Post-Fever Thoughts

I finally remembered to use my thermometer on Tuesday after days of increasing body aches, headaches, coughing, exhaustion, and mounting self pity.  It read 104.  Figuring I was either going blind or delirious and hoping it was an error, I climbed into bed for yet another nap.  When I got up, it was only 102.

There were a couple of days and nights that I left the house door unlocked.  Let’s blame it on the fevered brain (rather than a natural tendency to over-plan life/death matters), but I figured that if I did pass out (or on), hopefully someone would wander by to check on us before Dawny had to resort to gnawing on my leg.  It would be nice if Dawny’s rescuer could at least enter the macabre scene with ease.

Anyhew, I survived.  Dawny survived.  She sweetly slowed her pace to match my zombie marching band tempo, and we managed to fit in three small walks and a fourth nighty-night-hurryupandpee!!!-walk each day.  I also bundled up, complete with surgical mask to protect my lungs from the cold (and cleaning chemicals), and was able to do my workamping duties for a couple of hours each morning.  I took it slow, but I got it done.  The last thing I wanted was to have to somehow make up the time or risk being charged a nightly camping fee.

Today I felt almost great.  Although the cough hangs on like a convulsing scar still steaming from scalding burns, today has been wonderful compared to this past week.  So I did some laundry and housecleaning, washing away the germs that I can almost see crawling around my little house and everything in it.  I checked the water levels in my house batteries, the oil in my generator, and the air in my tires.  We are in good shape for a nice holiday outing to join family for Thanksgiving in a few days.  A week later, we will be back on the road en route to our next destination.

Yesterday I went shopping and restocked my shelves with items that I was so grateful to have had in my cupboards when I got sick.  Like a squirrel, I tend to hoard, worried about what might happen if I run out of something important and can not get more.  So, having had on hand three boxes of tea, two containers of honey, three six-packs of bagels, two jars of Airborne Super Vitamin C mix, plenty of aspirin and Ricola lozenges, and two asthma inhalers–even though they hadn’t been touched in years–looks like a flash of brilliance in hindsight.  Nah, just a silly squirrel flashing by . . . but thank goodness!

It’s never easy being sick.  It’s a bit harder when alone.  The challenge increases when you have to take care of someone and certain things, regardless of how you feel.  Take it from this crybaby, it’s ok if you curl up and cry for your Momma for awhile.  It’s ok if you are grumpy with those around you.  Do what you need to do, then get back to doing for yourself.  Drink your tea.  Take your medicine.  Get back to bed.  And when you are feeling better, be gracious to those who showed you kindness.

Fortunately I was never totally alone.  Something occurred to me about all those walks Dawny took me on.  Even though I lamented having to be out there at the time, as she lead me around on our leash, that movement helped keep the gunk in my lungs from turning into cement.  While tending to her feeding four times a day/night (yes, four–this is what works for her aging constitution), I was sure to not neglect my own need for the inhaler or tea or whatever.  It helped.  She helped.

Sometimes I think she knows a bit more than I give her credit for.  I am so lucky to have her.

Annoying

I had a client once, Mrs. D, who was deeply depressed.  Her son hired me to come into her retirement home, get her up from bed and into the shower, dressed, visit the nurse’s station for her meds, then make it in time to the transport bus which would take her to the local senior center three times a week.  Without such assistance, encouragement, nagging–whatever you want to call it–she would remain in bed with the covers pulled over her head.  As she followed my endless instructions and suggestions throughout the steps of our routine, she reminded me of deeply pained molasses.

A few years in, Mrs. D suffered what so many aging people dread:  a fall.  She simply fell while walking down the hall, and she hurt herself badly enough that she ended up in nursing home care.  One of her sons made plans to move her out of the area and closer to his home a few states away.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing her any more, I paid Mrs. D a visit in the nursing home prior to her departure.  She was, as usual, very quiet.  Her speech was slow and measured when she did talk, her economy of words so strict that they barely survived the fall from her lips into the freedom of unstifled air.

But she was perfectly clear.  And honest.  And concise.  As I bustled around her room, seeing if I could get her anything or help in some other way, Mrs. D spoke:

“You’re annoying.”

. . .

It’s ok.  You can laugh.

She was absolutely right.

I often sympathized with Mrs. D’s plight.  Why couldn’t the son just leave his poor mother alone?  If she wanted to crawl under the covers and simply waste away, wasn’t that her decision?  I felt like a bully some days getting her to move along through the steps that eventually put her on that bus to spend her day with a bunch of people she did not know nor care to get to know.  It must have been exhausting for her.

But there were other times when I would be treated to a glimpse of a beautiful sparkle in her deep brown eyes.  Usually when her dry humor found some cause to justify an appearance.  Those eyes spoke volumes.  In them I could recognize the lovely woman who resided with her family in various picture frames carefully placed along the living room window sill.

I hope Mrs. D was able to find some pleasure after she moved.  If she has passed on, I pray she is at peace and knows joy.

If I could speak to her again, have a chance to redo my goodbye, I would thank her.  For I also recognized myself in her eyes.  Not just the reflection of my annoying, over-zealous, Pollyanna tendencies, but also the deeper me that so much of that noise and clutter is designed to keep at bay.  Keep quiet.  Hidden.

I would thank her for doing more than simply putting up with me.  For showing me what courage is.  That it often involves the tiniest of steps, the simplest resolve.  That sometimes strength is found in surrender.  Or the simple act of taking the next breath.  And that honesty, with ourselves and with others, is a gift–even though it can be one of the most difficult to give and to receive.

* * * * * * * * * *

When you are gasping

grasping

from the depths

for sustenance

survival

relief from the beast

that grips your heart

in a velvet vice . . .

Who dares judge your choice

of life preserver?

(CE 2/12/14)

* * * * * * * * * *

This post is dedicated to three very special, courageous friends and, of course, Mrs. D.

And Daddy Walked…

Daddy dreamed of sailboats.  And he walked.

His first taste of adult freedom was joining the Navy at the tail end of WWII.  He served in the Pacific.  He didn’t speak a lot about it, but when he did, you could hear a mix of pride, hard realism, and gratitude to have made it home whole.  He came home with a lifelong love of boats.  And the sea.  And he walked.

Twenty years or so into their marriage, Momma got cancer and a 6-month death sentence.  I think it jolted Daddy to the core.  It must have.  For he packed the family up–Momma, my younger brother, and me (the two older siblings were in college)–and moved us from New York to Florida.  He bought a franchise to build ferro-cement boats.  We lived on an island in the Intercoastal Waterway.  The half we lived on used to be a junk yard and the other half had an old fish camp and boat ramp on it.

And Momma healed.

Daddy’s cement boat business did not float, so he started selling power boats instead.  My little brother and I swam in that water, helped scrape barnacles off of boat hulls while alligators uttered their oddly distinct croak in the swamp on the other shore.  We also made lifelong friends of the one couple who did buy a set of sailboat plans and built their beautiful hull in front of our trailer (if steel can float, why not cement?  think about it!).

The motorboats didn’t sell too well either.  But Momma did great.  And Daddy was living his dream, or at least the version of it that he was able, within the constraints of his family, his responsibilities.

Yes, Daddy dreamed of sailboats.  And he walked.

He eventually gave up on the Florida venture, moved back North for a job in credit counseling, and continued to keep an eye on Momma, who had a relapse and some difficult treatment–the radiation burned most of one of her lungs–but she managed to pull through that time.

We lost Momma to her third bout with cancer 20 years after her first battle had been won.  As I look back on it now, I realize the huge impact Daddy had on the course of her struggle, her war, her victories, her defeat.

Daddy walked with Momma every step of the way.  Not only did he not give up, he lead them on a path few others would have chosen, let alone imagined.  A path that lead to a dream, that took one’s mind off of harsh medical realities and focused energies on new challenges, new places, new friends.

And Momma healed.  Even though the doctors had given her six months to live.  Daddy had not told her that part until much, much later, when it looked like the battle was safely won.  Yes, it turned out there was still a second, then a third battle to fight.  But she made it twenty years–not six months–twenty years!

Yes, Daddy dreamed of sailboats, and he walked.

After Momma passed, Daddy moved from Cleveland to the DC suburbs where my younger brother and I had settled.  When I got married, he bought my DC condominium that overlooked the Virginia skyline across the Potomac River.  And he walked and he walked and he walked.

One of his favorite walks was to the Southwest waterfront just two blocks away.  With its marina.  Full of sailboats.

Daddy’s memory finally deteriorated so badly that he was no longer safe living on his own.  His was probably one of the slowest descents into Alzheimer’s I’ve ever heard of.  My siblings and I had been concerned about him even when Momma was still with us, but the signs were so vague (yet nagging) that we all pushed the issue into the background as long as we could.

I think he knew, though, and that was one reason why he moved near his children after losing Momma.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years after Momma passed… Daddy was still dreaming of sailboats.  And walking.

When he left his Assisted Living Facility for a long walk down a busy neighborhood highway, the police found him a few miles up the highway and brought him back.  He was at a grocery store parking lot.  Looking at the boats.  It was real to him.  And they were so beautiful.  I can still see the happiness on his face as he described them to me.

They gave us a week to find another place for Daddy to live.  It was locked.  Daddy didn’t walk much there.  What was the point?

Daddy passed twenty years after Momma.  I hope they have found each other again, in spirit.  I hope they have a lovely view of a marina full of beautiful, elegant sailboats.  Now that illness and familial responsibilities no longer tether them to an earthen path, I hope they are sailing away in one of those boats–it would have to be a wooden hull… or cement!–relishing a delightful, salty breeze, the sun warming their faces, their love and their dreams fulfilled.

(6-15-14 in loving memory of my father, WDD)