I’m OK You’re OK

I’m OK You’re OK

After three bouts of violence with Grandma that day, I saw Granddad plopped down on a chair in the dining room and cry. This caregiving is taking a lot out of him - but also adding a lot of character and spiritual strength to him. After his tears Grandma was calm again and he called her to him for a hug.

After three bouts of violence with Grandma that day, I saw Granddad plop down on a chair in the dining room and cry. This caregiving is taking a lot out of him – but also adding a lot of character and spiritual strength to him. After his tears Grandma was calm again and he called her to him for a hug. “Baby you know I love you,” he said. They kissed and I almost cried – but instead raced to get my cellie for a photo.

I showed the photo of the kissing crusaders – Grandma and Granddad – to my co-workers this morning and they marveled at the beauty of the moment. The facebook note I posted with the photo was simply: 74 years married. Still Standing. Prayers up everyone. One-hundred-fifty people had liked it overnight. When I showed my supervisor and another colleague, they also ooooed and awed. I volunteered the back story – that the kiss came after a long day of fighting and managing Grandma’s disease – and they made the moment sweeter.   My supervisor – who has also become a dear friend – Michelle – said my grandparents remind her of her aunt and uncle who were so close they took care of each other all their lives. When her uncle was put in a nursing home, her aunt took a bus to visit him every day. The day her uncle died during the visit, her aunt went home and died of a heart attack less than an hour later. The other colleague, Tracy, said when her father was in the hospital, comatose, the doctors advised her and her siblings to tell him it was ok for him to leave. They each visited and after all eight of them told him they were fine and he could leave, he died within hours.   “That reminds me of when my brother was dying at 16,” I said. “We told him he didn’t have to stay in that body for us. He was in so much pain. The cancer had spread to his lungs.” He died a few weeks after that conversation. “Maybe it’s time we have that conversation with my grandparents,” I wondered out loud.   I remembered giving my grandparents hints that I’m ok. Several times in the past year Grandma looked in my face and asked, “Why are you so sad?” She knows something’s not right in my marriage because she hasn’t seen my husband.  She’d told me to “turn it over to God…let God fight your battles.” But at one point Saturday she looked in my face and said, “Look at those big, pretty brown eyes,” nurturing and cheering me on and she has done all my life. I felt like she survived her life-threatening surgery four years ago just to be alive and help me through the latest heartbreak. My last big heartbreak was almost 20 years ago and she had nursed me back to whole then.   Yesterday when I visited – doing my Wednesday and Thursday evening caretaking stint – I told Granddad that I’m OK. When he asked how things are going on my job, I seized the opportunity to assure him that I’m doing well, standing on my own two feet, feeling secure, unafraid of getting fired or burned out again.   “How did the people act about you taking off early today,” Granddad said, speaking over his shoulder as he stood at the sink washing greens.   “No problem. This job is waaaay less demanding than any job I’ve had before. I’m not in charge, so it’s not all on my shoulders. All I have to do is make sure my work gets done and I put in the hours,” I said.   “What about the people you’re working with? How are they?”   “My supervisor is great! She’s a praying woman. In fact, we pray together every week,” I said.   “That’s a change from that last one you had cursing you,” he said. We both laughed.   “Yep. My mother-in-law told me to not just pray for any job, but pray for my divine job,” I said. “I really feel like this is a divine job.”   With that, I realized I was telling him I am financially secure enough. I’m OK. My mother-in-law has been the moral support I’ve needed, encouraging me, counseling and consoling me as if God put her in place at the door where Grandma will exit.   Maybe later today I will ask my mother what she thinks about us each having that conversation with our elders, assuring them that we’re ok and they are free to go. I think she will say they are seeing and sensing how well we are and they will leave when they feel like they’ve given us all they can and that we’ve received all we can.

Strength in Weakness

Strength in Weakness

Grandma tells me, "I'm fine - spiritually speaking," and I believe her. I'm glad to see the strength of their faith and their love even as their bodies weaken.

Grandma tells me, “I’m fine – spiritually speaking,” and I believe her. I’m glad to see the strength of their faith and their love even as their bodies weaken.

 

The thing about being a caregiver is that – at least for me, at least for now – the caring doesn’t stop after spending a few hours with my grandparents after work. They are on my mind constantly. Every waking hour it seems, they’re on my mind, I wonder if the nurse arrived on time – or at all; what must I say/do to convince my uncle who lives with them that we all need to know when they’re being left home alone so we can check on them more frequently throughout the day; when and how best do I proceed with managing their paperwork and further ensuring their professional care needs are met now and in the future; when is the next doctor’s appointment; is Grandma ok today or fighting Grandma; what can I do to calm her down; what can I recommend Granddad do to calm her down; do I have a little time at my desk to research tips and resources for caring for an alzheimer’s patient; what about general tips for managing aging parents and all the shifting in interaction that occurs with that. Seems like mind-chattering worry, and maybe it is, but that’s been my reality the past couple of years. Everyday even when I’m not with my grandparents they are with me.

 

One day when I called the house and checked on Grandparents – the singular name I gave them long ago when I realized there are two bodies and two heads of the same being, like Siamese Twins separated – I realized Grandma’s Alzheimer’s disease is only one of many maladies we’re dealing with.

 

The nurse said Granddad was sitting out on the porch. Grandma was in the bathroom and the nurse was telling me she was having a hard time getting Grandma to allow her to apply prescribed ointment to her bottom to treat hemorrhoids. I didn’t know Grandma has that, too, I admitted. The day before I had found that Grandma’s feet are in bad shape. She complained about the mismatched shoes she was wearing hurting her feet. So, I got her to sit down and let me rub her feet. Her heels felt like over-ripe – maybe even bruised – peaches. They were so soft and fleshy I wondered how she could possibly stand on them. I know Granddad’s got aches everywhere – in his right hip and both legs. His ankles are largely swollen, and his eyes burn and stay teary. Granddad takes close to a dozen pills each day, but we are proud that Grandma only takes two – Imodium and a prescribed sleep medicine.

 

With all those maladies, I should be glad they are transitioning out of their bodies. As they have become frail and I see them withering away – their old clothes swallowing their shrinking bodies, their leaning and stumbling giving undeniable assurance that they are slipping away – I now look through them and imagine I’m communicating with their spirit within. Sometimes at night I lay still imaging I’m having a conversation with their spirit not needing telephone lines or in-person presence.

 

One day when I was with them and Grandma went into her rambling mode, I felt invited to communicate with her inner spirit. It was just Grandma and I sitting at the large dining room table, soft sunlight streaming through the partially opened drapes. She began rambling about a supervisor she had cheating her of $100. She went on and on about how this woman didn’t like her, mistreated her and cheated her out of her pay. I tried to bring her back to present time the way my mother suggested: by asking her name and how old she is.

 

“What is your name Miss Lady?” I asked with a cheerful smile.

 

“I know who I am! Charity Irene Thomas!” she said.

 

“Yaaaay! And how old are you?” I continued.

 

She looked at me like I was dumb, paused, then smiled.

 

“I’m fine, spiritually speaking,” she said.

 

Her words reminded me of conversations I had with my dying bestie three years ago. My bestie, dying from cancer, told me “I’m fine. Ray, I’m going to beat this thing!” A few weeks later she was dead, I was puzzled and devastated. But years later I realized she was telling me she was spiritually fine and her cancer would not kill her love of life or her faith in God. She had died still expressing love to family and friends and still encouraging us to believe in God. With that, she had beat the thing.

 

Grandma’s Alzheimer’s and Granddad’s overall decline have been distracting, but overall, I’m sure I will be better off for having walked this walk with them. I’m reminded that we are spirits housed in bodies. After the initial – and frequent – distractions of worrying about their wellbeing I am grateful that I get a chance to see the strength of their faith as their bodies weaken. I see the strength of their love for and commitment to each other despite all the changes in the world around them. I see in them the strength of forgiveness and determination to love.

Granddad’s Optimism – from A to Zinc

Granddad’s Optimism – From A to Zinc

 

What are you doing for Father’s Day?

I’m thanking God for my paternal granddad, who inspires me from A to Zinc! Since a blood transfusion he had during surgery in the 1990s, he’s had absolutely no taste in his mouth. But he is optimistic that his sense of taste will return.

Granddad will be 94-years-old next month. He’s lived a good hearty life, but the past few years have been challenging beyond denial. He’s become more fussy than before. He’s got aches in his hips, past heart attacks and strokes that must come to mind every now and then. He’s become the care-taker for his wife (his love, joy and partner of more than 70 years). But he believes his taste buds can be restored.

Grandma said God took away Granddad’s taste buds because his mouth had been so foul for so long. He had cussed and fussed at her. He used to call her “heifer,” she told me. “God fixed his mouth,” she said.

I had laughed and joked with him about his loss of taste. “Granddad I can cook for you now!” I said once, laughing. He had teased me about my cooking spaghetti every time I invited them to my home for dinner. When I baked him a chicken with rosemary, he laughed at my attempt at gourmet cooking.

“What’s these weeds in the chicken?” he teased.

Granddad had been an executive chef for Marriott Corp., where he worked 40 years before retiring, and pleasing his pallet had seemed impossible until he lost his taste buds.  He eventually learned to appreciate the love and effort that went into preparing a meal though. Since Grandma’s life-threatening surgery three years ago, Granddad’s been cooking all their meals, and Grandma has complained that his food lacks flavor, a criticism I imagine must have cut to the bone.  On Sundays, he treats her to a hearty meal from their favorite soul food carry-out and sometimes takes her out to a restaurant when he can get a ride. (He’s 94 and lost his driving privileges last year.)

Earlier this month, on our way to church, he mentioned that his doctor is prescribing a new agent to revive his taste buds.

“My doctor’s going to start me on Zinc,” Granddad said. “She said that’s going to bring my taste buds back.”

“After 30 years?!?” I said, not intending to sound doubtful. “You’ll have to let me know how that goes. If your taste buds come back, that’ll be something for me to remember forever.”

On the way home from church I decided I would make another spaghetti dinner for him for Father’s Day. If his taste buds are back, he will fully appreciate the flavors. If his taste buds are still absent he may appreciate the zest of my mere effort. At the very least, he will get another chuckle out of me offering another meal of spaghetti.

 

 

 

 

 

The Grass is Greener – When You Water It

This morning I woke up, as usual, about 5:30 to meditate and pray before tuning into Steve Harvey’s 6 o’clock call to God. That’s not what Steve calls it, but I call it that because I consider it similar to the early morning worship I learned growing up as a Muslim. (But that’s another story for another day.)

Steve’s call to God-morning testimony-moment-of-inspiration, whatever we want to call it, was about God’s gifts to us this morning. He used the famous quote, “God’s gift to you is your potential, your talents. Your gifts back to God is what you become, what you make of your talents and potential.” Or something like that. He told of individuals who turned their talents for cooking, baking, singing into businesses and successful careers. He didn’t reference a Biblical scripture to support this as he sometimes does, but the real-life anecdotes from people he knows, rang true enough for me. This got me to thinking about my own talents and potential. I love to write. It prospers me psychologically even before it adds up to dollars that makes sense. I like to spend my first hour of the day writing and more often than not I do.

But this morning, something that Steve said reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with my 91-year-old grandparents. We were in their backyard, where they had proudly showed me the tomatoes, okra, bell peppers, and chives they are growing. I marveled at the mere fact that even as their health has declined and age as slowed them considerably, they are still producing. They still grow vegetables they freeze and can to have through the winter months. But their level of productivity was not what amazed me the most.

Grandma had sat on the steps for a rest as Granddad was digging up a cluster of chives to send home with me. I told them that I am growing a pot of basil my next door neighbor gave me, and a pot of mint. I have not planted a whole garden, but someday I may. We talked about the mint that used to grow wild in their garden. They told me how many, many years ago, when my granddad worked for Marriott, managing its contract for food services at a hospital, for extra cash, they sold the company mint from their back yard. This story of their enterprising and collective effort was only another small gift from this moment spent with them.

They offered me mustard greens and offered to pick them because they figured they could pick them faster since they’re old pros at it.

“I just can’t stand to see you struggling, picking one at a time,” Grandma said, bending over, pulling up handfuls.

“They don’t look ready to me,” I told her. “Looks like they need to grow some more. They’re so small.”

“They’re tender when they’re young like that,” she said. “I like mine tender.”

“But I don’t want to take your greens you put all the work into growing,” I said.

“We got greens going to bed!” Granddad said. “That little bit you got there ain’t enough to feed me. Go on and fill that bag up. We got plenty greens. Here, let me help you.”

Granddad’s hip is bad, so rather than bend, he had to kneel to pick greens.

“We gave away our first crop,” Grandma told me. “The Bible says give your…what is that they call it?”

“Your first fruits. Give your first fruits to God,” I said, surprised that this information had been inside. I had not thought about it. Couldn’t remember where I had read it or heard it. Some church somewhere, or one of the may self-help books I’ve read, probably.

“Yeah. That’s it. Give your first fruits to God and you’ll never want for anything,” Grandma added.

Before I left their home with a box full of books, dated as far back as 1914, a bag of fresh greens, and a pot of chives to grow my own seasonings for the future, I also felt blessed by stories they shared, stories I had not heard in our 45 years together.

I had not known, for instance, that Granddad had helped take care of his parents and carried some of the lessons he learned from theme the rest of his life. He didn’t put it that way. He simply mentioned, by way of explanation, that even when he was missing in action, according to my Grandma, he was not missing at all.

“Granddad is it true that you were gone for three years during World War II and Grandma didn’t know if you were coming home or not?” I asked yesterday, determined to clear up a few issues while there is still time.

“I didn’t know if I was coming home!” he said passionately. “We were at war!”

He told me about taking the ship to Italy and losing friends. They were not sure what might happen the next day.

“You couldn’t call or write?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you what though. I sent my checks home,” he said. “I had half of it going to my momma and the other half going to your grandma.”

“So Grandma, you knew he was alive because the money was coming,” I said, begging the question of why she had told me only half the story, but also feeling relieved as I realized this inclination I have to tell only my half of the story is maybe a trait I inherited. She looked chagrinned and Granddad finished telling his side.

“My momma saved all the money I sent to her. Your Grandma here didn’t have a nickel of it when I got back.”

Grandma shrugged and I smiled imagining the conversation they must have had when Granddad returned. I knew that she had felt like she had been left in the big city, at 21, to fend for herself after she moved her with her new husband then he was called to war. I never knew that Granddad had not considered her totally alone and helpless. They took a train together back to his home to visit his parents and he told his mother to use the money she had saved for him to build a bathroom onto the house.

“I told them I didn’t want to have to go to no outhouse the next time I came. So take the money I sent and get a bathroom built.” They did.

They told me about when they bought the house we were standing in, how they looked at house all over the city, but Grandma wanted this one. So they bought it. Granddad had told me years ago how he had not known how they could afford this house, but everyday when he rode by it on a bus going to work he prayed and knew in his heart this would be his house. Yesterday he told me that it turned out that the man selling the house was a fellow member of the masons and allowed them to move in before they went to settlement.

They told me about using the attic in their house to cure hogs. They would drive home to Georgia to visit and return with two whole hogs. In their basement, they soaked the hogs in salt water.

“How long did they have to soak?” I asked.

“I don’t remember now. A certain amount of time, you had to soak ’em,” Granddad said.

“Then you hung them in the attic. I never knew how you could keep them from stinking. I mean it’s dead meat – not refrigerated,” I said, recalling bits and pieces of the story I’d heard over the years.

“That’s why you soak them in the salt. The salt preserves ’em. Then we hung them up there in the attic. And my father, he had showed me how to make sausage and everything. My children never wanted for nothing!” he said proudly. “Well, I don’t know about after they got grown cause they joined the moozlems and stopped eating pork.”

We laughed.

“They still got the lesson though,” I assured him. “My mother taught me how to buy in bulk and stay stocked with staples. Always a bag of rice, some beans…”

He smiled at his memories.

“I always keep a stock of things. You would never see me going back and forth to the grocery store every week. I got a store in my basement,” he said.

I had noticed three gallon jugs of laundry detergent in the basement. I did not mention that I like going to the grocery store practically everyday because I had wasted too much food buying fresh produce in bulk, not having the time to cook and freeze like they do. Since I could remember, they had always kept two freezers full of food in their basement, too. One freezer was full of meats and fish, the other was full of vegetables they grew, apples and peaches they picked. When I lived with them through a job transition once I had helped scale and gut a cooler full of fresh fish they had caught. We formed an assembly line, the three of us, at the double-sink Granddad had installed himself years ago.

“We have always had a freezer full of meat,” Granddad told me. “When they first sold us the freezer, that was the way they sold it to you. You bought the freezer, and for a certain amount each month, they bought you the meats.”

“Haven’t you ever lost it, had it go bad in a power outage?” I asked, because I had not remembered ever hearing him complain about something like that.

He shook his head.

“I have always trusted in God. And I never went through that. Never had the power stay out so long the meat went bad. I trust in God.”

I nodded, smiling.

I noticed what looked like a pan of cornbread covered in foil on the counter and asked for a bite to eat – having already declined their offer to cook something for lunch. I just wanted a small taste of something and remembered Grandma’s cornbread was actually better than the boxed Jiffy mix she started with. She added her own enhancements on the box mix. 

“I made biscuits. You’re welcomed to them,” she said. 

“Take them all,” Granddad said. “Take them home.” 

I only wanted one to take the edge off my hunger. I had left over beef and veggies waiting for me at home. I spotted a jar of Grandma’s homemade jelly and ended up eating three biscuits because they tasted better than they looked and the jelly was heavenly even though it had not jelled. Grandma apologized for the lack of firmness in her jelly. Granddad proudly explained that it had been made from apples they picked from the tree at their vacation camp site a short drive from where they live. He suggested I take a jar of jelly home with me, too. 

We covered a lot of ground in my short visit. Grandma disclosed a couple secrets she probably was supposed to take back to heaven with her. Granddad denied it all. One of her complaints I tried to mitigate, but couldn’t. Granddad assured me that he is taking good care of them as he always had. 

“And when we die, ya’ll don’t have to come up with a nickel to bury us,” he said. He’s got that all taken care of, too. He told me of when and how he decided to pay for it all.

“When I die, all you got to do is call the Latneys and say, ‘he’s dead,’. They’ll come and pick me up, and everything is taken care of, paid in full. You don’t have to worry about nothing,” he said. 

Grandma had begun preparing me for their inevitable departure a few years ago when we wrote the obituary she wants used. She told me the particulars about what she wants to wear. Last year when she was not sure she would survive major surgery, and she lay restless, strapped in bed in an intensive care unit, she called out to me as I was leaving. 

“My obituary’s in the punch bowl!” she had said, telling me that if she didn’t make it out the next morning, the story of her life we had worked on was in with all her other important papers stashed in a glass, crystal-looking punch bowl. 

“Ya’ll are miracles in my mind,” I told them yesterday. 

“Bless you,” Granddad said. 

I had told Grandma a couple weeks ago that the mere fact that she’s still alive after professing her surrender before going into surgery last year amazes me. She had told me, “I’ve lived a good life…I’m ready…whenever God sees fit to take me I’m ready…I’m tired…” I did not expect her to live past Christmas. But by spring, she was planting seeds for another harvest. 

Yesterday as Granddad pulled greens for my dinner, I offered to mow their lawn. No, he said, my uncle is planning to teach my 12-year-old cousin, how to cut his grandparents’ grass.  I used to take pride in keeping up their lawn. Granddad had taught me how to mow the grass evenly, how to trim the hedges using his electric clippers. He had taught me to water the grass early in the morning or late in the evenings, never when the sun is high.  

Yesterday’s visit – their stories, the fruits from their garden, the laughter, the memories – was such a blessing, it came to mind this morning as I prayed and considered making my morning writings, my morning thoughts, my first fruits offering to God.

Rather than pondering my current problems, past regrets, and fears about the future, “weed” thoughts that choke the life out of my potential, I should begin my day with nourishing thoughts – and writings. Thoughts of thanks for all that I do have, praise for all the good in my past, and thoughts of hope for my future will nourish my God-given talents and potential, while lamenting all that I seem to lack will, like weeds, choke the life out.

I got out of bed this morning, thanking God that although I do not have the job I expected to have had a year or more ago, yesterday I had time, un-rushed, to spend with two people who have lived well a very long time trusting God and the many gifts He has given them. Jobs helped sustain them, but so did their relationships with their parents, their passion for gardening, their practice of tithing, their relationships with their children, their grandchildren, and their church.

Today I will water my basil and mint and the chives – and many other “fruits” I got from Grandparents yesterday, fully appreciating them as gifts God has planted in my life.