Bookends of Laughter

Don and Charlotte Chrysdale have been in our lives for as long as I can remember and way before that. Don and Dad have known each other since they were three. They were Boy Scouts together. Their parents met at church and played Sheepshead together. We grew up alongside their seven children—Peter, Pam, David, John, Mathew, Elizabeth and Patricia.

We were connected again recently when David and I ran into each other on a Friday night at the bar at Hollander, waiting for our tables. We wrote down each other’s numbers and I promised to stop by with Dad to visit Don at the Catholic Home. We never made it so he brought his mom and dad to us for a visit yesterday.

Don and Dad just beamed at each other. “We’re still here!” Dad said. “It’s great to see you Don.”

“It’s great to be seen!”

After sharing some stories, Joanie said to Charlotte, “Do you remember all that good food you brought over when Mom died? Remember that yellow squash casserole?” (Yes, and the sliced turkey breast, stuffing and cake.) “A lot of people had stopped by and we didn’t know what we’d serve and then you walked in with a feast!”

“I don’t remember that but that’s what your mom always did for me. I do remember one time in particular she and your dad came walking up our driveway bringing food to our house. I don’t remember what it was, like you do,” she giggled. “But I remember she had her scarf wrapped around her head because of the chemo. Even then she brought food.”

(I can’t even remember the last time I took food to someone’s house.)

Don brought up Dad’s fellowship to study architecture and our travels camping through Europe. “Remember how you drove along and you’d have the kids pee in a pot?” Don’s whole face lit up. “Then you’d throw it out the window!”

(Really?)

Charlotte had told me recently that though Don’s memory isn’t what it used to be, it all comes back to him when he talks to Dad. The wonders of friendship, I thought as I sat and took in the conversation—the beauty of being understood by someone, of being loved. Isn’t that all any of us really wants?

“Have you heard about the new movie that’s out?’ Dad asked Don.

“What movie?”

“Constipation,” Dad said.

“No…” Don looked quizzical.

“It hasn’t come out yet.”

–June 23, 2016FullSizeRender (78)

Shoes at the Door

Todd and I have had continual banters about leaving my shoes at the top of the stairs at home so I don’t track dirt across the carpeting. He’s put a nice big swatch of extra carpeting there to remind me. I use it to wipe my feet like a bull getting ready for a stampede but he says dirt travels. He can support his position, he says, by the trail I’ve created from the steps to my closet. I don’t see it. It’s amazing we stay married. I have come to believe he’s part saint.

I think he’ll be pleased to hear that while I’ve been staying at Dad’s I’ve gotten into the habit of kicking my shoes off at the door. Things change.

Things change when you step inside a door closer to life because you’re nearer death. Time becomes timeless. Space loses boundaries—morning becomes night, and night, morning. Dad and I were up in the night and he was talking about going to the Island today. It’s 10:48 a.m. now so I know we won’t be getting an early start.

“How do we do this?” my sister and I ask each other. “How do we do this?” What do we say?—call me when you think you’re dying again, Dad. I gotta go now.” We miss our husbands—but I can see mine every day. She’s 2200 miles away from home and work—I’m within walking distance to both. The world goes on around us, where days are measured in minutes not breaths, where shoes are carelessly worn across carpeting, where death is seen as the end and life as finite

Don’t talk about death in front of Dad—not death where it’s the end. Don’t bring up the end because to him, this is a new journey, a new beginning—a new life. Don’t mention grief. “We are celebrating here,” he tells the nurse.

“It’s so beautiful here in your condo, Bill,” she responds as her eyes search the photos that stand in layers on the shelf beside her—it’s as if she’s searching for an explanation. She won’t find it in the flat, two dimensional reflections of our images. It’s a Living Presence she senses which brings a timeless beauty, that dwells within and fills the room where my shoes are sitting at the door. “I can feel the family’s love,” she says. “You all seem to be doing just fine.”

I think we are. This is a time to be treasured not measured.

When heaven begins to open, you find yourself standing on holy ground and you just know inside—you know the time has come to leave your shoes at the door.

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Sunday with Dad

I was following behind Dad as he took charge of the walker that has lived for two years in the basement storeroom. Anytime we made the slightest suggestion to get it out for him, the answer was, “No”.

He’s good at getting around with it now though and with the wheels, I call him Billy Speedster. As he makes his way around the tight corner between the bed and the dresser I hear him muttering, “It says in the Bible, when you get old, you’ll need help.” These days are blending together and like Dad, I lose track which day is which. But there is some freedom in that, even joy.

I want to have the scriptures Dad treasures engraved in my heart and I spent yesterday morning reading through his favorites–the Book of John, Chapters 14-17. It begins with Jesus comforting his disciples and I love how, all these years later, the words sound as though they could be spoken directly to us. The first verse is one of Mom’s favorites, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for them and will come back for them. When Thomas says that he doesn’t know the way, Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words Dad has lived his life by. Ask a cashier at his grocery store, a neighbor, my son or my husband, or even one of my best friends who might just happen to run into him at CVS, Dad will want to know how your faith is and isn’t afraid to ask if you know Jesus. Dad’s touched hearts and ticked others off.

“Love each other as I have loved you,” Jesus says in Chapter 15:12. I counted seven times that he says, “Remain in Me.” And three more times, “Remain in my love.”

I have the privilege of spending these holy days with Dad and I can’t help but want to share them. Dad is sleeping now so I can’t ask him but I would guess that if he wanted to share anything from his heart to yours today, it would be just that–remain in God’s Love.

“Debbie?” I hear Dad’s voice calling from his bedroom.

“I’m here, Dad,” I yell back as I run down the hall. He’s sitting up and turns his head. Out of the corner of his eye I catch the twinkle.

“I thought this was a Bed and Breakfast ”

“You ready for breakfast, Dad?”

“Yes!”

June 19, 2016image

Morning Light

imageThe storm passed through in the night and I didn’t even notice. I woke up this morning and the light in Dad’s room was on. He was sitting up reading his devotions as he used to do. He hasn’t been able to sit up on his own for a while.

“Dad?” I walked over and he looked up at me.

“I’m not dying! This is exactly what I was afraid of.”

“Well, you have a little energy. This is a good thing.”

“I swung my legs around and sat up.”

I smiled.

“But I told Dr. Tschopp I was dying.”

“Well Dad, it’s true, we all are.”

“But I told her I need hospice.”

“That’s good. I think we do.”

“Joanie’s coming home. I’m supposed to be dying.”

“You’re hardly eating. You don’t have much strength. I think we do need Hospice and it’s great Joanie is coming. She wants to see you. I guess God’s giving you a little extra time to get your heart right. If that takes ten years…well, what can I say?”

The doctor called then and we talked through a few things. By the time I hung up the phone he was back asleep. Do you think he’d notice if I make a single serving of Cream of Wheat…?

I’m Gonna Miss Dad

Dad’s paper wasn’t delivered in the morning so I went to get him one after work. I picked up a couple extra bananas too and took a walk to the hot bar to see if I might find something for Todd and me for dinner. They had hamburgers and brats and sauerkraut, mac and cheese—all the things that remind me of Dad. I remembered all the times I’d come there to pick up a quick dinner for him—after an afternoon at the doctor’s or one of those long hospital stays.
My arms held the paper, some blueberries and bananas so when I felt the tear roll down my right cheek, I reached to wipe it but dropped a banana. I bent down to pick it up and felt the spasm in my back from sneezing on Sunday seize up. It’s hard to carry large loads of emotion around with you all the time. I’m working on that but I’m going to really miss my dad.
When I got back to the condo, I handed him his paper. His head was tucked down as he does so he can swallow but I knew he was getting ready to say something. I waited.
“I felt really bad sending you for my paper.”
“You didn’t send me, Dad. I wanted to go. I needed a few things.”
“Well, I love reading the paper but I realized after you left that I’d rather talk to you.”
I sat back into the couch then. “Well, here I am! You can have both!”
We did talk for a while but I felt the usual pull of needing to be in two places at once. I have a wonderful staff that seems to understand and have tried to extend the same support to them. My Dad raised us to put God first, family second and work third. (That’s not easy.) And I have a wonderful husband who seems to understand. None the less, my back aches and like Dad, I’m eating less and sleeping more. Letting go isn’t for the weak.
Dad is very organized and had his Power of Attorney papers completed with his attorney years ago while Mom was still alive. I will have to take the lead on what it says and the most challenging part of it is the last line. Dad has written in a scripture: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). Mom had said the same thing to me in her own words: “I don’t want you crying over me. It’s just my time.” I had promised her I wouldn’t. But I did.
So, when I was in the kitchen of Dad’s condo last night, putting his dishes in the dishwasher, tears rolled down my cheeks. My hands were full so I couldn’t brush them away. I felt the strong urge to go back and sit down with Dad and tell him I’m going to really miss him when he’s gone. But I didn’t. I knew I would cry and didn’t want to upset him.
I want to be faithful to the Words I read in his Power of Attorney. They are important to him and I know, powerful. I told him when I started writing his stories that I would be sure to let people know that he was happy about going home to Jesus. He corrected me that day. His eyes beamed. “Happy?” He said. Joyous! Why, I’ll be Joyous!”
In my experience, God has always provided what I needed just at the right time. I’m certain He will provide Joy in my heart for a life well-lived when the time comes. Because that’s what I want to share from Dad to you.

Well-Rested

Dad called at 1:00 pm today: Hi Debs, I just called to let you know I’m still alive!

Me: Is everything okay, Dad?

Dad: Yeah (he chuckles). I just slept til 1:00!

He sleeps later and eats less but his sense of humor and spirit are great.

Me: Well, you’re well-rested! I’ll come over and warm up your breakfast.
(I drop what I’m doing and arrive just as he is reaching for his shoes. I hand him one.)

Dad: I think I should call my doctor and let her know how much I’m sleeping.

Me: What will she do, Dad, give you something to stay awake? (He chuckles again.) I think you look well-rested.

His Cream of Wheat has turned to a brick by now so I thin it with Ensure and warm it up. I wait for him to get off the phone with the Journal, (His paper wasn’t delivered again this morning, he loves his paper) making me late for a meeting but that’s the way these days go. I tell him I’ll pick up a paper after work and give him a kiss.

Dad: Thank you sweetheart. I love it when you stop by.

He smiles the smile that melts my heart: Do I look well-rested…?

Yep, well-rested!

I love my Dad.