The Dickens

In my last post, I shared pictures of my mom still living life to the full while on Hospice.

November 23rd, 2022 – Post #58

The short version: My mom is still plugging away; but her energy levels are waning, and her memory issues are getting more pronounced.

The “I haven’t posted anything in a very long time” version:

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever actually read, “A Tale of Two Cities”; but that line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” keeps coming to mind.

That’s part of why I have been silent. I can’t always tell what ought to be on Caring Bridge and what’s best left unsaid. Some hard things that have happened have been absolutely hilarious and can make my mom laugh more than anything; but to share them on an open forum leaves me vulnerable to accusations of being “insensitive” or “sharing things I shouldn’t.” I would much rather record those moments with her than make this just a sterile medical chart; but I hesitate, wondering if what I want to say is “appropriate”. And if I’m gut honest, sometimes my main motivation for not saying a word is a survival instinct to avoid criticism.

The other day, a friend reminded me of a story about an old man, a boy, and a donkey. There are several versions, but essentially, they were all headed to the market, so the donkey could be sold. The man and boy were walking, so the beast could be in good condition when they got there.

They passed some people and overheard them saying it was foolish to walk instead of riding, and that poor boy must be awfully tired. The old man felt guilty, so he put the boy on the donkey, and they proceeded on.

Then they passed another cluster of bystanders, who clucked their tongues saying it was a shame that the old man was on foot while the lazy boy, so strong and able, rode the donkey. Embarrassed to be noticed, and mortified by this accusation, the lad slid off the donkey and helped the old man struggle onto its back.

They continued on their journey, but as they passed by another group along the edge of the road, they heard the exclamation of, “Oh that poor animal, bearing the weight of that indolent man! How would he feel, if the roles were reversed!? He ought to be made to carry that poor, mistreated creature – then he’d know how it feels to be so exhausted!”

Blushing with shame and vexation, the old man took ahold of the donkey’s withers, and carefully lowered himself to the ground. Not wanting to appear unfeeling, he searched for a sturdy branch. When he found one, he forced the donkey to lay down, bound its legs together and tied them to the pole. Lifting one end, and directing the boy to take the other, the man did acknowledge to himself that it had been much more pleasant to be the rider than the ridee’; but he didn’t know for sure if the donkey’s braying was a sign of agreement. He felt in his heart that he would have preferred walking alongside the donkey, as he’d originally planned; but he did not like to hear any kind of criticism, so this fourth strategy seemed like the path of least resistance, no matter how much his muscles protested.

The old man and the boy were going along just fine, with the donkey hanging upside down between them, and were in the middle of a bridge, when gravity gave its opinion. The pole broke, the donkey plunged into the stream below, and because its ankles were tied together to that stick, it couldn’t kick free, so it drowned.

The old man and the boy buried the donkey, and turned homeward, passing by all the people who had said how they ought to do things, and leaving them to speculate and pass judgement about what they’d done. As for the donkey, even if he didn’t want to be sold, and didn’t want to walk, and didn’t want to carry anyone, I think he would have rather done any of those than suffer the final outcome.

The moral of the story is, “If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.”

For the most part, I have gotten a lot of encouragement to keep writing posts. Maybe I’m naïve, but I guess I didn’t realize what some would call “cyber-bullying” would be an issue on a Caring Bridge site. I can tell you; it can really stunt a person’s desire to put themself at risk. I know it did a number on me. It has caused me to either want to “overshare” to somehow explain or justify some decisions or go totally incognito and just quit saying anything.

I shouldn’t have let it take the enjoyment of writing away; or my determination to record these memories with my mom, but I did. And I’m still asking myself, ‘Is it appropriate to pull back the curtain on some of the behind-the-scenes drama that takes place?’ I can think of many reasons not to; but then I think, ‘I know this happens to other people, so maybe I should breech the subject, because maybe it will help others who get discouraged.’

I guess I’ll go ahead and disclose that somebody emailed me a reprimand that my mom’s health is not fodder for a public extravaganza so that I could have a captive audience on which to hone my writing attempts; and accusing me of using this occasion for my own purposes, rather than having my mom’s best interests at heart; and then told me not to get my hopes up (as if I was hoping for her death); that she might last several years; and that if I anticipate using the subject of her illness and death as the subject for a book, I should know that’s already been done by somebody else, so it’s not a new idea.

I was horrified.

And hurt.

And I knew it was a lie.

But I didn’t like it being said.

And I wondered who else thought those things.

And I struggled with the shame of whether to bring it into the light, or just forgive and forget.

I chose the latter; but then more came, and it made me not want to write any more, and it made me wonder if other people struggle with the same sort of adversarial accusations. I suppose they do. Grace makes me want to cover over those words, for the sake of the one who said them; but then I think, maybe it will help other people be more gutsy against their own accusers, if I bring this kind of thing into the light…

Every once in a while, when I least expect it, I’ll get peppered with something like that from out of nowhere. My default mode has always been to put myself on mute and try to hide; but people keep asking me to post, so I’ve felt sort of torn.

As I’ve thought through explaining myself, I’ve laughed at the “accusation” of writing a book about all this and thought, ‘If I were to write a novel about life right now, the opening scene would probably be the disabled access bathroom stall of the illustrious Honeywell Arts & Entertainment Center, in my mother’s hometown of Wabash, Indiana…’

Only she and I know the exact details of what happened behind that metal door. The women waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for that stall to open up, might have come up with some speculations; but I am not at liberty to confirm or deny the mental images they were painting.

I’m not sure how much to disclose here – or anywhere.

Between total embarrassment, and bursting into laughter, that scene can best be summed up in those famous words of Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

It was, shall I say, the cous de gras of parent child role reversal.

And it was hilarious.

And it was horrible.

And I kept saying to myself, “Is this really my reality?”

I tried to type about it the other night and wound up humored. My mom wanted to know what was funny, and when I mentioned Honeywell’s, her response was, “Oh, that was so mortifying! I hope I never see those women again!”

When I reminded her that they’d probably only recognize her by her ankles, of which they had a view for quite some time, she snickered out loud, shaking her head, and reminiscing about our rather incommodious misadventure.

I wasn’t sure who should be more embarrassed. Her or me. Dementia may have cleared some of the details for her; but I can still remember when I finally swung that door open and faced the line of white-haired women, many escorted by walkers, waiting along the wall. There had been no vacancy on their stall of choice for an inordinate amount of time, and I’m sure they were wondering why it had been rendered inaccessible.

My face flushed, as I directed my mom to the sinks, knowing they must have heard me intermittently wheezing with laughter, and then whispering through clenched teeth, “DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!” I was back and forth between doubling over and sounding like an over-zealous drill sergeant, determined to keep little kids in line at a library.

I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror, and thought, ‘I look traumatized.’

I saw a woman I knew that I knew; but had no idea how I knew her. Smiling and making small talk, I pretended I wasn’t in shock. I couldn’t figure out how so much had gone so wrong so fast.

I’d wanted to get to the concert early. There would be no stress. There would be no rush. We’d be there before the crowd.

I was prepared. I had a strategy. I was ready to execute it.

My plan got shot down.

Arriving when everyone else did, we decided it would be best if my mother “powdered her nose” before proceeding to the seats. We wound up swept along with the current of little old ladies, waving at one another with anticipation, and then we created a log jam in the bathroom line.

If there’s one thing that makes me awkward, it’s being in anybody’s way. My one consolation was that I was pretty sure most of the patrons that evening had a “Depend-able” back-up plan, in case the line wasn’t “Brief”. It was a Saturday night. Typically, most of that crowd would have been safe and snug at home, seated in their own recliners. But they had abandoned their loyalty to Lawrence Welk for one evening, braving the dark, to hear the bonny and illustrious voice of Daniel O’Donnell. His style falls somewhere between, the posterchild for the Emerald Isle and being the epitome of Branson-esque entertainment.

I have memories of wheeling my grandma back to her room after lunch in the nursing home. Every day, like clockwork, we’d be greeted by that beautiful brogue voice of his. I think there was an alarm set on her CD player that turned on his songs each afternoon. So many times, I asked if she wanted to hear a different CD; but she’d just shrug and say, “That’s okay.” She never tired of Daniel O’Donnell, and I’ll go ahead and confess, I didn’t either.

I wasn’t embarrassed that I liked his music; but I was embarrassed by how it pierced my heart. One particular song from that album, kept me tempted to avert my face from her notice:

I’m reading a letter

It makes me feel better

It sure does me good

To see an old lady smile

And watch as she wanders

Back through the memories

Down through the years

And the thousands of miles

To reach out her arms

To hold me or scold me

Or laugh and a

Warning instead

Then supper and prayers

And a room by the stairs

Where three of us children

Laid down our heads

But it can’t hold the years back

Can’t hold the tears back

The joy or the sadness

Of so long ago

I can’t make the same sun

Shine through the window

Or turn this old house back

Into a home

“Can’t Hold the Years Back,” made it hard for me to keep my tears from brimming over. I wanted to take my grandma home. I wanted what we had there at her house. The words about sun coming through the window did make me laugh, though. Between the three layers of sheer curtains, plastic shades, and heavy draperies, sunlight was rarely allowed to pierce through grandma’s glass views. She worried it would fade her davenport.

There was a perpetual war between her and my mom over the ultra-violet light allowed into that room. Beth would come into the living room, exclaim, “It’s so dark in here!” then pull back the window dressings to welcome the rural scenery around us, laced with sunshine, and then walk out.

Grandma Woody would come in soon after, complaining that the carpet would surely be marred by all that light and snap everything shut.

We grandkids would be crowded onto the couch, secretly giggling behind our hands to each other, enjoying the drama of their ongoing disagreement. They didn’t post their complaints to each other, but they posted them out loud to themselves. It entertained us to see the adults get a little irritated with each other, instead of with us.

Even if there wasn’t always harmony, we loved that house, and we loved it more, because my grandma made it a home. Daniel O’Donnell’s words in that particular song seemed to highlight what we’d lost. The melody was like a jackhammer, tunneling through rock, to a precious, tender pool of grief, deep below the surface of my heart. I loved the song; but was embarrassed by its effect on me.

I wanted to take my mom to that concert, because it reminded me so much of her mom.

And I wanted to take her to that concert, because I hoped Daniel O’Donnell would sing one song in particular. I wondered if he would. I had no idea that the majority of the crowd must have longed to hear that same ballad.

No other tune got quite that kind of response.

There had been enthusiasm before; but after the last fading line, “And I will sleep in peace until you come to me,” a rallying applause echoed through the theater. If my memory serves me correctly, many in the crowd rose to their feet, despite creaking knees and bad hips.

My mom had declared before the concert, “Well, if he does sing ‘Danny Boy’, I don’t think I’ll cry,” but of course, she did cry – within the first few lines.

And I was glad it was dark, because I did; too, holding her hand, missing her brother, Danny, remembering the hard times we shared when he was sick, and missing him terribly, but glad for his suffering to be over.

Daniel O’Donnell singing “Danny Boy”

I sat there in that tender moment, thinking back to the mishap in the bathroom, and how stunned I’d felt, directing her through the crowd, helping her as she struggled up the short span of steps (since all the disabled seating was Sold Out) and going back to stow away her wheelchair.

I knew it would be a night to remember and tried not to let myself be so rattled about the details of that scene in the stall, which decorum keeps me from fully disclosing. But I still felt flustered. The room was dim, and I was glad for that. Sitting toward the back, Daniel O’Donnell, a genuine showman in every sense of the word, continued engaging with the crowd, then began making announcements, to honor members of the audience.

A birthday was announced, and one elderly woman, was asked to stand. She rose unsteadily to her feet. Her stature couldn’t have been five feet tall.

“We know her!” my mom exclaimed as the crowd congratulated the woman on celebrating ninety-something years or so.

I laughed. Leave it to my mother to make friends with strangers; but it was true. We’d known the woman for about twenty-four hours. We’d been shuffling through the lobby at the Hampton Inn, when that lady, her walker, and her daughter-in-law crossed our path, between the elevator and the front door.

The younger of the two took one look at my mom and asked, “Are you by any chance in town for the Daniel O’Donnell concert?”

We laughed out loud. Beth certainly checked every box on the demographics: white hair, rollator, a look of enthusiastic exhaustion…

They got to talkin’ there in the lobby, as my mom is prone to do, and pretty quickly became friends.

The next night, at the concert, everybody clapped for the stooped woman celebrating her birthday in Wabash. I think she’d come all the way from Wisconsin, or Michigan, or somewhere else. Her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who were her escorts, were beaming. In all honesty, it made me feel a little ashamed. I wished I hadn’t whisper-yelled at my mom in the bathroom. I ought to be totally enjoying the time I had with her. I knew we were on a countdown, and it was very unlikely we’d be celebrating many birthdays, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah…

I decided to have a better attitude.

The bathroom incident was pretty funny.

And we’d both survived.

Daniel O’Donnell set a series of intermissions. He isn’t exactly a Spring chicken himself and had to pause between dance routines to catch his breath. Admitting the effect of age to his audience only served to endear him more to them. They could all identify. He’d do a song and dance, and then sit on a stool, winded and panting, making well over half the audience nod their hoary-white heads in mutual commiseration.

During one of those breaks, my mom “got to talkin’” to the man behind us. As people do in Wabash, they swapped names and what branch they’d fallen from. When my mom said her dad was Woody Miller, the man nodded, and said, “I knew Woody Miller.” The man was in his nineties, but as a boy, he’d known my grandpa. He explained that his dad worked at the container factory, too. I could tell by his face that he was going back in his mind to memories from long ago, as he nodded, and added again, “Yes, I knew Woody Miller. I remember him well.” I didn’t know that man; but it meant something to me to have him know someone I had lost. He knew my grandpa in a way I didn’t, and I wished I could sit and listen to his memories.

Once again, my mom’s friendliness bonded us to a stranger. That man sitting behind us at the concert.

I don’t know if that’s from her personality, or just the way life is in Wabash, or just the way people are when they are from there; or happen to wind up there. Maybe a combination of all the above… but as a shy and reticent person, I sort of bask in wonder at how those uncanny meetings, in crowded locations, take place on a regular basis.

Thinking the concert was over, we began the “race” toward the car to beat the crowds. After all, there are at least four traffic lights between Honeywell’s and the Hampton Inn. There was the usual conversation of me trying to convince my mom to ride in her wheelchair, instead of pushing it, since it was a long way for her, and I knew she was exhausted. No surprise, she wasn’t exactly compliant, until she saw the sloth-like stampede of walkers, canes, and wheelchairs heading her way.

Everyone seemed aimed toward the elevator, so I parted ways with my parents and took the stairs. As I waited down below, I realized the concert wasn’t actually quite over. I guess Daniel O’Donnell had just done a strategic dismissal, so that at least some of the geriatric crowd could make an exit – to get home to take their pills on time, and be rescued from the danger of over-taxing their Depends.*

*Sorry if that sounds disrespectful. If you’d been there, and seen the median age of the audience, I think you’d admit that is a pretty spot-on assessment.

The crowd had been cheering for an encore, when Daniel O’Donnell must have returned to the stage, admitting he meant to come back anyway, but was just pacing himself.

The audience clapped, then the atmosphere changed to a hush as the awe-inspiring words of the hymn I knew to be one of my grandma’s favorites were hung gently in the air:

Oh LORD my God,

When I in awesome wonder

Consider all the works

Thy hands have made

Daniel O’Donnell singing How Great Thou Art

To me, the familiarity of the tune was like clothes stretched on a line, alongside an Indiana cornfield, flapping gently in the breeze, between two metal T-posts, with a sagging green cord tied to each end – too tempting for us grandkids to resist tugging on, despite all of Grandma Woody’s admonishments. A common sight, but something that would take my breath away, if I could see it in real life now.

I see the stars

I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout

The universe displayed

My mind goes back, to the dark, dark nights, of that Indiana farm, where the blackness was only interrupted by the constellations; and the pole light overseeing the barnyard; and the smaller one by the steps (which was another thing we weren’t supposed to hang on; but did); and the strange glow from the factory across the river; after the fireflies all go to bed.

I think of the day my mom and I sat in her parent’s green swing, welded by her brother Tom, who died at about my age of a stroke. We sat, as thunder rumbled toward us and the sky’s clouds bore down upon the distant woods, thick and gray. The green seemed so unintimidated. It only intensified in brightness. I sat by my mom in her parent’s pine grove, literally watching the corn grow, hearing the barely perceptible pop and fizzle, as the green stalks began to rise from the brown earth toward the heavens. All that surrounded us was about to be sold.

It was a terrible thought, but a precious moment.

It was sold.

It is no longer ours; but it is ours still.

Some things cannot be bought or sold.

As we walked away from the pine trees, and the scene of that cornfield, so fresh with hope, she snapped a picture of that empty swing.

When it got developed, she said, “That empty swing seems like it ought to be on a sympathy card.”

Then sings my soul

My Savior God to Thee

How Great Thou Art

How Great Thou Art

My parents stepped off the elevator, and my dad guided the wheelchair toward me.

Everyone in the foyer was paused as the chorus continued.

I looked at my mom, knowing how much that song meant to her.

I was glad we came.

My heart finally felt calmed from the bathroom debacle.

I hoped the song would minister to my parents.

We all stood still. I don’t think there was anyone in that lobby who was saying a word or even moving a muscle.

It was one of those moments when there is a holy hush.

“So, I’m gonna go get the car, and then I’ll pick you up at the curb,” my dad announced. Apparently, his hearing aids hadn’t alerted him to the solemn moment.

From her wheelchair, my mom tried to turn to quiet him without drawing attention to herself, which only caused him to say, “HUH!?”

She repeated her muttering admonition to keep silent, with her hand over her mouth, so nobody would know it was her talking, turning away from him, as if that would somehow make people believe they weren’t associated, even though he was holding onto her wheelchair.

Baffled by whatever it was she was trying to communicate, he leaned down, to hear her better, and let out a louder, “HUH!?” to make her know she wasn’t speaking clearly.

As a married couple, they have a code language, and the more trouble they have communicating, the more pronounced it gets. She frequently thinks he’s too loud; and mumbles for him to be quiet, thinking her quieter ways will be taken as a cue. He tries to set the tone for her to speak more clearly by annunciating “HUH!?!” in a decibel that is simply startling. Instead of inspiring her to speak up, by his voluminous response, she only shrinks her voice into more of a mutter, which frustrates him. It is astonishing to watch, and I can see how it would be humorous, if I were only a member of the listening audience, instead of their daughter.

As much as I’d like to slink away, this is my moment to step forth, as interpreter.

To abate my mom’s embarrassed scolding toward my dad, and my dad’s baffled confusion toward my mom, I entered the scene, explaining to him that the concert wasn’t really over, and that, “How Great Thou Art” was being sung.

My dad nodded, and stood quietly, once he knew what was going on. I know music has always been important to him, and it’s been hard for him to feel like he’s missing out.

The song continued.

When Christ shall come

With shout of acclamation

To take me Home

What joy shall fill my heart

Then I shall bow

In humble adoration

And there proclaim

My God how great Thou art

I looked over at my mom, knowing she wants us to sing that song at her funeral. Precious sadness and joy mixed together.

Then sings my soul

My Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art

How great Thou art

The song came to a close.

There was a rush for the door.

My dad disappeared into the dark night.

I told my mom, rather firmly, to stay seated in the wheelchair, and I would push her to wherever it was that we were supposed to go.

I didn’t know where my dad had parked. He told us he’d meet us at the curb. I had no idea which one. A little logic helped me narrow it down to two; but then again, what’s logic got to do with a family outing!?!

People started spilling out of the building and bypassing us.

I saw his headlights across the way.

I wasn’t sure what side of the street we were supposed to be standing on. I headed for the crosswalk ramp; but then realized, that would probably put us on the wrong side. Going back, we stood at the closest curb. A wall of people headed across the road, blocking his route toward us. I realized there was no slope to the street, just a drop-off and wondered what to do. My dad parked on the other side and crossed on foot to help my mom. I was put in charge of the wheelchair, so she could step off the sidewalk, holding onto him. We were both helping her; but as usual, both had totally different plans.

I tried to lower the chair carefully, but it dropped off the concrete precipice with a jolt. The cushion went flying onto the street, and my purse got entangled in the handles when I reached for it. The pedals flapped wildly, as if they were about to abandon ship. I was annoyed and irritated, and wishing I’d crossed at the original intersection in the first place. The awesome wonder and sentimentality from the music was gone, and the stress and strain of the bathroom incident and a hundred other things were flooding my mind. My jaw clenched, and I wished I was somewhere else.

Trying to help my mom across the uneven grass alongside the vehicle and into her seat, I wondered how we’d ever get out of there. I shouldn’t have wondered. I was blushing from the backseat as that Honda Ridgeline parted a sea of people and made its way down Market Street, turning toward the Hampton Inn, and navigating through the stream of full-size sedans, which older drivers are wont to depend upon. I don’t know for sure what happened; but my grateful attitude had absolutely disappeared, and I wanted the trip to be over.

The next morning, I sought solitude on the back patio of the hotel, laying on a faded cushion, contorting myself to avoid touching what a bird had left behind. Shading my eyes with one hand, I watched and listened to the faded tan husks of corn rattling in the breeze. The scene reminded me of my grandparent’s farm, as long as I forgot there was a water tower overhead and a Wal-Mart across the road.

I lingered there for a long time; but finally told myself I ought to go inside. Walking toward the elevator, I saw the woman who had taken one look at my mom and presumed correctly that she was in town for the Daniel O’Donnell concert. She was sitting on a bench by herself. We were friendly; but I felt flushed with inner shame. She had been beaming with joy when the spotlight turned upon her mother-in-law, and Daniel O’Donnell made the announcement that they were there to celebrate a birthday. The contrast between their happiness, and my frustration, made me wish I hadn’t let myself get so rattled and just enjoyed the evening. I told her, laughing, “When he had your mother-in-law stand up, we were like, ‘We know her!’”

She smiled, “That was really special. I’m so glad she got to come.”

More shame on me. I asked another question, maybe protecting myself from having to skirt around an honest answer about how our time had gone. “Are you heading back home today?”

This brought on an unexpected sigh of exasperation. Her countenance changed completely, and she launched into a diatribe that sounded something like this:

Yes. I’m all packed and ready with my stuff; but she has a routine, and she brought all kinds of crap with her, and she’s a hoarder, and I don’t know how we’re ever gonna get on the road. I just had to walk out of the room. She does this. This is why none of her kids will take her places. I’m the only one that will. I mean, she has so much stuff! It’s not like this is a two-week vacation. It’s three days. Not even three days, and she has all these bags, and I hate to tie up the luggage cart; but I finally just left it up there, because I couldn’t take watching anymore. And I’m ready to get on the road, and I’m the one that’s driving, and here I am sitting down here in the lobby, waiting, while she’s up there drinking prune juice, and I know it’s gonna give her diarrhea, and she knows it too, and I told her not to take it today; but she says, ‘I always take it!,’ and I know that’s her thing – there’s no arguing with her routine; but I mean, why would you drink prune juice if you’re worried about having to go to the bathroom a bunch when we get on the road!?! And she’s gonna be all stressed to find an exit; but I’m the one who’s gonna have to find a place to pull over and have the stress of getting her in and out of the car with her walker, and so I told her, ‘It’s just one day. Don’t take the prune juice today – or at least wait until you get home,’ but of course, she wouldn’t listen, because she won’t change her routine. She said, “Well, I’ve got Pepto-Bismol. I can take that, if I get diarrhea from the prune juice,” but I looked at the bottle, and it said it expired in 2008! 2008! She’s a total hoarder, and when I suggested she get a new bottle, because Walmart is right across the road, she had this whole explanation about how the Pepto Bismol in that bottle wasn’t really the 2008 Pepto Bismol – she said she had kept the old bottle and cleaned it out, because she uses it for travel, but she never goes anywhere! Her kids won’t take her any place. I’m the only one who will. So, I tried to tell her, ‘How can you even tell what year it is from, if it’s in a different bottle!?’ But then I just had to leave. I told her checkouts at eleven; but I don’t think there’s any way we’re gonna make it out of here by then. And I’m so glad she could come, and I could tell last night meant so much to her; but this is what she does, and it just drives me nuts, and I called my husband and told him she’s doing it again, and I knew she would, and he said he told me she would do it; but I wanted her to get to come, and I’m so glad she did, but oh, it just drives me crazy!””

I don’t think she ended there; but I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t retain it all. Suddenly, I felt a little less weary. Yes, she had that spotlight moment that meant so much, when the whole crowd celebrated and honored her mother-in-law; but she also had those moments that were more like a Prune Juice and Pepto Bismol concoction with no Exit ramp in sight – having no idea of an expiration date.

*My mom still regrets that we didn’t get that woman’s contact information, wishing she could keep in touch with her. Meanwhile, a stack of cards sits waiting, that she wants to write, but doesn’t have the energy for.

We went to our family reunion, which is another reason we’d come to Wabash. It was good to see those who could attend; but there was a quiet grief over those who couldn’t be there because of health problems, and especially for those who we’ve lost in the last few years. Most of the conversation revolved around aches, pains and doctor’s appointments. I watched as my mom and her relatives gathered for a picture. Their grandparents and parents are all gone now. I wonder what the family reunion will be when they are gone, too. Maybe it won’t be at all.

My Mom with a Few of Her Cousins at the Roann Community Center in Indiana.

The next time I went out to the back patio of the Hampton Inn, my heart sunk. The corn had been cut down. I was glad I’d had the chance to sit and watch it while I could. The stark emptiness of that vast field made me realize the magnitude of what I’d only been able to see up close.

With corn, there is the plowing, and the planting, and the praying for rain; but also, the worry when it comes that there will be too much. And then the harvest, and that’s the goal; but to me, there is something so sad about an empty field.

The Harvest. It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times.

I can’t conceive of how those tiny grains call forth life from the dust and grow so tall and green, only to curl, and dry, fading and drooping. The farmer’s objective is to cut them down, and how he rejoices when the bushels of golden seed pour forth from the auger of his combine; but I can’t help but think that he’s also a little sad. The horizon opens up, revealing more of the sky; but the shelter created by those stalks has to be taken away in the process, leaving an empty aching for a place to hide. And yet, without the death of those seeds, new life can not spring forth in the next season.

I went back to the hotel room. In one hand my dad had a Solitaire game going on his iPad, in the other, the baseball game was displayed on his phone. He was parked on a chair directly in front of the TV, with the news blaring toward his forehead. Closed caption subtitles strobed onto the screen. A running spool of miscellaneous information scrolled across the bottom.

My mom was teetering near the bed, on the far side of the room, just above that vacant cornfield, saying something about checking her blood pressure, because she felt like it was high.


She touched her forehead and didn’t repeat herself.

I took up the torch of interpretation. “She thinks her blood pressure’s high.”

“Oh,” he responded, finally looking up.

“Mine might be a little high by now, too,” I laughed, knowing it’s usually on the low end of normal.

I was more than ready to not be sharing a hotel room with my parents; but I’m glad we went. At least now that I’m looking back, I’m glad.

I hope I don’t sound disrespectful disclosing all this. All I know is that the more I take care of other people’s parents, and hear friends share their experiences, the more I realize, people are all pretty much the same, so I’m not trying to spotlight anybody – just trying to give a better view of common struggles. And I’m making myself laugh in the process – and my mom, too. Hearing that lady rant about prune juice and Pepto Bismol did me more good than a lifetime of laying on a counselor’s couch, talking about my childhood ever could. We’re all just trying our broken best to get by, and laughter really does good, like medicine.

So, like I started out saying, these have been the “best of times,” and the “worst of times”. But, if I ever start feeling sorry for myself, it does help me to think of poor Charles Dickens.

What he went through with his family, I don’t know; but from what my uncle Danny used to say about the Dickens, old Charlie ought to be pitied. I’m not sure how the Dickens name got so synonymous with hardship; but according to Danny, if somebody was unkempt, they, “Looked like the Dickens.”

If my uncle was unwell, he’d say, “I feel like the Dickens.”

And if the weather was freezing, he’d come in shivering and announce, “It’s as cold as the Dickens out there!”

I never met any members of the Dickens family; but on the whole, considered them to be in a dreadful state, indeed. My family has its issues; but they can’t compare to the suffering I suppose to be common in that poor and bedraggled, sickly and frigid clan, which Danny called, “The Dickens”.

I’m sure glad I’m not one of them. Which is a reminder: that no matter how bad things get, somebody else is probably worse off. Especially if they’re named Dickens.

Now if that’s your name, please know that no offense is intended. And things could be worse. Your name could be…

Well, I’ll just end it there.

Maybe I shouldn’t have brought any of that up. Somebody is bound to “Give me The Dickens” for what I’ve said.

Now I don’t want to be presumptuous by assuming you thought any of that was funny; but if you did laugh, you’ll probably like to hear about what happened while she was getting her next steroid shots.

*To read more on my mom’s cancer journey from the beginning, or share it, please click below:

It’s Cancer


I'm not sure what to say here: I once got second place in a dog-look-alike-contest? I know how to fold a fitted sheet? I'm pretty much a poster child for social backwardness - at least as far as social media is concerned; but I have some stories I think I'm supposed to share and am attempting to do that here, in this space.

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