, ask me where Matilda, her dog is, and voice her concerns that I need to get home because it is snowing.

If you ever scared to visit someone in a nursing home, assisted living, the hospital or anywhere, for that matter, please think of Ann. You don’t have to stay long, sometimes sitting with them is all they need. You will never know how much it will touch them or even touch you.