Tag Archives: gratitude

The Moment of Departure

Friday, September 13, 2019
IMG_6761It is 3:00am on Friday morning. I am remembering. The coffee maker beeps and I go to the kitchen and make my first coffee in my cup from Elizabeth’s Restaurant – one of our favorite places for breakfast. My first memories of R’s and my time together are of our times on the phone on early mornings as we have first coffee in separate cities – I am in Jackson, MS and he is in Delhi, LA, back in 1998.  Nothing tastes quite like that first sip of Community Coffee as we look toward the rising sun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019…(continued from last week)
I ask R. again if he is certain he is ready for Hospice. He nods. I call the doc and everything is set up before the sun goes down. R signs all the papers with the nurse and he is at ease over the decision. At last, I think.

1

Over the next 2 days R. is getting weaker and weaker, more pain. Several visits from loving friends from Rayne Methodist. He loves them as well. Afterwards, as he sleeps, I play Simon & Garfunkel. Silence like a cancer grows.

He can no longer swallow pills so I call hospice and they send out liquid morphine and Ativan. They say give him .5 ml morphine every hour. That’s not enough. He cries out in pain. Esophagus is inflamed and painful. Difficult to swallow, so I drip .75ml morphine into the side of his mouth as I gently hold his head. No sleep for either of us. He rests for about 10-15 minutes, then is in pain again.

I continue to get him up and on the walker from bed to sofa. Calls me every minute it seems. We say prayer together and he reads to me from the Upper Room meditation, then puts the booklet on the bedside table. “My greatest fear is that I will die mean & nasty  –  I want you to call me on it if i get that way.” I assured him I would. He has never been mean and nasty and I tell him I do not think he will start now.

Sunday August 18, 2019
I lie with him on the guest bed. He wakes – I mindlessly move something from one place to another on the bedside table. He is lucid. “Can you explain to me the logic behind what you just did.”  “There is none,” I smile and answer. “I am merely being here with you.”

I call hospice on Sunday morning and request a hospital bed, as he can no longer get up without help and I’m concerned he could fall.  I go to a local store to purchase single bed sheets. These are the sheets that my husband will die on, I think, and I weep as I make the purchase. Afternoon, aide comes and gives R. a bath in bed, then sits him up in the wheelchair. Hospital bed is delivered. While they set it up with much clanging, I wheel R. back to our bedroom. My son John, friend Carol Spencer and Pastor Jay Hogewood follow. Carol gives us communion, Jay anoints R. with oil. R. is looking for the W.H. Auden poem The Wave, his favorite line of which is I inhabited the wake of a long wave. He speaks with Jay about what he wants in his memorial service. Come thou fount of every blessing.

I tiptoe in to give him his meds tonight, “What’s going on”. I’m here to give you Morphine and Ativan. He pulls the sheet over his head like a little kid and says No.  I wait, then drip the meds under his tongue.

Monday August 19, 2019
Nurse is here and I assist her in changing the dressing on his pressure sore. I hold his frail body on his side so that he sits up a bit. He tries to focus on what we are doing as I hold him and the nurse replaces the bandage. His eyes open wide. “Is this it? Is this it?” No, this is not it R. This is not the moment of leaving this life to the next. “Are we in New Orleans?” Yes, we are in New Orleans. “Good,”, he says as I lay him gently back on the pillow. My husband is ever the curious.

Daughter Jennifer is here and she plays Bob Dylan, R’s favorite. We watch as his hands tap to the beat of Dylan’s tunes in his sleep.

Friends Kelcy and Jim Patterson stop by in late afternoon. Kelcy says she is staying the night and I am grateful. Jim is a physician and takes R’s pulse and listens to his heart. Later we tell all good night. We do not sleep. R is calling out for me all night; intense pain. More morphine and Ativan, not working; he calls me to help him, concerned that he might soil the bed. I struggle to get him up and on the bedside commode, then back in bed, and he is using all his strength to help. I ask Kelcy to help get him back in bed. “Put your hands around my neck” I say and he does.

I lift him up into bed and Kelcy lifts his feet , then with his arms still around me I pull him up so that his head is at the top of the bed. He hugs me tightly, and I have pleasure in that. “I think this bed is just for one person,” he says, “I don’t think you can get in here with me.” I agreed with him and pried his arms from around my shoulders and he immediately rested on the pillow. More morphine. .75ml. He sleeps for a few moments. Then he calls out all night in pain. I give him as much morphine and ativan as I can but he does not rest.

Tuesday August 20, 2019
Morning and R. struggles to breathe. Daughter Jennifer is here. About 10 am R. tries to sit up in bed, gargling acid reflux, “Not working, not working”. I call Dr. Jim back, as he and Kelcy had left a few moments prior, and he returns. He suctions out about a cup of brown acid from Robert’s throat. R. is still restless, but less pain. I give Jim the bottle of morphine and I cradle R’s head. We drip the liquid into his cheek. I watch R take two breaths, then no more.  The point of departure is here. “He’s stopped breathing,” I whisper. “Faint heartbeat. No pulse. Heart stopped. He is gone,” Jim says. I feel great relief for my husband. The pain has ended. I watch his face and for the first time in over two years there is no sign of pain, no sign of struggle, no sign of worry.

I kiss him goodbye.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Grows

IMG_3402

Lemons still on our tree

The best thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. The worst thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. Given time, a tiny cat’s claw vine will take over anything in it’s way. It will even invade an attic if there is a crack in a window. It will grow underneath siding and emerge through a hundred-year-old wooden shutter, clinging to rusty hinges and reaching towards the sunlight.

Every year Robert makes preserved (salted) lemons. He squeezes the lemons, cuts them up, adds Kosher salt and seals this up in jars. After about ten days or so, the lemon juice becomes syrupy and the lemons become soft enough to mash. The juice has a distinctive rich lemony taste that adds deep flavor to anything – guacamole, soup, salads. We have several citrus trees in our yard. Our semi-tropical climate is conducive to thousands of plant species. Many we don’t want. Many we do.  Our grapefruit tree has its first 3 fruits that we are waiting to pick, as soon as the green disappears.

IMG_3403

Grapefruit, almost ready

There is an old storage shed in our backyard made from the original slabs of bargeboard in the walls of our house. Beside the shed grow invasive elephant ears and Mexican petunias. We dig them up month after month and they keep coming back. On the walls of this shed, the cat’s claw vine creeps up. At one time it covered the roof but we hired someone to pull it all down and dispose of it. But it comes back. Always. In dry climates I hear that the plant is propagated because it is drought tolerant and has pretty yellow flowers. Well, yes, it does. But it grows maybe a half-foot per day here in NOLA.

So how do we co-exist with things that grow and are valued elsewhere, but are hated here in our own back yard? I think of the cat’s claw vine like I do my husband’s cancer cells.

IMG_3401

Cat’s claw vine trying to take over our backyard shed

We tolerate them, but we try to live as if they are not there. We try to do what we can to eliminate them, and we hope what we do is good for us and for the “good” plants (and “good” cells). All we can do is try to keep these things under control so they do not smother out the good things in life.

We enjoy our fruits, and keep planting good things – like more orange trees, more herbs and veggies – the “good stuff”. Maybe the good stuff will outgrow the bad. We can only do what we can. We can only hope.

That’s what this Christmas season brings to me. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope in good health, good energy, good friends and

IMG_3404

Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.

good fruits.

 

Little Boxes, Filled with … what?

A couple of months ago, my husband R. was diagnosed with Metastatic Carcinoma of Unknown Primary. At first we are numb. Walking around staring at each other, trying not to get teary-eyed, but doing it anyway. Now, a few weeks down the road on this new journey, we’ve moved into another phase. Not acceptance. It’s something else for me. R. has an “attitude of gratitude”, and I’m into some other twilight zone of feeling I have not quite owned up to. I’m dealing with this new circumstance as I deal with most others.

I’m making things, keeping my hands moving. Yes, I’m escaping in a sense. Sometimes escape and denial is necessary to get you through. I’m making tiny houses. What is a house but a place where a soul resides. Little doorways. When I’m stitching, I do not have to think so much about the fact that my husband will gradually disappear from this life. But all these thoughts jump back into my stitches. I pray for him to not have pain. I try not to think about how lonely I will be in the future in this house.
I try not to think a whole lot about what I’m doing and my mind can wander off down the endless avenues of my brain. Every stitch a prayer. Going down one way I think of the beauty of the fall season here in New Orleans, which is the cooler temps. Then my thoughts take off another way and wonder about that hurricane that is forming and heading our way.
But with each stitch, each pull of this deep purple thread tightening that little doorway, I am thinking of what these cancer cells are doing to my husband day by day. And that I can do nothing to stop them, nothing to stitch those cancer cells up in a little box and burn them – and my scissors cannot cut off their threads of multiplication. It’s going to be a long journey.  Over time, about twenty minutes into my little house, my brain settles into the rhythm of my stitching, and I am once again in a meditation zone. I’m not in charge. And every stitch is a prayer.

Image

Time Out for Gratitude

c322b-mangerOn Dec. 23rd I left New Orleans around 4pm and entered a driving rainstorm on I-10, just as I got to the Huey Long Bridge. Cars were going about 25 mph because you could not see anything. The blackest clouds I’ve ever seen hovered above. I thought about turning back, but was caught in the line of traffic, so I drove on to I-55 up to Jackson MS to stay overnight with one of my daughters. I planned to go on to Memphis the next day and spend Christmas with my husband. Anyway, after 4.5 hours on the road in the rain and lightning (and I forgot to say I had a psychotic dog with me), I finally arrived at her house around 8:30pm. She had left the door unlocked for me and said she would be there in about an hour or so. I helped the dog, Abbey, from the back seat and grabbed my bag. The front door was indeed unlocked, so I walked through with my dog, dropped my bag on the chair, and let Abbey out into the back yard – after all, it was a long trip. She refused to go out in the rain so I had to force her out and go out with her. Suddenly the wind blew the back door shut. I reached for the doorknob in panic – yes, I was locked out. I am usually quite resourceful in times like these, so I looked for a way over the fence. I can knock on a neighbor’s door and ask them to call my daughter, I thought. No luck. The board fence was too high and I could not get a foothold on the narrow boards. I even dropped a table from the deck over the fence thinking I could drop over and land on the table. Well, I’m also 65 years old and the possibility of my breaking something is real. I had no idea where a gate was. It was on the other side of the yard, in a very dark corner. I fiddled with the gate latch and tried several times to open it. No luck there either. Lights were on in the backyard neighbor’s house. I grabbed a plastic paint lid, climbed on the narrow fence rail and peered over, then threw the lid so it hit the window of the family room in that house. Apparently no one was home because no one came to inspect the noise. Next I found a fire poker on the deck and pried off the screen of a window that looked unlocked. Trying hard as I could, I could not get the window up. I gave in to the fact that I was stuck outside in the rain and lightning with a panic-stricken dog. We hunkered down against the back door, getting soaked and cold. The dog shook with fear. I held her tight. I prayed. I thought. I wished and I cried with frustration. Temperature was dropping. About an hour and a half after I first arrived, my daughter and granddaughter came through the front door. At first they did not understand why I was outside knocking. When they opened the back door and saw Abbey and I wet and sad, they knew. My daughter made me hot tea while I took a comforting warm shower and put on dry clothes. I dried off Abbey and she flopped down on the carpet to sleep off the episode. Another day in the life of a fallible human, I thought.
I’m home in Memphis this Christmas Eve evening. We plan to go to the 11pm service at Saint John’s. While I was stuck outside last night I thought about the Christmas story. No room at the inn. A warm trough. I thought about my life over the past year. Living in two places. Taking a risk. Despite everything, I am grateful. Grateful for hot tea and warm clothes and a warm bed. Grateful for my family, my friends and my life.
What are you most grateful for?