Monday, August 21, 2017

Nothing like a get-away....

Nothing lifts one's spirit like a weekend lakeside in the Texas hill country with family....eating great food, laughing a lot and boating.  Lake LBJ is so pretty but oh my, what a change from my memories of fishing with my dad.  Then it was called Granite Shoals and there were few if any houses on the waterfront.  Now the lakefront is populated with multi-million dollar homes for the rich and famous like Roger Staubach and former astronaut Jim Mitchell.  And lots of jet skis.
Thank you dear son and daughter-in-law for treating me to this lovely weekend.  It even included a couple of hours of puppy hugging...we ran into a pet adoption group at Save the World brewery in Marble Falls who had a litter of 11 puppies up for adoption.  It was hard to walk away from an adorable white little guy with a brown and black face but the challenge of puppy training just doesn't fit for any of us right now.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Lonely on the rocky path...

There are days as a recovering caregiver that I think I may be losing it but these are usually followed by days where I feel on top of things but lately the grief of losing my spouse, my best friend of most of my life has been grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me.  "looky here, girl.  This is it!  He's gone and left a great big void.  So now what?"
I look around this small apartment and go "what the fuck happened?"  This is not what I thought my life would be at 80.  I'm struggling to come to terms with the reality that this is the last hurrah.  This is where I will be the rest of my life.  My life seems to have become so small.  I know it didn't happen was getting smaller with age and with caregiving, especially with the move into the first retirement community.  And now it seems just plain small.  I've left house, pets, friends, some family behind and even though I'm in a beautiful place with other women sharing the same experiences, life just feels damn small.  I see the same people every day...the same for breakfast and lunch every day.  Not that they aren't wonderful people but it is the same people.  I think a more positive thought is that they are now my family and in many ways are as caring yet dysfunctional as any family but this family is old and facing all the issues of aging that I am.  I suppose that is comforting in a way and I try to think of it that way.

I get out art supplies and try to start something but lose interest or get distracted with the next event or should I empty the dishwasher or check my email.  I can't seem to get anything written even though an occasional line runs through my head. I think of what I used to tell depressed clients: exercise, call a friend and I do those things.  But I miss that creative self that was used to looking at opportunities and saying yes.  People tell me "You are free now to do anything you want."  So where did my motivation go?   My fascination with the unknown?  I guess He-Who had my back for so long that I felt I could do most anything.  Even with Alzheimer's I felt he had my back...a ridiculous thought but still there.  I do recall when a dear friend suddenly lost her husband, she quit painting.  She was an amazing portrait painter!  Now I understand!  I get it!  Perhaps this is the darkness I need to go through to get to the other side.
I've had a wonderful trip recently to visit family who pampered me well and that experience really helped!  It was good to get out in the world for a few days and hang out with some amazing folk in beautiful Colorado.  And more travel is on the horizon, thank goodness.
In the meantime I give myself permission to be sad and lonely, really sad and very lonely and know that this too will pass.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The rest of the trip to San Antonio...

For a while I was alone at Gate 14 with a couple of exceptions.  Finally another elderly woman was wheeled up beside me at the gate.  She was headed to San Antonio but was most distressed because she had lost her cell phone somewhere and wanted to know if there were any old fashioned pay phones anywhere in the airport.  Beats me!  When did I last see a pay phone anywhere?  She needed to be able to call her caregiver who was waiting in the cell phone parking lat at the San Antonio airport for her arrival.  I told her she was welcome to use my phone but she couldn’t remember the number.  We chatted a bit as all the seats around us began to fill and about six families with small children and babies gathered for the pre-boarding to Oklahoma City.  And that doesn’t count the three other wheel chair occupants that had gotten in line.  My next chair neighbor had a metal walker hanging on the side of her chair and she got up to search for a phone asking me to make sure that no one took her wheel chair.  So now I’m a wheelchair monitor who is beginning to get really hungry and wants to pee.  The pre-boards go down followed by columns A and B.  This time a good looking pilot comes and offers to wheel me down.  I told him only if he were going to Cabo and buying the drinks.  “I’m not interested in Oklahoma City.”  My next chair neighbor returns and seems a little less distraught.  The surrounding seats are empty again, it’s an hour til my flight and the gate checker person has gone…a good time to sneak off to the restroom leaving my unwheeled wheelchair by the gate in hopes that it will still be there when I get back.  My next chair buddy was gone again.  I made it to the restroom and even risked a trip to the Starbuck’s kiosk for a skinny vanilla latte and a chocolate croissant.  Geezus, but that was the best coffee and croissant ever.  No gate keeper even knew I had escaped on able and willing legs.  And my chair was still there.  My neighbor returned and even offered to throw away my trash on her next trip away from the gate with her walker as long as I saved her chair.

Finally at 2:05 we began boarding for the flight to San Antonio.  I was gratefully rolled down, assisted into the plane and seated.  A completely full flight as I think they all are these days and we were off.  Oh thank God!  Another adventure coming to a close.  Life is indeed a cosmic joke.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The "old lady" card is played without remorse

I am so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open.  I think every family west of the Mississippi was flying Southwest today going either in or out of Dallas and San Antonio.  Perhaps it should be expected the day after July 4 but what mad houses.  I left the hotel at 10:00 am after being picked up by my daughter and finally dragged my suitcase in my apartment at 4:00.  The actual flight was forty-five minutes.  With little or no indication on the Internet my flight was cancelled and I was put on a later flight which meant at least 4 hours in the airport.  Four hours without a book or anything to write on.  And I couldn’t move!  Why? you may ask.
I have learned to play the “old lady” card at airports and pre-order a wheel chair for transportation.  Well, airport wheel chairs are not regular wheel chairs.  The only wheels are on the bottom.  They are designed to be pushed by an airport employee who does nothing else but push handicapped and old people around the airport.  My past experience has been nothing but pleasant and I have met some interesting immigrants grateful for the job of pushing me to a gate or to baggage claim.  They have asked questions like “Do you want to stop at the restroom?  Do you need to stop for a drink or a bit to eat?”  But not so much on a busy post holiday crowd.  The more chairs pushed, the more money in tips. 
So today I get pushed to the gate with no offers to stop and abandoned there.  It is there I look at my boarding pass and snapped to the fact that I’m not arriving in San Antonio at 1:53.  I’m not even leaving Dallas until 2:05 and on a different flight.   Flight 20 was cancelled due to a thunderstorm somewhere.  So here I am at Gate 14 in a wheel chair without side wheels that I can push forward or backward or anywhere at all..  Hmmm…no breakfast and not much hope for lunch.  If I get up and walk to a kiosk, will I lose my pre-board status?  My wheel chair? Not a pleasant thought on Southwest as boarding is like cattle lined up fighting for a place at the trough.  So I stay.
Passengers are seated all around me and I am in the row of wheel chair residents waiting to board.  Behind us are all the other pre-board folk with various excuses to warrant their position.  To my left is column A holding all those who paid extra to board early.  And by the way, when I called Southwest to get the wheelchair, I was told I didn’t need to pay for early boarding anymore.  The operator also offered to make the wheel chair a permanent arrangement for whenever I wanted to fly Southwest.  Pride made me decline the offer.

An announcement is made that the pilot had finally arrived and they would begin boarding the flight to New Orleans.  The wheel chairs were pushed down the gangway, pre-boarders with kids began pushing strollers toward the plane and the old lady behind me got up to make her way to the plane.  I sat watching the parade.  A column marched forward, followed by B.  A young woman seated behind me leaned over and said, “I will push you to the plane.  They are loading now.”  “No, no,” I explained.  “I’m not going to New Orleans.”  Then a pilot in uniform offers to take me.  I decline the flight explaining that as tempting as a few days drinking on Bourbon St. was tempting, my ticket said I should end up in San Antonio.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Life at the funny farm....

Am I crazy or what?  Okay, today I am pissed but be prepared.  It's a long story.  Don't get me wrong!
 I love my new apartment in Watercrest at the Dominion in San Antonio, small, yes, but it is working.  I love the location.  I'm on the top floor facing the hills and freeway.  Each morning I am able to greet the sunrise coming over the opposite hills and see the clouds turn pink at sunset.  I am close to all kinds of shopping and have found good doctors, some I can drive to myself, others, my kind daughter-in-law steps in to drive me.  And have found the best dentist I have had ever.  I have made some friends in other residents whom I enjoy and we have a lot of laughs.  And I get to hang out with my son and his family.

BUT management here is driving me crazy!  I just can't keep my mouth shut about it.  I'm finding some residents are afraid to speak up...why, I don't know and think it must be a cultural thing.  Right away I discovered there was NO residents association here and that even the suggestion of one had been discouraged at first by the director.  But a group of us got together and formed one anyway.  I helped form the simple by-laws and was elected Vice-President at our first get together.  The purpose of the group is to be a sounding board for residents like a homeowners association and to help mediate complaints, help new residents, suggest wants and desires and sooth ruffled feathers.  As yet we have not had an official meeting as the Residents Council but the board has gotten together to handle some issues that have come up.  According to the by-laws our meetings are every other month, the first one coming up in August.  And we are pleased that several of our requests have been honored by management and we are grateful that we were heard.

We have several resident couples who have a spouse who is unable to totally care for themselves and depend on their spouse as a caregiver.  Had Ken lived we would have been one of them.  Breakfast here is included in our rent...three days a week it is a continental breakfast, Tuesdays and Thursdays bacon and eggs are served.  Several of these couples depend on a family member coming to the dining room to pick up breakfast and take it back to their loved one.  A few weeks ago a caregiver showed up as usual to do just this and was told by kitchen staff absolutely no breakfasts were to be taken out.  No warning, no explanation, just an edict from above.   It seems as though a resident was coming in a filling up a box with enough food to last for several days leaving less food available for other residents.  We agree not a nice thing to do.  The board received letters from three couples regarding this new rule explaining what a hardship it had created for them and that the director was not willing to give a solution at the time.  Some of the affected couples are afraid to speak up so brought the issue to the board after not getting any satisfaction from the director.  The board brought the matter up at a Town Hall meeting led by the director and she apologized for the way it was handled and offered an explanation and a solution...a staff person would fill the box.  So for a week or two it seemed the issue was taken care of but today the rule was in force again much to the distress of several residents who were refused breakfast to go.

But the boss of the boss was on campus today and our president of the RC managed to engage him in conversation over the issue at the lunch table.  He knew nothing about the breakfast issue and left the table with the residents present feeling assured that he felt it ridiculous and would be rectified.

Fast forward to an RC board meeting this afternoon:  We were reporting in on progress and setting the day and time for the first official meeting of the Residents Council , of which all residents are members and welcome.  We set the date and asked the Activity Director to put it on the calendar for August.  She has to clear everything with the director and reported back that we could not have a spot on the printed calendar.  What the +&$%#@?  Why?  The only reason we can come up with is that she is pissed that we discussed the problem with her boss.  What is the fear there?  I'm baffled and pissed that we get no support for these efforts.  Other retirement communities have organized regular meetings of residents by and for residents.  So we will post flyers and put them in mail cubbies which we would do anyway.  But why the opposition?

I've had enough drama in my life the last few months to last me a long time.  I give up and plan to take a back seat for a while. I'm going to bed after watching some totally stupid mindless TV.  New crown on a molar today and teeth cleaning tomorrow.  Oh goody!
Oh what a tangled web we weave!

The new story....

So now the story is about a recovering caregiver and what to do with one's life post care-giving.

The birthday party went off without a hitch or if there was one, I didn't notice.  Sister-in-law Sue and I greeted friends and relatives at my son's beautiful home.  My daughter-in-law Karen had done a great job of arranging for some great barbecue and a gorgeous birthday cake.  It could only have been better if Ken had been there and I think he was in spirit.  My daughters and granddaughter came from Conroe and friends and family came from all over.  My crazy Artist Way sisters came with pink pussy hats, of course.  I felt honored and celebrated beyond my wildest dreams.  But oh so tired!

Before the party I went back to Watercrest to make new plans.  By now I had an idea of what I could afford and needed a one bedroom apartment.  I located a large one on the top floor with a view and a storage room right down the hall and parking nearby.  Then it was  back to Houston with my in-laws.  We had hoped to get a tour in of Watercrest in San Antonio before I left but no one was available to do it.  Back in Houston I fell into bed and slept for a couple of days.  Marylynne of Comfort Moves came back to meet with me and go over the new floor plan.  It was clear there would be more downsizing!  It was all so overwhelming!  Hard to know where to begin.

As my daughter and I went through Ken's papers we discovered that somehow he had saved all the right stuff, the important papers.  Amazing that he condensed them into one box but he did.  Then it was clearing out more stuff.  The hardest was Ken's closet.  I still miss his smell.  I hated letting go of most of his clothes but at our son's request, saved a few favorites for him.  Out went some furniture, some went on the truck to go to the condo in Austin where my granddaughter will live while at UT, the rest to Watercrest at the Dominion, 10 minutes from my son's house.  I left Comfort Moves in charge and left for San Antonio.  The movers came on the 29th of March, the unpackers the following days and I finally slept in my own bed in my new place on the 31rst of March.

Friday, June 2, 2017

How does one say goodbye?

Obviously the event is a game changer.
First agenda:  Postpone the move!  A call to Watercrest and Comfort Moves takes care of that.
2. Thank God son Chris is staying the week and we make plans for the memorial service at Bay Area Unitarian/Universalist Church and set up a meeting with Bruce Beisner, our minister.  Both of us had set up for our bodies to be donated to UTMB which turned out to be a wonderful service.  They picked up his body at the hospital, will cremate it when done and Chris asked that the ashes be returned to him.  So no casket, etc to deal with which makes planning so much easier.  The service is planned for Saturday March 4 at 2:00 pm.  I asked Tom Diegelman to speak about Ken's career at NASA and he agreed and did a wonderful job.  Chris worked hard on creating a eulogy and did an excellent picture of his dad.  I sent by email word of He-Who's passing to the NASA Alumnae League and put memorial info on Facebook.
I thought I was doing pretty well but Wednesday night about midnight I woke Chris up because my heart was racing again.  Damn!  He called 911 and the EMTs came.  They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital and with one look at Chris, I agreed.  He followed in his car and off we went to St. Luke's ER.  After an EKG and a test on my lungs, the doc gave me a Valium which made me pretty loopy but slowed my heart down.  Sinus tachycardia again!  Finally I was sent home with a prescription for Xanax.  Geez...let's just add a little more drama to the week.
The whole week was a blur but at last it was Saturday.  We borrowed a wheel chair for me to use as between the heart stuff and the recent hip surgery I wasn't steady on my feet.  Embarassing but I did it.  The service was just beautiful and the church packed.  So many people came to tell me how much they cared for Ken, the kind things that he had done for them.  He was a humble kind soul and accomplished so much.  Tom talked about the fact that Ken's program design was what brought the Apollo 13 crew back home safely saving the lives of the crew. Astronaut Fred Haise was at the service.  My unsung hero!  And Chris brought forth the tender caring Dad who loved his kids more than anything.  Bruce included a couple of my poems in the service, one about Alzheimers and one on grief.
It all went way too fast.
The church provided a reception and I was in such a fog by then, I barely remember much about it other than an all too brief greeting with my cousins who came from Dallas and Georgetown.  I was astonished they made the trip and wished we had more time together.
And then it was all over and the family took me home.  Chris had to be exhausted.  He had done so much the previous week contacting the insurance company, the Office of Personnel Management, Fidelity, etc.  The decision was made to go ahead with the big birthday party the following weekend and I packed and went home with Chris to San Antonio where I slept for the first three days and rested.