Monday, September 6, 2010


The past weeks have been filled with roller coaster emotions, brain-numbing road trips, and endless analytical phone calls as our parents have endured the breaking down of body parts and the necessary hospitalizations and after-care. CA's mom's successful second hip replacement and the ensuing care interspersed with helping Aunt Margie get into assisted living and dispersing most of her worldly goods, then my dad's declining health and subsequent collapse.

Aunt Margie loves her new home--just one small room with a shared bath--in a clean and lovely care facility. She tells everyone that she's loved it since day one. Thank you, God. CA's mom, Gigi, is 90% back to normal and loving life in her independent living community--back to playing bridge several times a week and driving her friends to dinner and club events.

My dad is happily ensconced in a skilled care facility rehabbing from arrhythmia and related bodily failings. For a few weeks we've thought he would continue to fail, but he's gained a bit of ground and is rehabbing and again eating normally. His spirits are encouraged and he, too, loves his caring environment. This is a temporary solution--if he ceases to progress or when he's reached his limits he will be sent home or we'll seek other arrangements.

My dad is married a second time and has been for 10 years. They've done well together, but her health is fragile and she's stated frequently that she can't care for him at home. As he's gaining strength, she might change her mind, but it's seemed that he'd rather not go back home and she'd rather not have him.

But, this weekend I noticed an affection between them. When we delivered her to his room on Saturday afternoon, they seemed happy to see each other and then segued into gentle bickering. Might end up being a case of can't live together, can't live apart.

So, dad's current state is stable and improving slightly, whereas one week ago we thought he would tumble downhill gently or abruptly. I lived in a state of nerves for a couple of weeks. I like to know what's coming and then deal with facts. No one knows what's next for dad or how soon or how much. He's happy and somewhat optimistic, and so are we.

I wonder how reflective he is and how real his faith is to him as his body fails him. I've struggled with the reality of my faith and with half-remembered feelings and hurts that he's inflicted over the years. Forgiveness is daily and I have to seek it often. I know that my affection for him is shallow and my attention to him is a lot of "Honor thy father..."

I always say that he's been a piece of work, and he is. I know that my trust issues are traced to his fathering. I know that he's had his own demons to vanquish. Self-awareness is my generation's thing, and his generation's thing was survival. He was a child of the Depression, a WWII non-combat vet, and a parent before the pill or reliable birth control. My mom's mental health issues also shaped him, as he shaped her.

I had a moment of clarity last week when I realized my tension was more related to navigating the rest of his life with a presumed roller coaster of health issues and less related to actually experiencing grief or loss when he dies. I'm not proud, but that's honest. And, I'm fully aware that as I realized with my mom's death 12 years ago, I've spent a good bit of my adult life grieving the loss-lack of parenting and stability and unconditional love.

One of my sisters used to say that they did the best that they could. I don't think so. At the base of each parent's personality is-was a self-centered immature focus. As Christians they had the Bible and God's teachings on how to love and his offer of guidance and wisdom. If you seek God's wisdom and direction, he gives it to you. My mom prayed without ceasing, but mostly she was praying for her own peace of mind and heart. (I profoundly regret that most of the effective drugs for depression and anxiety did not exist in her lifetime.) I don't know about my dad's prayers. I'm guessing he prayed, too, but I'm really clueless about how he lived his faith.

Yet, I cannot complete these ruminations without acknowledging that they took us to a Bible-believing church and they taught us to pray. There are six siblings and we all actively worship and follow God.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


The loud whirring of the treadmill, the force of my feet as they rhythmically beat the track... Eyes closed and clinched, my mind uncomprehending... Tears flowing; thoughts racing. Prayers formed and unformed wrenched upward. It was just before 5:30am on a dark February morning and I exercised not from discipline but from a need for release from some of the tension and confusion that had frozen my brain and emotions. My sister would probably die that day.

* * *
For weeks, and months as it turned out, she had faced a puzzling array of symptoms that her doctors had dismissed. Christmas overwhelmed her and the new year was daunting. Even her unfailingly loving and supportive husband didn't comprehend her situation.

In a telephone conversation less than 2 weeks before, she described her symptoms and frustrations and asked me, "Don't I sound sick to you?" Yes, she did and she was frustrated because no one was taking her seriously.

And then within days, she was very sick and in the hospital and the doctors weren't sure what was happening. Yes, there seemed to be some liver infection; not hepatitis. A diagnosis was not forthcoming, and as the doctors pondered her illness worsened. She was terribly sick and still they dithered.

Finally, days too late, they sent her by ambulance to the University of Chicago Medical Center. GJ's husband and oldest son followed the ambulance, hearts heavy with fear and thoughts racing. JL drove from Michigan and I from the NW suburbs of Chicago. We left our jobs and homes and schedules and took a leap off an unfamiliar cliff to be close to and support and comfort our sister.

As I headed to my car that morning I grasped at ideas for comfort because I knew my limitations--I could bring my sister my prayers, my support, and maybe some comfort. I grabbed my favorite afghan, a cross-stitched sampler I'd made of a Bible verse GJ had offered me a few years earlier when I needed comfort, and a cassette recorder with the tapes I found most comforting--My Utmost for His Highest, Amy Grant, and Rich Mullins.

On admittance to that famous teaching hospital, GJ was diagnosed with liver failure. Acute liver failure. Her situation was deemed critical.

When they'd settled her in the hospital room and JL and I were allowed to see her, we found her relieved and weak, hooked up to monitors--tubes of fluid moving in and out.  Her tears were amber--not tears of fear but tears of weakness and relief. Relieved that her illness was finally recognized and being taken seriously. God's grace and strength were with her.

The cath bag's fluid was an incomprehensible tea-stained hue. Strong tea. JL explained that without the purifying processes of the liver, the toxins were poisoning GJ. The liver was failing and no one yet knew why.
* * *
It's always alarming when a phone rings very early or very late--the noise of the treadmill masked the sounds, but CA heard and immediately brought the phone to me. Overnight miracles had begun to happen. True miracles. God-designed and controlled.

Late in the evening, JL had returned to her daughter's apartment and CN and SN to the nearest motel, exhausted and numb. With the lights out, CN could hardly think; barely pray. The prognosis the doctors had given was more than grim. GJ needed a new liver. Now.

I'm not sure how the transplant list works now, but 13 years ago wherever your name fell on the recipient list when the doctors classified you as critical, you moved to the top of the list. But, organs are not a commodity that can be warehoused or procured. In all likelihood, there would be no liver available in the short-term and the short-term was all that GJ had.

Laying in the dark but not sleeping, CN and SN were none-the-less startled by the ringing phone. As he reached for it, CN glanced at the clock and registered in that split second the time was 11:11pm. GJ's birthday is 11/11.

The hospital was calling. There was an available liver and the helicopter team was heading out to retrieve it. If the tissue matched, the liver was GJ's. I doubt CN or SN slept at all.

By the time my phone rang at 5:30am the tissues were matched and GJ was being prepped for the transplant.

Numbly, I began to dress and prepare to move forward into a day I could not fathom. Because I am a problem solver and a nurturer, I decided I needed to be in charge of food. I loaded our large, wheeled cooler into my car and started my journey. Recently a Byerly's had opened near Woodfield and while prepared and semi-prepared food is a grocery store staple today, Byerly's was a front runner and a mecca of possibilities. I decided that we were going to need top quality sustenance that day. Stopping off near Woodfield was a necessary detour.

I don't recall how many hours the surgery lasted. It seemed all day. The waiting room filled up throughout the day with GJ's sons and daughter and their spouses and babies, our siblings and nieces and nephews, dad and mom, friends of GJ's from church and her pastor. NC flew in from Seattle. I remember tension and silences, laughter and babies' cries. GJ's daughter JB was a new mommy with a 10-day old infant and a breaking heart. I have a vivid memory of CN's arm around JB, her head on his shoulder, and despair on their faces.

At some point GJ was out of surgery with the replacement liver, still critical but living. People migrated home and to the homes of friends and family--hearts heavy and prayers flowing we were citizens in an unknown land. All of us.

It was late, at least fully dark on this winter night and I only remember CN, JL, NC, and I being left, but there were probably a few others still waiting when the transplant doctor, the surgeon, came out to talk to us. Things had gone very well. GJ had the new liver. There had been a decision made as to whether to replace one kidney that had ceased functioning. They didn't, betting on the kidney to kick in once the liver was functioning.

GJ's liver had been the size of a baseball, where a normal liver is more the size of a football. The biopsy had shown that there were no living cells in GJ's liver. You can't live a day without a liver.

That day was not GJ's day to die, it was God's day to work his miracles. I don't know why it seems that God waits until the last minute so much of the time. I guess he really doesn't and that he performs miracles and acts in all of our lives so often and with such forethought that we can't imagine all he's spared us from enduring.

The road to recovery was long and rocky, but 13+ years later her life is full and dynamic. Her marriage is loving, her children are thriving, her grandchildren well-loved. She quilts and teaches Bible study; she's become the rock our aging aunt leans upon.

We learned to live life to the fullest and to marvel at God's provision and sufficiency. We learned that our family functions beautifully when challenges arise. When both our mom and brother-in-law died just over a year later, we accepted those losses as realities of life. As we learned to celebrate GJ's miracle, we also learned to accept the grief and pain of miracles denied.

Our family story has had many more chapters since then and we have many more still to be written. For now we are learning how to support and manage the care of our elders--the balance required to live our own lives while negotiating the time and energy required for the larger family unit.

We don't have a map yet, but each day and each experience is teaching us how to traverse this territory one day and one event at a time. When we project ahead we are overwhelmed, so we are beginning to remind each other of God's strength for today, his sufficiency in times past, and our eternal hope for the future.

We won't get it right every time. We will flounder and fail and complain. But, we will do the best that we can because we won't forget that God is in control. He does miracles that we can see and marvel at, and he does miracles that we can't even imagine.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Having an elderly parent in failing health is like entering a whirlpool of over-the-head heated emotions. Will he recover; what's next? Is he receiving good healthcare; when does advocacy become whining? How many siblings should be-need be in attendance on any given day? Why does it fall to the geographically available siblings to vet these issues? How can geographically distant siblings ease the burden without totally uprooting their own lives?

And, who can even identify all of the swirling emotions--issues from childhood ranging from benign neglect to out-right cluelessness to overt rage and rejection...

Add in an upper respiratory illness and possibly you get the drift as to how I'm doing this weekend.

I'm home for now and recovering from my symptoms, continually wondering what the next phase will be. Will he recover enough for the planned skilled care interlude? Will he regain full function or continue to require asst living? When should I hit the road again? What's next?

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Joe Stowell
Strength for the Journey
December 22, 2009

There’s a lesson here for us. When God interrupts our best laid plans and expectations—even when it seems like the outcomes are devastating—He has a far greater thing in mind for us. God’s worthiness and glory is far more evident when it is expressed in the midst of suffering. There is no greater confirmation of the trustworthiness of God than when we trust Him even in the face of the unexpected insecurities and uncertainties of life. And who knows what He has in store through you in terms of impact in future generations when He rearranges your life? I can’t always tell you what God is up to, but I can assure you that He uses interruptions to do things far beyond what we ever dreamed.

I ran into this quote today from an earlier blog post. I don't want to forget this. I want to emblazon it on my forehead. Stamp it into my brain. Live it in my spirit. Enclose it in my heart.


My dad is in the hospital and I'm not sure what to do. He's not very sick, yet. He's also 89 years old and therefore an uncertain future. He's been incredibly healthy with just a few small scares along the way, and only a hernia surgery or two. No heart attacks, and until last winter no strokes. Last winter he had two TIAs, but recovered almost fully with a bit of a slur and a slight limp for just awhile.

Funny thing, he's always been quite concerned with his health. I guess being healthy is no guarantee that you can celebrate your health.

My mother died suddenly, without warning. A cough, bronchitis, lethargy, hospitalization, death and everlasting life. All within 5 or 6 days. My father-in-law died slowly and agonizingly with emphysema--gasping for breath and struggling with life.

I don't know what's ahead--we never really do, I know. For the immediate future I have to decide whether I take a quick trip to Central Illinois or wait it out. It's hot and humid, and I've been there too many times in the last weeks. CA is busy with soccer so nothing but my own selfish heart could make me not go. I've left a message with JL in Michigan to see what her plans are and if we'll plan together.

I've done enough hibernating and navel gazing the past two weeks. Self-examination sucks. Helping others is life-giving and God-honoring.

I'm sure I'll make the right decision.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Browsing through Strength for the Journey, I inadvertently hit on and took the time to read this entry.

What I feed my mind and heart has been troubling me of late. And, it should. I watch junk t.v. and read an array of novels and mysteries. I fill my mind and heart with garbage and other people's dysfunction and angst. And then, I wonder why my heart is troubled and my spirit sags...

I have all the excuses. I don't watch daytime t.v., but I like to veg out in the late evening and watch t.v. There's so much junk on and I watch a lot of it. Even when I despairingly moan and exclaim that there's just nothing to watch, I still watch.

And, I wonder what else I could do with all my extra time.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Supposedly a favorite joke of Freud's--

When one of us dies... I'm going to move to Paris.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I do not tolerate rage. I will not associate with rage-filled people. As a child I had no choice. I am an adult. I am in charge of my surroundings and the people with whom I interact.

Rage is disappointment, anger, frustration, etc. that've been stuffed down, bottled-up, squelched. Sometimes the toxicity leaks out. Sometimes it erupts in volcanic proportions.

The pro-active antidote to rage is to learn to express feelings, needs, and concerns in an appropriate, timely fashion. Being nice is unacceptable. We are either nice people or we aren't.

Being nice = stuffing true emotions.

If we believe that God knows our true hearts, how can there be a place to stuff this stuff? As grandma always said, "What's in your heart comes out."

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I spent my childhood living with these people. The words never sounded right to me, even when I was young. Condemning words. Judgmental words. Hate-filled words. I hear them for the first time in many years tonight as I exit a store with my elderly aunts.

"No God-honoring people would shop in this store.
People who walk with God wouldn't wear these clothes."

I steal a glance to see if anyone is within ear-shot. Just one woman. She heard, I'm sure. Maybe she's used to hearing these words in this Middle-American conservative city. I'm not. I haven't heard this kind of language since I was a child.

I love God and I follow his precepts. I'm imperfect and can be judgmental. I shop at this store in my own area. It is a good store. I buy many of my clothes at this store.

It's shocking how we can harbor such hatred and anger within the same heart that loves God and chooses to serve him.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


William Ernest Henley
1875 (p.1888)
Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus (defined): unconquered

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


a "L" family pet

When our Small Group got to question #4 Sunday night, I surprised myself with my answer.

It's LL. We worked together for 13 years, starting when I was about 34 and my children were 4 and 11 years. She'd been married a bit longer than I (though was just as young when she married) and her daughters were just a bit older. She'd traversed quite a bit more life than I and she helped provide road maps for some of my journey.

I remember so may stories--good ones... when LL dealt with her junior high daughter's slamming her bedroom door by taking it off the hinges. When she'd threaten her highly-accomplished husband with a short trip to the nursing home. When she'd state that in the next life she wanted to come back as a L family dog. When she'd tell brutal truths about political figures she'd known; when she'd talk back to her staid boss, setting him straight and establishing her boundaries. LL recounting that on the way to her parent's house they'd always stop at the corner gas station to use the bathroom. (Rhetorical, not true--I think. My own mom's house cleaning was less than pristine, so I could identify.)

We share a love of good food and cooking.  We shared recipes and when entertaining we'd lend cooking and serving utensils. We took cooking classes together and had many adventures in Chicago. One time we flew to Albuquerque to visit a mutual friend and visited Santa Fe for a cooking class.

She taught me fashion and exposed me to the Apparel Center in Chicago for opportunities to buy at-cost, and in the process introduced me to her spectacular friends the JZ's. The female JZ is bawdy and blunt, with a keen eye for style. The male JZ is dapper and dauntless, and handles his female counterpart with equanimity. They live a lifestyle by the lake that is both modest and enviable. A visit to their home is a favored treat.

We've shared weddings, funerals, celebrations, fears, failures, and lots of life.

During our small group evening, CA injected, "Have you told that person how significant they are to your life?" A great question. I hadn't, but did on Tuesday when we met for our twice-weekly speed walk at HB. LL was stunned, then pleased, then normal. We moved on with our fast-paced conversation and advice-giving. The 50 minutes flies by, as always.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou
(Thanks, Mary Schmich, for sharing these words in today's Chicago Tribune.)

Too true.

I've been on the receiving end--left feeling devalued and ashamed, unnecessarily--and, please forgive me dear Lord, I've been on the giving end when I should have been ashamed and didn't own it until much later. Sometimes too late.

I trust that some of my words and actions have fallen on the right side of how I've made others feel, I know I've had my share of warm, fuzzy, appreciative, life-giving feelings imparted from others.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Two striking and memorable passages, especially, resonate with me as I read Paula Butturini's book Keeping the Feast:

Violence, blood, depression, and death are, I know now, part of life. Today I recognize them, respect them, fight them, and try as much as I can to keep them at bay, but I no longer pretend that they are not as much a part of life as birth or joy or love or the laughter, comfort, and strength that grow out of a simple meal shared with family or close friends.
pg. 251

All of us cook, I think, in part to feed our daily hunger, but just as important, and perhaps more so, we cook and eat to feed our spirits, to keep us all in the same orbit of life. As the generations turn our family expands, the table and its simple pleasures--never just the food, but the food and the talk, the food and the laughter, the food and the tears, the jokes, the memories, the hopes--still hold us in place, well anchored in a safe harbor. There may very well be another depression or endless other troubles, big or small, lying in wait for us, but rather than freezing in fear about what may come, we try our best to live and enjoy the lives we've been served forth.
pg. 53-54

Friday, April 30, 2010


Today I HAD to write. Life has been routine and slow--something I've been waiting forever to say! Treasure the normal days. They don't last. Anyway, I haven't felt much like writing, but I've been reading tons.

Evidently, my creative side has been on vacation since I haven't baked or cooked anything new or tricky, worked on projects, or typed my thoughts in a blog. It goes on vacation sometimes, but always comes back eventually.

I am re-re-reading John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted because I am very aware that I am charting a new life stage and I want to do it right; I want to do it with joy and obedience to my Lord. I've been very slowly structuring my days--exercise five days a week and prep classes for tutoring in an Adult Literacy program. I'm making myself available to my extended family, and trying to be sensitive to the needs of our family seniors.

And, I'm still learning that it is O.K. to live life one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is an option, not a requirement.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Is it a middle America thing? Or, a Christian thing? Or, a middle America, Christian thing? What's the freaking big deal about saying what you need?

I just had another of those frustrating conversations with a relative who is all stirred up because someone hasn't read her mind! A friend has grown increasingly more dependent and the weight of it has taxed my relative's physical and emotional abilities. Other involved parties have become accustomed to her willingness to help and continue to assume she is willing and able. She is neither. She's physically and emotionally ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities that fall to her, yet she fears it is impolite (?) or improper (?) to state her true feelings...

Sunday, February 28, 2010


photo via Pioneer Woman

The Pioneer Woman is in the final stages of a contest of dog photos, and this shot turned my eyes teary and made me both happy and sad. We had a great dog for 10 years. He LOVED me. He definitely considered us inseparable. Not that he didn't enjoy the rest of the family. He kept JE company through long afternoons in junior and senior high. He accompanied (?!) CA on nightly jaunts around the cul-de-sac and out into the fields surrounding our subdivision.

Scooter Bob McDuff never lost his adventurer, explorer, crime-fighter spirit, but he did approach senility. Too young.

By the time we moved into our current home he had begun to be increasingly unpredictable and worrisome around children and people in general. He could and did snap unpredictably. Then he began to leave little bundles for me to collect after work...

Poignantly, it all came to a head one evening as I peered around the doorway from our bedroom and saw him nose-to-nose with our corner cupboard. Investigating, I realized he was stuck. Lost. Unclear as to how to proceed. As I un-stuck him and hugged him, I knew we were losing him.

Even now, every time I clean the kitchen floor and the surfaces beneath and around that cabinet, I grow misty with remembering.

I loved that dog!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I think healthcare is ridiculous in this the most culturally developed country in the freeworld. Not that all that culture is sophisticated or intelligent, but still... This is the United States of America and we are LETTING large healthcare organizations dictate our care, and allowing them to steal us blind at the same time.

This comment within a comment I read in today's New York Times set me to thinking...

"But, as a lawyer friend, Manuel Wally, put it to me, “When it comes to health it makes sense to involve government, which is accountable to the people, rather than corporations, which are accountable to shareholders.”
OpEd, The Narcissus Society
by Roger Cohen
New York Times
February 22, 2010

Mostly, I reserve forming a solid opinion of all that's being debated. I will tune in when we get closer to a compromise, or rather a first generation solution. They won't get it right the first time, or the second, but we need to make a start.
We as Americans look down on nations divided by wealth and poverty--caste systems--yet our country is hardly better. There are the proverbial boot straps, but those are mostly out of fashion and harder to reach these days.

* * *
I can't resist adding a few more of Mr. Cohen's comments that followed the above quote...

All the fear-mongering talk of “nationalizing” 17 percent of the economy is nonsense. Government, through Medicare and Medicaid, is already administering almost half of American health care and doing so with less waste than the private sector. Per capita Medicare costs for common benefits grew 4.9 percent between 1998 and 2008, against 7.1 percent for private insurers. Why not offer Medicare as a choice — a choice — to everyone? Aren’t Republicans about choice?

The public option, not dead, would amount to recognition of shared interest in each other’s health and of the need to use America’s energies and resources better. It would involve 300 million people linking arms.

Or we can turn away from each other and, like Narcissus, perish in the contemplation of our own reflections.

* * *
Amazing how Narcissus has come up two times in sucession in this blog...

Sunday, February 21, 2010


An essay in the Chicago Tribune today about social networking and the tenuous relationship between an adopted daughter and her birth mother uncovered for me a new psychological term: narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic Injury
a wound to the ego caused by the destruction of some core idealization. It contorts its bearer's emotions until it is acknowledged and explored
A Family Reunion on Facebook, sort of
Tamara Kerrill Field

As those close to me know quite well, I've taken two psychology classes in my academic career which, of course, qualify me to diagnose...

This new discovery has set my process-oriented mind to wandering and I'm sure I'll find a resting place for this diagnosis.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Excuse me while I rant a bit...


If I never hear that word again, it will be too soon. Gr--- used to be my favorite color when I was a girl. My mom made me a mint green Easter dress one year. She, of course, finished it very last minute and the zipper was in crooked. She slapped a couple of bows on the back so that I could get by wearing it to church Easter morning. Can't remember if she ever corrected her error--I think she did.

My first prom dress was green. It was a full-length simple A-line sheath with a ribbon at the Empire-waist line. I made it myself out of a fabric we called crepe.

At some point I migrated to blue as a favorite color, and then red.

My best look is a rusty brown. For quite awhile in the 1980s I had a fantastic auburn mini-wale corduroy shirt dress. It was the best, and I regret ever giving it away.

I'm sick of hearing gr--- in regards to fashion, food, design, cars, paper, whatever. Just be a good steward of the environment and shut up about it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010