Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Cycle of Life

October, 2014:  As we drove to Kalamazoo to see Jim's mother, we were talking about her situation in the "memory care" unit where she now resides.  Jim said that sometimes life seems like "an inability to take care of yourself to an inability to take care of yourself."  I found that puzzling for a minute and then realized that he meant that small children cannot be responsible for their self-care nor can a very elderly person who has dementia.

We found Mom dressed and eating breakfast alone in the large central area.  This was good except that it was two hours past breakfast time and she couldn't hear anything.  Her hearing aide was not hidden in her purse or under her pillow this time.  It was in her ear but it needed new batteries.  Once that was taken care of, we could converse a bit.

We went back to her room and she crawled back into bed where she said she felt the best.  Again, I thought about the cycle of life.  An infant eats and sleeps; Mom's life seems also to be one of eating and sleeping.  Not much else seems to interest her very much- old photos, magazines, books, word searches, visiting--all of which used to give her pleasure.

I wondered what we could do to bring more joy into her life.  But maybe eating and sleeping is enough when you are almost 95 years old.

An update a few weeks later:

During one visit we were able to get Mom out in a wheel chair and take a leisurely walk around the buildings.  The colors were beautiful and she was very observant of her surroundings.  She couldn't hear anything and her hearing aid was nowhere to be found.

During still another visit, I brought along music to play--some old favorites and then a hymn book.  She again couldn't hear much, but seemed to enjoy choosing songs for me to play.  One resident began singing "Amazing Grace" very loudly.  I wasn't playing "Amazing Grace" at the time, but I gave up and played it for her!

And then there was last week's visit.  I went alone and found Mom sleeping at 10 am, still in her night gown.  I told her who I was and that I brought her some more fall clothes.  She told me to turn off the light and go away. She covered her face with her sheet.   I went back a few hours later after I had a wonderful organ lesson from a friend who plays at a downtown Kalamazoo church.  Mom was dressed, but sleeping.   Once more she told me to go away and turned her back towards me.  Did she not know me? I don't think she did.  She has always welcomed me and said my name.  I was very sad.

Is this also a part of the cycle of life in which  small children  cover their faces and think you don't see them?

A week later: Jim visited by himself today.  I just couldn't bring myself to go along after last week's sad visit.  His mom was sleeping but she woke right up, greeted him by name and was happy to chat.  They went for another walk outside and she thought that was a treat.  She even gave him a letter she had written to us earlier in order to save a stamp!

One never knows what kind of reception there will be.  I'm very glad she was better today.


January 29, 2015

Mom passed away on January 27.  She had fallen a little over two weeks earlier--right after our Saturday afternoon visit.  When we left, she said she was tired so we made sure she was "safely" in her bed again.  She got up on her own, fell, and broke a vertebrae in her neck.  Since then, she was on morphine for her pain.  She resisted the collar to stabilize her neck; her condition deteriorated greatly.

  My last memory of her will be our visit before her fall when she decided to get out of bed to eat the chocolate truffles I had brought her.  She giggled several times during our visit as we talked about previous times in her life.  It was a good visit--a bit surreal as generations and eras were confused but  a cheerful time.  She thanked us for coming as she usually did.

Jim saw her twice since then.  She recognized him but could no longer converse.  It is such a relief to have her physical and mental suffering over.  She is at peace and we are too. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reflections at the Philly Airport

I wrote about my apprehension before I made this trip.  Now  it is over and I am so glad I was able to help and to have the strength to be with Laura's family through an important time in their lives.

In some ways, it was like being a new mother again.  Memories came back of the unpredictability of living with a newborn.  I didn't sleep well for the first week--due to interrupted nights but also my own tendency to stress about sleep. 
My friend Sue said everyone she knows takes a sleep-aid when at their children's homes so I tried Sleep-Eze but it left me feeling awful the next day.  Melatonin was helpful a few nights, but mostly I just got over it and was able to doze even with little A in my bed when he joined me to let his mom get some sleep. 

 The days were alternately very quiet while holding A and doing nothing else--or very hectic with three kids all wanting "cream cheese on my bagel, warm water not cold, an S in chocolate syrup on my waffle," etc. At one point, the older ones came home from sledding with their nanny and all three were talking at the top of their voices telling us about what they did.

 And these kids are their mother's children--they don't need a lot of sleep.  J can stay awake until 10 in his room and still bound out of bed to join me in my bed at 7 am.  Bathtime for three is a hassle but  doing it right after supper and then having playtime or screen time seemed to help.   They love their Kindles,  their Wii and their videos. 

So now I go home to quiet.  I will miss snuggling the littlest one and looking into his beautiful face.  A smile will come soon--it's almost there.  I'll miss the "Grandma, grandma" that I heard a lot. 

I admire my daughter and her mostly calm spirit through this all.  She has begun working more but is limiting her commitments for now.  She says she loves babies and that is obvious.  She also says four is a lot of kids and it is.  I'll pray for her strength and stamina.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Almost time to go home

Monday:  It's snack time at 4 pm.  Alex is sleeping, Laura is out for a little walk, and Promise is sitting at the table with the kids.  All is good for the moment. 

Alex was a little fussier today and needed cuddling and calming.  There haven't been many of those times.  I hope it is not the start of a new stage in his life.

It's the "storm of the century" according to weather reports--for NYC and New Jersey.  Not for Philadelphia, I hope.    The kids all came home from school early.  I hope they can go tomorrow.  And, I really hope I can go home on Wednesday. 

Michael left for Geneva this afternoon.  So this will be an important time for Laura to have me here. 

What has happened since Thursday?

A photographer came on Saturday morning and took a thousand photos--literally, I think.  It was some kind of publicity swap for her, using Laura and her baby, but not the others on her blog.  I was so bold as to ask her to take a few photos of me with Alex. 

Michael took Sam skiing and Ruth and Jasper and I "hiked" at Riverbend where they had done summer camp.  We checked out animal tracks--and our own tracks.

Jeff and Susan and their family came to meet Alex and join us for cheese fondue.  Everyone thought Alex was great.  They thoughtfully brought gifts for all the kids.

Sunday, I walked to St. John Vianney and worshipped at 8 am mass.  One week of skipping church was enough and I wanted to go.  The cantor was the model of what a cantor should be.  I closed my eyes when he chanted the psalm and let the music enter my soul.  The priest was genuine and low-key. During some last minute scrambling at the back of the sanctuary, he asked me what number we were singing! And then he processed with dignity!

I went with Michael to the Y with the kids and,  because Ruth begged for Michael to swim,  I got to watch the boys play soccer.  It was a great practice.  The boys complained later that their team lost the scrimmage and they needed to be on another team--failing to realize that they were 50% of their losing team. 

Our last activity for the day was a trip to Longwood Gardens--more ambitious of a trip than I would have chosen to do, but it was fabulous to see the orchids there.  So much color during such a dreary season was worth the trip.  It amused me to see Laura and Michael driving the mini-van with four kids and grandma in the back. 

So it appears I forgot Friday.  The days get confused.  Ruth and I made a shopping trip to Target and then got caught in a major traffic tie up typical of this area.  I suggested Michael and Laura have a date night so they enjoyed tapas and tequila at a nearby restaurant.  I managed all four kids without a crisis.  It helped that they supervised baths before they left.

Through all of this business, Great-grandma VanderKam is under Hospice care in Kalamazoo barely eating and drinking and using morphine every two hours to ease the pain of her broken vertebrae. We thought it would be the end over the weekend but she is a strong woman. 

When I return home, I will be immediately thrown into doing a Museum docent tour, practicing the organ for Sunday, and keeping vigil at her bedside.

I have prayed for strength many times in the last 12 days and especially during the last 12 nights.  I will need to continue to do so. 

Tuesday:  Alex slept in my room from 10:15 to 5:15 when his mother crept in and took him to her room.  I calmed him down around midnight and checked on him a few times. He and I both slept and so did Laura.  

The kids are home from school due to a storm prediction--that never really materialized.  Michael is in Geneva so I am glad I can be here to help Laura out. 

I had my phone turned off so I didn't see or hear Jim's text at 9:23.  His mother passed away this morning.  I have spoken briefly to Jim and Terri.  Jim is teaching his two classes this morning and going on as usual.  I wept at reading the text but am so relieved and grateful that her suffering is over--and our vigil is over.  I need to tell Jasper at least and he will be sad.  I may post more about the end of her life later. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Life with Alex at one week

Tuesday--We are all adjusting to little Alexander and his place in our lives.  He has been surprisingly mellow and only cries hard when he is offended by a diaper change or a sponge bath.  Of course, no one lets him cry hard.  We pick him up, replace a pacifier which he really likes, and give him to his mom who is doing great at nursing the fourth time around. 

Life slows down.  I have been content to just sit and hold him or lie down and look at him.  Right now I am drinking a cup of tea--not my usual "cup of tea."  But it seems right for now. 

We get through the nights.  Michael takes a turn, Laura takes a turn, and I have taken an early am turn when Alex joins me in my bed.  Laura's night is especially interrupted into fragments but we try to get her the rest that we can.  I have the feeling of those memories of never sleeping as one would like--partially because of the little guy--and partially because I so much want to sleep that it doesn't come easily. 

Ruth just observed that Alex is not in her mommy's tummy any more and he is not going to pop back in.  Laura agreed.

Thursday--I think I blog when life is quiet.  Life is not quiet here all that often.  It is quiet this morning with the three older ones in school and Alex sleeping somewhat restlessly near me.

I do want to remember some things about this week and this will help.

The older children are very affectionate to Alex and love to see him and touch him.  Ruth, in particular, has expressed a frequent need for her mother to do things for her, but I think she is often that way.   This morning for example, she said, "I want Mommy to put the butter on my waffle," and there was no way to appease her.  Yesterday she expressed her feelings directly to Laura, "You're always doing things with the baby."  At that point, I took the baby--even though Laura was desperate to nurse him--and Laura snuggled with Ruth.  Ruth pretended to nurse her monkey while Laura nursed Alex, but her helpful big brother pointed out that he was at her belly button and that was the wrong place!

The days go pretty well with the help of  Promise, a wonderful nanny.  Laura has hired marvelous nannies.  She does so with great care and pays them well.

 The bedtimes are not smooth.  I try to help with baths, snacks, and cuddles, but sometimes it is accepted more from Grandma than others.  Jasper and Ruth do not need much sleep; Sam is easier to settle down.  I try to protect Laura from their meltdowns but it is not always easy. 

Alex is one week old.  He has regained his birth weight and more and the doctor said they could skip the one month check up and wait until two months.  Laura particularly timed her appointment for the doctor who has six kids of her own and would be more "chill."  I had great joy in going along with her to see how well Alex is doing. 

I slept better last night--looked at the clock virtually every hour--but went right back to sleep.  Some would call that a bad night--for me, it was just fine.  I might even be so bold as to drive to downtown Philly and visit the Museum of Art. 

A successful trip on I-76 downtown and back to the Museum where I saw the African-American exhibit (not as many Jacob Lawrences as I had hoped) and also the large and famous Eakins paintings of the Gross Clinic and the Adkins Clinic--seen many times in books. I liked this Hicks painting of The Peaceable Kingdom 

Jim scanned my lasagna recipes and I made supper tonight.  It was pretty good!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Alexander James Conway has arrived

Alex is sleeping--maybe--on my bed.  Laura is going to try to rest for a while before the next nursing.  It's about 9 pm on Friday and I am glad I can do this for her. 

There have been good moments and great moments and not so good moments in the last 60 hours or so.  Alex is whimpering right now.

So that was enough for blogging for an hour or more.  And now I'm too tired.  So...later.

Jim said my friend Maggie was looking for my blog and there were no updates.  I'll try again this morning.   Michael took Alex at 10:40 pm and Laura brought him in to me at 3:30 am.  He had been very restless and he was also restless with me for the next 2 1/2 hours--but Laura was able to sleep at least.  I am very tired and a bit woozy this morning but it's OK.  It wasn't my usual insomnia--I was able to sleep when I had the opportunity to do so.  For that I am grateful!

He is so precious and so little.  His favorite position was right on my chest--like he was in his mother. 

So here are some of the good moments of the last few days:

Walking home from preschool with Sam and asking him what the rocks along the lawns were for.  His reply?  "Maybe tombstones for frogs?"

Listening to Ruth play doctor with her dolls and hear her say to one of them, "Naps can't hurt."

Doing with Jasper and his joy at putting Alexander James Conway into the family tree.

Playing Scrabble with Jasper and Promise, the nanny, and losing to both of them! 

Eating Michael's coconut shrimp curry dish and his lamb chops.  He seems to like to cook and is good at it.

Knowing that I was able to be here when Laura unexpectedly went into labor at 12 midnight--instead of the planned "calm delivery" she had scheduled for the next morning. 

Seeing the videos of the little arrival at 4 am the same morning when Michael came home.

Retirement has made it possible for me to be here to help.  I am thankful for that--and praying for energy and patience.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Excited and apprehensive are the way I feel tonight.  Laura texted me at noon today to say she is planning to go into the hospital Thursday morning to deliver her fourth child.  I immediately booked a flight and will be leaving for Philadelphia Wednesday morning. 

I went to New York City two days after Jasper was born; Jasper and I were able to welcome Sam together when he was born.  Laura's mother-in-law Diane helped when Ruth was born.  And now, in my retirement, it's my turn.  I am so excited to meet this little guy and to be a part of the family's welcome of him.  I am also apprehensive about having the energy and the patience it will take to be a part of a hectic family life for two weeks.

I am praying for a good delivery and safe arrival for the little one; I am praying that I will sleep well (always an issue for me!) and will know how to be helpful so that Laura can rest and enjoy her children--all four of them. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Week in the Sun

We were a bit hesitant about flying on Allegiant Airlines but the appeal of a non-stop flight to Florida convinced us to give it a try.  The base price was very reasonable but by the time we paid for carry-on luggage and reserved seats, it was not cheap flying.  However, the flight was comfortable and smooth and right on time and we were in Florida in 2 1/2 hours.  We left from a small airport (South Bend) where parking and security were easy and we arrived at a small airport (St. Petersburg-Clearwater) where getting an Enterprise rental car was also easy.  One disadvantage--no TSA priority clearance on Allegiant.

Our first night was in a Holiday Inn Express because the condo rental was not available until Friday--fortunately a day before the usual Saturday to Saturday rentals.  Except for the warm weather,  we could have been staying anywhere in a generic hotel and eating at Carraba's, a chain even found a few miles from our home. 

We hung out at the Inn until checkout time and then drove down US19,  which also could have been anywhere with all of its strip malls and chain stores, to Tarpon Springs, which was refreshingly unique.  The harbor was full of fishing boats, the tourist stores sold the usual kitsch, but also sponges, the historic resource found in the bay, and the restaurants were all Greek in cuisine.  Walking down the streets to where we had parked our car, we saw two unmarked buildings full of men sitting and card tables, drinking, and speaking Greek.  This was a Greek village.

We drove down the Gulf Highway, got groceries at a Publix, picked up our keys at Florida Lifestyles and then drove to 1513 The Beach Cottage, the 5th floor condo we had rented through Home Away.  We were relieved to see it was a lovely, spacious unit with a balcony overlooking the Gulf.  The photos were accurate.

Dinner was at The Pub on the Waterfront where I had shrimp and Jim had ribs.  Jim had lots of football to watch and I read.

Saturday:   We walked to Walgreens, crossing a drawbridge across the waterway, and bought the paper products we needed.  It was amazing to feel sweaty and hot!  After lunch we visited the Bird Sanctuary next door where we were most interested in the white egrets in the tree and the pelicans catching fish in their little ponds.

I read outside on the deck; Jim read on the balcony.  There were many comments and "likes" when I  posted a photo of  his reading a dissertation while on vacation.

Notre Dame's win over Georgia Tech in double overtime made it an even better day.  So did a fun supper at Crabby Bill's where Jim had Key West shrimp and mahi and I ventured into trying Florida crab at the market price.  The waitress said they had not had any local crab over the holidays but the traps had been checked and the crabs were just in today!  With hush puppies and cold slaw, I had an authentic local meal and it was very good. I like a menu that distinguishes "house wine" and "wine for fancy types."

Sunday:  A very quiet day.  We walked on the beach and drove to a crowded John's Pass which was billed as an historic fishing village but was instead a collection of the worst of tourist shops.  I swam in a very warm pool, Jim watched lots of football, and we walked to get a great pizza from Beach Pizza which we enjoyed at our condo.  I spent hours reading The Signature of All Things on my Kindle App--a good long read for a vacation.

Monday:  Another quiet day.  Jim found a nearby golf course, Baypointe Gulf Club, and rented clubs, got a cart, tees, balls, and 18 holes of golf all for about $30.  As could be expected, it was not a well-maintained course and his clubs were pretty bad.  But he enjoyed himself anyway and I enjoyed riding along. 

We walked almost a mile to Salt Rock Grill for their Supper Club menu--which meant early bird specials.  It was quite a contrast to Crabby Bill's with its lovely view of the waterway and male waiters with foreign accents dressed in white shirts.  However, it was not pretentious and the mahi Oscar I had was very nice.  We walked home getting periodic glimpses of the sunset when there was a break in the line of condos along the Gulf. 

We watched an amazing basketball game in which Notre Dame struggled to survive over Carolina and then enjoyed Dan's congratulatory text and phone call.

It was a cooler day--not a wonderfully warm Florida day--but far better than the 5 degrees in Granger.

Tuesday:  Another cool and quiet day.  We had a long walk on the beach but the wind made it feel chilly.  We took another walk later to get coffee and a sweet--and that was enough exercise for the day.  Supper was pizza from Beach Pizza again.  Neither one of us felt like a restaurant trip.

Bits and pieces:  I love seeing the moon over the water.  With a full moon and waking up at 4 am the last two nights,  I looked outside.  Last night it was cloudy, but Sunday night I was rewarded with the waves shining like bright lights in the moonlight. 

Pizza for supper tonight--and for breakfast this morning.  There was just enough cereal for one of us and I was quite pleased with my unusual breakfast.

The oddity of seeing Christmas lights and palm trees together.

The cottage kitsch d├ęcor of this place and too many mirrors--but it is very comfortable and home for the week.

South Haven, Michigan is the best place on earth for a week's vacation with the beautiful "Big Lake" and the restaurants and shops all within walking distance.  However, it is not the best place for a warm vacation in the winter!  We have found a restaurant, coffee shop, and pizza take-out within a walk but otherwise a car is needed here. 

Wednesday:  Coffee at 5 pm on Tuesday affected us both with difficulty in falling asleep.  Can't do that again!

Jim golfed at East Bay, a nicer course.  I napped and exercised in the pool.  Dinner was at Guppy's where I got the grouper sandwich I wanted to try before we left--and it was good! 

Thursday:  Very cold overnight--down to the 30s!  But it's -8 in South Bend with wind chill far below that.  We are at the airport now waiting for our flight which is scheduled to leave on time.  Leaving here should be fine--landing in South Bend--we hope for the best.