Tag Archive | aging parents

Lucky No. 7 on Friday the 13th (and some bad news, too)

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Big little Zuzu turned 7 on Friday the 13th – a lucky day for us.

Ah, me. I’ve been very remiss with The Lolly Diaries. So much going on, so much energy expended with the resistance, and so many appointments with Mother, partly because of a new serious new wrinkle in the fabric of our lives. And we’re still reeling a bit from the gaping hole left in our household by Tess’s departure, especially Zu. (She will get a baby sister for an early Christmas present – we hope she’s happy about that.)

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Zuzu has just never loved opening presents, as all our other dogs have. But she was intrigued by what might be inside.

I grieve for our country, and for the first time in my life, I start each day wondering what fresh new hell that man occupying the White House hath Twitter-wrought. But this is supposed to be a politics-free zone (my Twitter account is another story), so I’ll move on to other topics, mainly Mother’s newly diagnosed condition.

For tortuous weeks we’ve awaited a diagnosis, since we discovered in July, shortly after she turned 82, that Mother is losing her vision at an alarming rate. Now we know she has auto-immune retinopathy, which, in layman’s terms, means her body is rejecting her retinas. This is in addition to, and not caused by, her rheumatoid arthritis. AIR, as it’s called, is very, very rare – that’s how we do things in this family. No treatment for Mother, so we’ll just ride it out.

Of course she can’t drive anymore, but we’re making do. Wednesday she had back-to-back doctor’s appointments and my battery died in her garage (!), so she had her first Uber rides. She is a remarkably resilient woman – a wonder to behold. She intends to keep painting, though she’ll probably have to go rather impressionistic or abstract from now on. I just got her two packs of playing cards for the visually impaired, since she’s still in at least two bridge clubs and will host one at her house Thursday.

And fortunately and fortuitously (or maybe nothing’s by chance), my daughter finished her master’s degree this spring in orientation and mobility for the blind, so Mother has someone who loves her and looks like her to help her adapt as her vision worsens. We’re hoping it will go slowly. It’s already gone so far.

John and I did get away for two fabulous weeks in Sicily and Southern Italy last month, which I’ll talk about another time. I turned 62 in Marsala – a good place since it’s hard to feel old an area formerly populated by Phoenicians.

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That’s me looking through a street in old Pompeii toward Vesuvius. John, who took this photo, said he loves the juxtaposition of the little modern woman looking down a road to the past at the same distant view the ancients saw – I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the drift. (The three random black dots were permanent fixtures on the camera lens of his old iPhone, which he just replaced.)

 

 

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Something to talk about

In April, Mother and I headed off to Italy – Florence and Venice – for her dream 80th birthday trip. What a time we had!

In April, Mother and I headed off to Italy – Florence and Venice – for her dream 80th birthday trip. What a time we had!

The last time I shut The Lolly Diaries, I locked the key, put it under the bed and thought it was time to move on. But since we still have something to talk about, lots of things, I pulled it out, dusted it off, made several changes and decided to carry on.

I’ll address the changes in a sec, but first let me say happy birthday to Bonnie Raitt, who turned 65 today and whose Silver Lining album (from which “Something to Talk About” hails) was playing in the background as John and I grew to love each other.

It’s been a big birthday year and a year of major changes, some good, some awful. Such is life, no?

Anyway, if you’ve followed this blog a while, you might notice the tagline has changed, along with a few other things – of course my five grandchildren are still the lights of my life, but since they’re not old enough to give informed consent to being all over the internet (well, you know what I mean), they won’t be as big a focus in the continuing form of TLD. Some posts are now down and many, many photos have disappeared.

Not every post will have a song link, and I’ve got some other not-ready-for-prime-time writing that’s taking up chunks of my time, so posts might be much shorter and more infrequent. We’ll see how things pan out.

This entry, though, will be a quick catch-up, in photo album form.

Sweet John dropped us off at the airport on his 64th birthday. He was so excited we got to go.

Sweet John dropped us off at the airport on his 64th birthday. He was so excited we got to go.

Mother was such a trouper and good traveler – you'd never know it was her first transcontinental trip or that she was almost 80.

Mother was such a trouper and good traveler – you’d never have known it was her first transcontinental trip or that she was almost 80. This was the day we arrived in Florence. Just a little rest and off we went!

A friendly couple wanted to take our picture at Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

A friendly couple wanted to take our picture at Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Mother said she drank more wine on our trip than she had in her whole life (a bit of an exaggeration), but when in Italy, right?

Mother said she drank more wine on our trip than she had in her whole life (a bit of an exaggeration), but when in Italy, right?

In May, our Tessie turned 10! She still loves to cool off in the fountain at the Clinton Library on hot days.

In May, our Tessie turned 10! She still loves to cool off in the fountain at the Clinton Library on hot days.

Hard to believe this is the face of 80, but Mother couldn't have been more happy to have her family around for her birthday party.

Hard to believe this is the face of 80, but Mother couldn’t have been happier to have her family around for her birthday party.

See?

See?

And here are the Cartwright girls on our mother's birthday. We are not twins, nor did we plan to dress alike.

And here are the Cartwright girls on our mother’s birthday. We are not twins, nor did we plan to dress alike.

We've had another dash of progress in our big old house ...

We’ve had another dash of progress in our big old house …

... but we're not there yet. We did have our first party upstairs that included actual walls and real furniture.

… but we’re not there yet. We did have our first party upstairs that included actual walls and real furniture.

In September, I turned 60 – Mother made me a spice cake with penuche frosting, always my fave of her cakes. I bought vegan cupcakes for Silas this time, though Liz and I continue to work on recipes the little guy can enjoy.

In September, I turned 60 – Mother made me a spice cake with penuche frosting, always my fave of her cakes. I bought vegan cupcakes for Silas this time, though Liz and I continue to work on recipes the little guy can enjoy.

My darling Pam, who turned 60 in June (John and I went to Heber for hers), joined us at Mother's for my celebration. We're happy as heck about being older gals.

My darling Pam, who turned 60 in June (John and I went to Heber for her birthday), joined us at Mother’s for my celebration. We’re happy as heck about being older gals – and still being joined at the heart.

Later in September was my trip to Miami (my real 60th birthday present, along with this new lightweight MacBook Pro from John) for three days of Climate Reality Leadership training (much more on that to come later). One of the perks was witnessing the lunar eclipse on Miami Bay.

Later in September was my trip to Miami (my real 60th birthday present, along with this new lightweight MacBook Pro from John) for three days of Climate Reality Leadership training (much more on that to come later). One of the perks was witnessing the lunar eclipse on Miami Bay.

We’ll end this photo album catch-up episode with Zuzu’s fifth birthday in October. Both are girls are hale and hearty, which makes us very happy.

Birthday girl Zuzu is quite serious about photos, but Tess can't help but smile if she sees a camera pointed her way.

Birthday girl Zuzu is quite serious about photos, but Tess can’t help but smile if she sees a camera pointed her way.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a certificate to power wash her deck, so it'll soon be even sprucier.

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a birthday certificate to power wash her deck, so it’ll soon be even sprucier.

And then there’s my mother, also known as Grandma, Grammy and Willette. She may not quite be sitting on the dock of the bay, but she is spending lots of time on her deck by the lake these days, for which her family is ever so grateful. She turned 79 Monday (we had a party at her house Saturday). We’re grateful for that, too.

The move from the outback to the house on the lake in town (which was all her decision, for the record) was harder on her than we can ever imagine – not only did she downsize and leave the house she built for her and Bill to grow old in, but she did it on her own. Made her own decisions, got utilities in her own name. Of course we helped her a lot, but Mother, who married Daddy at 17 and married Bill 13 months after Daddy died, has been on her own now longer than she ever has.

She looks like a million bucks and a much younger woman, but, truth be told, her health is much less than stellar. She gets flustered and frustrated, but when her blood counts are acceptable, she’s usually pretty chipper. And still very funny.

Resilience is the word that comes to mind. But with age you lose some of your fearlessness and confidence – it’s a pretty natural progression but still hard to watch for the family. Mother has always been a fireball.

Anyway, back to the party.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Shortly after we got there, Mother called everyone to attention and said she’d made a frozen drink called “Red Rooster” (cranberry juice cocktail, orange juice and Tito’s Handmade Vodka – she’d heard the recipe at one of her doctor’s appointments) and commanded all the adults to get a serving because she had something to say.

We happily obliged, and, Mother being Mother, were ready for anything, but I secretly hoped it wasn’t bad health news.

“I made this,” she told us, “because I want to thank you all for all your help during my move – for all you’ve done. And to apologize for the times I’ve been heinous ….”

I said she had never been heinous, but it was hard for all of us not to laugh at her use of the word. Out of the mouths of great-grandmothers!

I did almost choke later that evening, when John, who of course hadn’t been wearing his hearing aid at the party, told me that at first he’d thought Mother was being awfully hard on herself when she apologized for “the times she’d been an anus.”

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, "Happy birthday, Mother," and asked Cathy, "Who's Mother?" He thought it was Grammy's birthday.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, “Happy birthday, Mother,” and asked Aunt Cathy, “Who’s Mother?” He thought it was Grammy’s birthday.

Monday, on her real birthday, July 7, Mother and I went to buy her an iPad. She also got an “iPad for Seniors” book (with slightly larger text and lots of photos) and a turquoise iPad cover.

We’d tossed Bill’s clunky Dell computer, which Mother hated and feared, when we moved her out of the old house. She already had wifi, though, and an email address set up, so in no time her new toy was up and running. She’s been wanting to text for a long time, but with her rheumatoid arthritis, texting on a phone is out of the question, so the iPad is perfect for that. And she can check her email, look at photos of the kids, use her Google app to look things up and play solitaire on the app we downloaded.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

She sent texts to Cathy, John, Liz and Elizabeth, and my stepsister Lisa. I got her fairly comfortable with very basic things before I went home. Or so we thought. From 9:30 until just after 10 that night we had a phone tutorial that reminded me of a cross between an Abbott and Costello routine and one of Bob Newhart’s phone sketches (they used to make Daddy laugh until he cried).

I was determined to get her situated – and keep her from getting scared of her iPad – even if I had to drive across the river, but we finally got things straight on the phone.

Yesterday morning she left me a message that when she got up, all her icons were there and things were under control. But yesterday evening, things had run amok. I finally determined, via phone, that she’d accidentally opened the Game Center trying to get to solitaire – thank heavens she didn’t stumble into online gaming! – and we had another phone tutorial. Haven’t checked yet today – I’m writing this while watching the World Cup semifinal– but I have faith that she’ll catch on.

And the patience to keep at it until she does. Heck, she may be on Facebook before we know it.

Now I’m thinking of next year. For Mother’s 80th, should we be so lucky, we’re going to Italy – we’re thinking Rome, Pompeii and Florence. We’ll consult with her doctors in August on the feasibility, and if they give us the go-ahead, we’ll shoot for April or May.

In the meantime, she can enjoy life with her little dog Polly, her iPad and her deck on the lake.

What a difference a day makes

The old song is true: What a difference a day makes! The sun comes out, a baby is born, luck takes a turn (we hope for the better), moods lift. But looking back over 365 days can stop you in your tracks – so much to process.

One year ago, Baby Silas was in his first 24 hours.

Newborn Silas, the youngest grandchild, in his first hours.

Newborn Silas, the youngest grandchild, in his first hours.

A year later, he’s running around, dancing, beginning to talk, and recreationally fighting with Sylvia.

Silas the wild child after birthday cake.

Silas the wild child after birthday cake.

Look at that face!

Look at that face!

A year ago Annabelle and Sylvia were straddling the baby/toddler line. Today they’re little girls, chattering up a storm.

Annabelle is 3, Sylvia will be in June. They're maturing at warp speed.

Annabelle is 3, Sylvia will be in June. They’re maturing at warp speed.

Jude continues to grow like a weed – he’s a good big brother, alternating between being protective and being a pest. That’s what brothers are for, I think. Never had one of my own, but from what I’ve seen …

Jude stops from helping the girls on Silas's new birthday slide (courtesy of G-Mom) to pose for Lolly.

Jude stops from helping the girls on Silas’s new birthday slide (courtesy of G-Mom) to pose for Lolly.

Little Luke, at almost a year and a half, is a cuddly clown – he loves to laugh and is quite a flirt. He runs more than walks and knows instinctively how to dial a Fisher-Price retro rotary phone, even though he’s never seen a real rotary phone.

Luke dials someone on Silas's birthday phone. That's Dad in the background – he had a Fisher-Price phone as a toddler, too.

Luke dials someone on Silas’s birthday phone. That’s Dad in the background – he had a Fisher-Price phone as a toddler, too.

A year ago, we were still reeling and angry from Bill’s sudden death; today we can see the signs it was coming, though I’m still angry that he got caught up in and was tortured by the medical-industrial complex in his dwindling days, until we said enough was enough.

Mother was in shock, in poor health and recovering from a back surgery we weren’t sure would hold. A year later, she’s the incredible shrinking dynamo. Her health has worsened but her back has survived two falls and her spirits are good. She’s sold her house in the outback and is downsizing to a smaller home in town with a lake in her backyard.

A year ago I was freelancing – today I’m working my rear off at a fun job that allows me to drop everything when family duty calls.

A day ago I was so tired I thought I might never blog again – it’s almost time to renew my website and I’ve been thinking I’d let it drop – then this morning I woke up with this basically written in my head.

The jury’s still out on continuing, but, again, what a difference a day makes.

Broken heart

This will be a short post. I’ll try to discuss small bowel obstructions in the elderly soon, because everyone needs to know the symptoms of what felled my stepdad of almost 30 years and what should be done about it (which wasn’t done for him), but today my broken heart requires more time to heal.

Some of you know that on Dec. 29, a Saturday night, Bill rushed himself to the ER. Yesterday, Jan. 29, we buried him a few feet away from my real dad, then had an emotional (but very sweet) memorial service at Park Hill Presbyterian Church, the same place as Daddy’s funeral in 1982. We even sat on the same row.

Bill had a horrible, agonizing final few weeks after 78 years of a robust life. He would’ve been 79 on Feb. 10, and he was a strong man until everything went wrong. He’d gone for coffee with his friends the morning of the 29th, run errands and swept snow off their deck.

He was a former runner and ferocious tennis player and, after his knees gave out, a three-time-a-week regular at the North Little Rock Athletic Club (whose staff and members sent Mother some lovely mums – and some of whom came to his funeral). He adored his grandchildren and greats – and said he couldn’t love his bonus grands more if they were blood.

Jude and his Papa Bills (which he came up with from his mom asking if he wanted to go to Grammy and Papa Bill's house)

Jude and his Papa Bills (Jude came up with the name from his mom asking if he wanted to go to Grammy and Papa Bill’s house)

We’re all bereft, but none so much as Mother. Her back surgery (which was not optional), rehab and recuperation kept her from Bill’s side for mujch of the time he was suffering so. She’s very fragile herself right now, physically and emotionally, but at her core, she’s a strong lady. She’s going to need to be very strong in the long run.

Bill and Mother at their 25th anniversary party.

Bill and Mother at their 25th anniversary party.

I ran back and forth between hospitals for part of the month, fueled mostly by adrenaline and coffee (the steroids for hives helped for a bit). Going home to rest was the hardest thing for me to do.

We fought so many battles, first to keep him alive, then, when it became apparent he couldn’t survive, to get him into hospice so he could have some peace and freedom from tubes, poking, sticking, tests. He lasted 16 hours in hospice, slipping away at 3:24 Friday, Jan. 25.

We’re shellshocked. I’m finding it hard to return to “normal” life. We all have to discover our new normal first.

Some of you may remember that a few months back I wrote about a strange feeling of anticipation. I knew something major was coming and that grad school had to wait. I just never dreamed/imagined/anticipated that it would be Bill. When Mother’s back incapacitated her, I thought that might be it, but it was Bill I was sensing all along.

And, yes, I know I couldn’t have prevented it, but I’ve tried so hard to look out for the parents that at times I feel I dropped the ball.

For now our Jeep remains dented, our pickup smashed, our new car un-bought. We managed belatedly to get our Christmas tree and Mother’s down.

The past few days have been bustling, what with planning the funeral and the out of town family being here. Now the out of towners have gone home, except for Bill’s strong sister, Betty, who is spending some time with Mother, bless her.

I’ve been so proud of my children through all of this. When GrandBob died they were 3 and 2, so Grandpa Bill is the only grandfather they remember, and they loved him so. They’re crushed but were strong and steady for their Grandpa and will continue to be for their Grandma. They were precious children and now they’re wonderful adults.

I also want to thank my sweet friends who helped us during Bill’s illness and supported us at the visitation and funeral. How lucky I am to have you!

Time heals a broken heart, but it doesn’t fill a void. Cathy and I had our darling Daddy for the first 26/23 years of our lives and our beloved Bill for the last 29. We’ll never stop missing either.

Me, Mother, Lisa (Bill's oldest daughter), Cathy (who blinked) and Melinda (Bill's younger daughter) with our shared guy.

Me, Mother, Lisa (Bill’s oldest daughter), Cathy (who blinked) and Melinda (Bill’s younger daughter) with our shared guy.