Friday, August 30, 2013

It's rough, this end of life business

Published on KSL - HERE's the link

Me and Dad
“You have multiple blood clots in both lungs and need to understand that if you go to the wedding, there is a high likelihood that you won’t make it back.  You’d have to be okay with that.”

It was one week before my niece’s wedding in Oklahoma City, three hours away from Dallas, where my parents live.  We all knew that Dad’s lung cancer was in its late stages, but until we heard those words from the doctor, we hadn’t even considered that he wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding. 

In fact, because we have literally experienced miracles with Dad’s cancer – i.e. a four month remission, unheard of with such an aggressive cancer – we were shocked that the end was actually here.  No more miraculous delays, only weeks left.  We’d had 14 months to prepare, but we weren’t.  I’m not sure it’s entirely possible.

So four days before the wedding, Dad was transferred from the care of his oncologist to hospice home care.  How does one react to such terrible news?  Well, here’s what my parents did.

First they cried, and then they moved forward.

Mom skipped the wedding dinner the night before but attended the wedding itself without Dad.  And Dad spent the day with two of my siblings, who traveled from out of state to be with him that day.

Sisters Rachelle, Debbie (mother of the bride), me and my mom at the wedding

Aside from the void left by my father’s absence, the wedding was wonderful and beautiful and practically perfect.  The pictures, in which we were smiling with genuine joy, don't adequately capture the full range of our emotions.  Essentially, we were celebrating the beginning of Alex and Judson’s new life together while mourning the end of my parent’s life together.  Here on earth, that is.

Alex and Judson Waltman
More poignantly than ever before in my life, I experienced both true joy and true heartbreak at the same time.  They are not mutually exclusive, as it turns out.

It’s now six days after the wedding, and I’m sitting with Dad in his home while Mom drives to the airport to pick up another brother.

It’s rough, this end of life business.

I cry sometimes.  And then I dry my tears and move forward.

My dad, my mom, my siblings and I, we have been experiencing joy.  We listen to Dad reminisce, understand what a great man he is and feel abundantly blessed.  We look at old pictures, tell silly childhood and crazy teenage stories (with such a large family, we have loads), make fun of each other, laugh.  Sometimes, we laugh until we cry. 

Our entire family on a cruise we took at the end of June.  It was fabulous!
The day we returned, we discovered that Dad's cancer was no longer in remission,
My dad, my mom, my siblings and I, we have been experiencing heartbreak.  Mom and Dad have to “get their final ducks in a row,” painful necessities like signing a Do Not Resuscitate Order and choosing burial plots.  We talk about life sans Dad.  No one knows, or wants to know, exactly what it will look like -- he’s always been around. 

One sister and I live here in the Dallas area.  My other siblings have made or are making their way here from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Houston and California to visit Dad for the last time. I’ve already hugged two of them goodbye; the other farewells will be sooner than any of us want.

While packing up her car to drive back to Utah, one of my sisters said, “How am I going to be able to just drive away, knowing this is the last time I’ll ever see him?  How can I just leave?”
Dad with Jenny, one of his precious granddaughters.
Our heartache at how much we'll miss him is very real, very much on the surface. But our joy is also real (although not so much on the surface -- yet), knowing that Dad will soon be in a much better place.  And that we will see him again; forever is a long time.
It’s rough, this end of life business.

And I’ve never loved my parents or siblings more.  We’re facing it together, head on, and managing to embrace – albeit tearfully -- both the heartbreak and the joy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why I rescued a small rock from a car-wash vacuum

Published for Motherhood Matters on -- HERE's for the link
Published in Cross Timbers Gazette - HERE's the link

SALT LAKE CITY — The kids go back to school in exactly five days (not that I’m counting), and summer vacation has officially lost its sheen. Incidentally, so has my face, which has recently taken on a slightly maniacal, I’ve-completely-lost-my-mind look. I’m hoping it won’t be the only thing my kids remember about me this summer.
Yesterday, when levels of discontent reached record highs, I herded three kids into our van and drove them to a self-service car wash. I went there for the vacuums, as there is no possible way that any of our wimpy home devices could have tackled the remnants of our summer.
Frankly, I secretly hoped that one of the car-wash vacuums would “accidentally” ingest a certain kid. He’s skinny and the suction is powerful, so there was a chance. But despite my (I mean "his") best efforts, only about half of his shirt made it into the tube. Too bad he had eaten breakfast — an empty stomach might have been the game changer.
Before my kids got to brandish vacuum hoses, they had to climb into the van and manually remove over-sized road trip debris. I instructed them to throw everything away, regardless of personal attachments to half-eaten cookies or travel brochures.
The biggest vacation payoff for our family comes during the school year, which brings with it a whole new level of busyness. This is mostly great, but sometimes it's not. Kids get stressed, I get grumpy and life gets tough. When that happens this year, I'll hold up the piece of marble my daughter rescued from the vacuums and ask the kids for Marble memories.
In the end, they asked me to reconsider two items. One was a ridiculously overdue library book. I owed slightly less in fines than the cost of its replacement, so figured it was worth returning. The other was a rock my daughter found wedged under a seat. She held it up, declaring, “We have to keep this!”
The small piece of marble is bright, white and sparkles in the sun. We found it this summer while on vacation in Marble, Colo., a teensy town located smack dab in the middle of nowhere. For all that it lacks in population (131, according to the latest census) and convenient proximity to a grocery store (45 minutes), it absolutely makes up for in breathtaking views and mountain air.
Because Marble gets its name from nearby marble mines, we experienced marble on a whole new level. It was common to see random slabs of marble in creeks, lakes and mountain fields. Enormous blocks of marble are mined, brought down the mountain and deposited in a shipping yard. We wandered through an outdoor marble carving convention, fascinated by marble artists using their tools to create clouds of white dust and extraordinary sculptures.
The coolest thing, though, was finding our own small pieces of marble in river beds. This is why I responded to my daughter’s plea with an immediate, “Absolutely!”
In addition to our marble adventures, we spent the week kayaking, fishing, four-wheeling, hiking, eating, playing games and guitars, and talking.
All of this with no cell phone coverage and intermittent, super-slow Wi-Fi. We hadn’t been apprised of this before arrival (initial cries of distress were heard as far away as Denver), but it ended up that being disconnected helped us better connect with one another — which is exactly why we were on vacation.
The awesome location wasn’t what made our vacation awesome, though. Since we were together and away from our normal surroundings, relaxed and happy, our interactions felt different. Better. More open, more patient and more loving. (I speak in general terms, of course, because “too much togetherness” can and did happen.)
The biggest vacation payoff for our family comes during the school year, which brings with it a whole new level of busyness. This is mostly great, but sometimes it’s not. Kids get stressed, I get grumpy and life gets tough. When that happens this year, I’ll hold up the piece of marble my daughter rescued from the vacuums and ask the kids for Marble memories.Vacations aren’t always easy to plan, finance or execute — but they’ve always been worth the effort for me.
They’ll likely recount events like hikes, kayaking and marble sightings. And in the process of recalling, I’m hoping the emotions they felt while in Marble will also resurface. Feeling relaxed, accepted and loved, for instance. This should reaffirm to them that the members of our family have each other’s backs — absolutely and completely — to help them navigate the worries, disappointments and difficulties that will inevitably come their way.
And that their mom is there for them, always, no matter what — even if my end-of-summer face didn’t exactly convey that message.
OK, I admit I’m probably expecting too much of a rock; waving it around won’t solve all our problems. But there’s a good chance that it’ll help to some degree, however small.

So our marble from Marble is in the kitchen, where I’ll be able to grab it whenever the need arises