Struggling at The End

Our dog Charlee Girl is fourteen and a half years old. She’s a sweet, compassionate personality and adores her family. When she’s been laying down a long time, she struggles to stand up—being the old lady that she is—but she pushes through her arthritic pain anyway just to greet one of us when we arrive home. About a year or so ago she lost her hearing, but she still looks to our faces when we talk to her, trying to read our body language. Dutifully she barks when she realizes someone is at the door, often after the fact since she can’t hear the doorbell. Despite her old age and accompanying health issues, she regularly proves she still has a will to live when she rolls around on her toys or attempts to chase a bunny in the yard.

In the past couple of years Charlee has had a number of ailments, but the most serious were pancreatitis and bladder stones. We thought each would be a fatal blow, but she survived. The pancreatitis was especially troublesome because Charlee is a very finicky eater. Unlike other dogs who will vacuum up anything you put in front of them, Charlee won’t touch most foods. It’s a struggle on a good day to get her to eat. So when she’s sick, it becomes much more complicated. As a result of the pancreatitis, we have to make sure she never goes more than eight hours without eating something. You’d think it would be easy to get a dog to eat. If she’s not in the mood to eat, Charlee will run away when she sees one of us preparing her food. She’s a small dog—something she despises in moments like these—so we’ll go after her and drag her out of her hiding spot and carry her over to her food bowl. Often we hand feed her every bite, sometimes shoving the food into her mouth. It’s not a fun struggle.

Around Thanksgiving Charlee came down with a bladder infection—common in old lady dogs—that just wouldn’t go away. The first antibiotics she was prescribed hurt her stomach. We understood this only by her moans and the fact that no matter what we did she refused to eat. There was a great debate in our house about whether this was Charlee’s last stand. Why force food on the poor old dog if she’s ready to be done with her struggle? But as we argued this, she would go charge into the living room and roll around on her toys and crouch down asking us to play with her. Her will to live is as strong as ever. So we gave up our fight and gave Charlee exactly what she wanted. Chicken and ground beef. It was a relief because she wants to eat it and we no longer have to hand feed her or shove the food down her throat. The vet said to mix in rice with it, but Charlee quickly learned to pick out the meat from the rice. So now we don’t even bother with the rice. She just finished up a second round of antibiotics and got the all clear from the vet.

Our family has agreed that Charlee is at the end of her life and our duty now is to make her last days—whether they be weeks or months—as comfortable and as happy as possible. Even though we know a diet of chicken and hamburger will cause a return of the pancreatitis, that’s what Charlee wants to eat so that’s what she’s getting. And we’re putting her on a doggy anti-anxiety med to help her manage her separation anxiety when we’re at work during the day and her “sundowning” behaviors at night. So long as Charlee continues to roll on her toys and chase bunnies, we’ll do our part to keep her alive. She has a strong will to live.

Life is a struggle. Literally.

On the other hand, in contrast to Charlee, is the daily struggle with my husband who thinks he’s dying and who is on the fence about whether or not he wants to live. Granted he is 73 years old and has a lot of health issues, some of them very serious, but he’s a long way from dying. That doesn’t matter because he has given up. He sits in a chair all day watching TV, smoking cigars, drinking sugar-filled sodas, and eating anything he wants. I stopped buying most of the foods and beverages he likes a long time ago but that only caused him to go to the store and buy those foods on his own. (Hey, at least he got out of his chair and away from the TV.) But it also gave him cause to complain that I no longer love him since I won’t give him what he wants. He has pointed out on numerous occasions that I give the dog what she wants but not my husband.

This last year has been one of the worst for my husband. He came down with an upper respiratory infection in April that turned violent and eventually the infection affected his heart rhythm. All these months later he’s still being doctored for it and has to take several pills each day to prevent a stroke or heart attack. At the time he was prescribed all these medicines he was too sick to manage the details so I did. I bought him two pill boxes—one for morning, one for evening—to make it easier for him. He often forgets to take the meds, even though the pill boxes are always right next to where he eats his meals. If I remind him, he complains that I’m “hen pecking” him. When he does remember, he loudly complains about how he hates to take pills. To me, him taking his pills is a matter of life or death.

It’s obvious he battles depression and he is being treated for that. But what happened this year is he was faced with his mortality for the first time in his life. Amazing given how old he is. But when others slam the door on Death’s face, he seems to have decided to leave the door open and think about how easy it would be to just step across the threshold. I cannot begin to understand the value in contemplating that thought when the truth is there is a lot of life left to live, but it’s going to take a little effort. It’s the effort part that prevents my husband from getting out of his chair.    

Right after Thanksgiving he came down with a chest cold. It was a common cold, nothing near as bad as what he had last spring. But with his heart issues, any sickness can quickly become life threatening. With all the meds that he takes, he’s limited in what he can buy over the counter to treat a cold. I suggested several times that he go see the doctor to get something for his cough but he refused. He did go to his regularly scheduled checkup with his cardiologist and learned his heart was not in a correct rhythm again. His meds were changed and now he’s back in a regular rhythm but he still has this cold. In the evening when we’re watching a movie on TV, he’ll sit in his chair and open his mouth and wheeze loudly to get my attention. I reached a point of having no patience and asked him, “What do you want me to do? Do you want my pity? My sympathy?” He didn’t answer. Later he told me he doesn’t think I love him anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want him to have a strong will to live. I want him to rise above all his aches and pains just to see another day come. I want him to have the same character that Charlee Girl has. But I can’t force him to go to the doctor and get an inhaler to make it easier to breathe. I can’t make him get out of his chair and exercise. I tried controlling the food brought into this house and that didn’t work. I can’t change his behaviors any more than I can force him to want to live. It breaks my heart that he doesn’t feel motivated to make his life better so he can live longer and we can be together longer.

My parents died when they were young so I’ve never witnessed these end of life issues up close. It’s a daily emotional struggle to watch my dog desperately fighting nature and illness in order to have one more roll around the floor with her toys while my husband sits in his chair whining about how life is unfair and he wants it all to be done so he can feel better.

This last year has given me a new appreciation for caregivers and for people who truly are at the end of their lives. I pray my heart withstands the loss of my Charlee Girl when the time comes. And I pray my patience and love will be strong enough to foster my husband into a better frame of mind so we can have many more years together.

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Number Three

The winter of 1991 came early with a three-day blizzard beginning on Halloween dropping nearly thirty inches of snow. As is usually the case after a nasty storm like that, the following days were filled with sunshine and brutal cold. And, as luck would have it, I caught a cold. Given that I was about 34 weeks pregnant, I couldn’t take any serious cold medicine, and so over the course of the next few weeks the cold turned into a cough turned into bronchitis. I had nothing within me to fight it. All I could do was wait for the baby to be born and then hit hard with antibiotics. At least, that was my plan.

My doctor had other ideas. He knew how tired I was from being sick and from getting ready for the holidays and he worried I wouldn’t have the strength to deliver the baby on my own. Ha! I was determined to deliver that baby or die, probably the exact thing the doctor was concerned about. And, the doctor had another concern. The two of us had been patient-doctor for fourteen years and because my previous two babies had come into the world too rapidly for him to attend in person, I think he was defending his pride a little and didn’t want a third strike. So a history of rapid delivery combined with a sick momma and a doctor taking a personal stand resulted in the doctor ordering an inducement for December 9.

On one hand I didn’t want to be induced. It wasn’t natural. I thought we would be messing with both Mother Nature and the Divine and I just wanted no part of that. On the other, I was too sick to care. By December 2, I was not getting any better and so the doctor told me to start taking Sudafed. He also told me his colleagues thought December 9 was too early to induce and they wanted to give me a few more days to feel better, so it was pushed back to December 16. One problem. That day was my second daughter’s birthday and I didn’t choose to have the kids share the same birthday. The doctor consulted with his colleagues and they agreed to change the date, to Friday, December 13, 1991. No! Not on a Friday the Thirteenth! My doctor laughed at me. This man who knew so much about me couldn’t believe I was superstitious. He gave me a lecture combining science and religion and basically delivered the message that I had no choice.

Funny how life likes to throw you a curve ball when you think you’ve outsmarted Mother Nature. With the morning of December 12 came a fever of 101 degrees, sore throat, chills, and a very irritated digestive system. Basically, I had a very nasty cold and stomach flu. I was so afraid that if I didn’t get better fast the doctor would cancel the inducement. My husband had worked the third shift the night before so he was sleeping. I sent my oldest daughter to school and then laid on the couch while my four-year-old played around me. At lunchtime I ate some soup and then woke up my husband to take care of our youngest. I crawled into bed and tried to rest as best I could.

At 1:30 the phone rang and the township needed my husband to go out and plow and sand the roads. Nothing was happening with me, so he left. Ten minutes later the school called to let me know my oldest daughter was now sick. I couldn’t go get her, so I arranged for my in-laws to go pick her up. When she got home, I put her on the couch and told her little sister to play doctor and make her big sister feel better. I went back to bed.

At 3:00 I started to feel some kind of pains. Because there wasn’t any pattern to them, I told myself it was just more false labor. Within a half hour, it was clear these were contractions and they were consistently ten minutes apart. But they just didn’t feel like the real deal, so I wasn’t too concerned.

At 3:45, my husband came home and we talked for a while about what to do. We decided I should call the doctor and let him know what was going on. So at 4:30 I called and left a message and the doctor called back right away. He wanted me to come in as soon as I could get to the clinic. So we tracked down my niece who was going to be our sitter and she came to our house. We headed out at 5:15 but the clinic was now closed so we went to the hospital. The doctor was waiting for us and he checked me right away. By that time my contractions were six minutes apart but still very tolerable. I wasn’t dilated any more than I had been at my previous appointment—about one and a half. He told us to go in the lobby and wait an hour. So we did.

During that time the contractions got closer and closer but I still wasn’t in any pain. I knew I wasn’t in active labor. At 7:00 the doctor came out to check on things and my contractions were staying consistent at three minutes apart. He decided to admit me. That took a while but finally I was in a bed with a fetal monitor, contractions still at three minutes apart and fever still at 101. As I laid there and relaxed, the contractions got weaker. I tried to sit up to keep gravity on my side but that didn’t seem to help. The doctor checked in with me around 10:00 and said he was spending the night in the hospital to be close by. He was convinced I would have the baby by morning.

It was a quiet night but I wasn’t getting any rest. Everyone knows you don’t go to the hospital to sleep. About 3:30 in the morning my fever broke and the contractions stopped completely. I was so disappointed, and so worried that they would call off the inducement.

The doctor came in to see me again in his morning rounds and we talked about how neither one of us got much sleep, and how disappointed we both were that the baby was being so stubborn. The doctor was reluctant to continue with the planned inducement but I argued that my fever had gone and I was already on the schedule for it. He agreed.

I was eager to get the show on the road but it wasn’t until 11:00 when the nursed hooked me up to an IV with Pitocin. Within a half hour contractions started. Things were going well and by 1:30 contractions were again three minutes apart. But at 2:00 things started to slow down and an hour later the nurse discovered the IV pump wasn’t working properly. She consulted with the doctor and he said I needed to start all over with the minimum dose. With the afternoon shift change, the new nurse was determined to bring a baby into the world and she was shocked at the “off the charts” contractions my body was having as shown on the monitor printout, except I wasn’t feeling anything at all. I was as relaxed as one could be given the circumstances. Even though I hadn’t slept, I did feel better from being so well hydrated but the nurses were getting a bit peeved with how often I needed to use the bathroom. With the IV, the contraction monitor, and the baby’s heart monitor, it wasn’t a quick or easy process and not one I could do on my own.

Evening arrived with no baby. I wasn’t progressing—dilated only to a 3—and the nurse was growing concerned about how long I had been receiving the Pitocin. She said I wasn’t uncomfortable enough. At 8:00 the nurse said she would give me one more hour and then turn everything off and send me home. Every fifteen minutes she amped up the dosage but still no progress. I was so depressed and frustrated and tired. Even so, as tired as I was, I quickly discovered I still had energy to fight. The nurse was resigned to the fact that I would be sent home and I refused. I told her I was a walking time bomb now that they had messed with nature and I insisted I was going to stay there until a baby came, if it took a week. The nurse and I argued and she said she’d have to consult with the doctor. I was so disappointed. And frightened. I was convinced the baby would be born at home on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night. We had gotten lucky the first time that had happened. I didn’t think we’d be as lucky a second time.

And then, at 8:55, I felt and heard something pop inside me and I felt the baby fall. Instantly I felt the hormonal switch in my body turn on, just as if someone had entered the room and turned on the lights. I told my husband to call the nurse. He didn’t believe me. I had to ask him a couple of times and finally he went and got the nurse. She came in a few minutes later and I told her to check me. She didn’t believe me either but she checked just the same. As soon as she inserted her fingers, the bag of waters gushed out and the nurse swore.

Immediately I was in hard labor. I was still only dilated to a 3, but I knew things would go very fast now and so I asked the nurse where the doctor was. He had gone home for supper. I told her to trust me and to call the doctor back to the hospital. I was somewhat surprised that she did as I asked.

Another ten minutes passed and the nurse came in to tell me the doctor had arrived and would be in to see me in a few minutes. I was in the middle of a hard contraction. I could see the shock on her face. Twenty minutes later I had an urge to push and breathed through it. Two more times I was able to breathe through the pushing urge but I knew I wouldn’t be able to for much longer. I called the nurse again and told her to check me again. She really didn’t want to but I kept insisting. I knew I had to be at a 10. Whatever I said or did to convince her, she finally checked and she smiled ear to ear. “You are amazing!”

An alert was put out for the room. I was ready but they weren’t. The bed had to be prepared and supplies put in place. All the while I fought the urge to push. I was too tired to stop it. And it was unlike anything I had experienced before. I knew it had to be the effects of the Pitocin. Finally the doctor came in and he told me to go ahead and push. The urge to push was so strong that I couldn’t tell if there was a contraction. It was like my body was in one solid, long contraction. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle any more pain, the baby was born, at 10:04 p.m. on Friday, the Thirteenth of December, 1991.

Another girl. Beautiful. Dark brown hair, almost black. Gorgeous eyes with very long lashes and perfectly formed lips. At seven pounds, nine ounces she was the smallest of my babies. I was so relieved she was born in the hospital, and so grateful everything worked out as it should. She was our second child to be born just before Christmas. As I held her in my arms and welcomed her to the world, I was reminded that there is no greater blessing, no greater connection to the reason for the season.

Are you passionate?

I’ve never thought of myself as a passionate person. I don’t know why not, I just never have. At times in my life people have teased me about “getting my Irish up” but I never made the connection to passion. I always felt it was their way of telling me I needed to be mindful of my frustration and to toe the line.

Yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter Rose. We were talking about my current battle with depression and she rightly pointed out all the things that are out of balance in my life. She brought to mind the ongoing battle I face in keeping communication channels open amongst my four daughters. She honored the love I have for my husband and the nurturing I’ve provided for the last six months as he’s fought heart health issues. She called me a patriot and mentioned how I’ve been upset for nearly a year about the fact that our country elected a man without integrity or morals. And she recognized the stress I carry every day in my quest to dig out of an enormous financial hole that is almost ten years old. She brought to mind many things in my life that I feel passionately about and how nearly all of those things are in a state of weakness or under attack. She called me passionate.

Webster’s declares a passionate person as one who is capable of, affected by, or expressing intense feeling and defines passion as intense, driving, or overmastering of feeling or conviction.

In a sense, it is humbling to be known as someone driven by conviction. For my whole life I’ve thought of such people as heroes. Mother Teresa was a woman of conviction. She was criticized for many things but praised for her service to those with AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis and for her life-long devotion to the poorest of the poor. John McCain is a man of conviction. His duty and honor to others outshines anyone else I can think of in recent service to our country. His ability to survive five torturous years as a POW speaks of his courage and character. These are two examples of my heroes. Two people passionate about their beliefs that they took action impacting many.

To be driven by your convictions means you face challenges despite your fears. It means you make a decision for the good of the whole and take action despite a rapidly and ever-changing world around you. It means you are strong despite your weariness and the hardships you face. You are passionate.

It is an honor to have one of my daughters recognize that I am also one driven by my convictions, that I am passionate.

Unfinished Business

For the last several years, the changing colors of the leaves triggers me to ask my four daughters, “When can we get together for Christmas?” Every time I ask that question, no matter how I preface it, how I disguise it, the question becomes a catalyst for a civil war among the daughters. I almost didn’t ask the question this year—it’s been such a godawful year for my husband and me—but duty called. I’d like to report there was a different response this year but I’d be lying. In fact, the ache of disappointment is greater than it has ever been.

Going through this drama each autumn, I’ve come to know that there are a lot of people out there who do not talk to siblings and a few who don’t even talk to their parents. Having spent seventy-five percent (or three quarters, and that’s not an exaggeration) of my life without parents, I would give anything to have my mom and dad back for just one day, or even one hour. I cannot fathom any circumstance that would cause a child to choose not to talk to his or her parents. It is beyond my comprehension even though I know it happens.

Siblings, on the other hand, are different. I am the youngest of eight and there are a couple of my siblings that I do not talk to more than once or twice a year. And when we do talk, the conversation is stilted and awkward. If we were not siblings, there’s not a chance in the world those people would be included in my inner circle of friends.  So as it regards siblings, I have empathy for my four daughters. They did not choose to be related. However, I know without a doubt, if my parents were alive, all of us would be there for Christmas.

In the midst of the civil war that erupted about ten days ago, my daughters Rose and Emily debated the definition of family. Daughter Kate’s husband is allergic to cats and Kate’s house is the only one without a feline. So Kate wants to have Christmas at her house, which happens to be more than two hours away from everyone else. Rose suggested Kate hand out Benadryl and get her family to my house to celebrate the holiday. Emily accused Rose of being insensitive and said “family doesn’t treat family like that.” And so it went.

The thing that is most troubling for me is the fact that all four of my daughters gather at their dad’s house on Christmas Eve and at their grandmother’s house on Christmas Day. “We’ve always done it this way.” So when their dad and I divorced, I compromised and held my Christmas celebration on other days. When really didn’t matter to me. We’ve gathered as early as the first weekend in December and as late as the middle of January. It’s the gathering of my four daughters with me that matters. So why can they gather at other people’s houses but not at mine? Why can they agree to gather as a group with other family but they can’t agree to gather with me? What do I bring or not bring to the equation?

It’s a riddle I’ve been trying to solve for years with no success. The older I get, the greater the disappointment and the deeper the hurt. I have the wisdom of knowing I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. My four daughters can’t comprehend that at their young ages. And since they have yet to lose a parent or a sibling, they have no comprehension of how life turns on a dime, how short our lives actually are.

Oldest daughter Kate is now 32. She’s a mother herself and plenty old enough to understand unconditional love, and yet it’s Kate who is the biggest antagonist. This year she drew a line and will not be celebrating Christmas with me and her sisters, prompting Rose to call her a “self-righteous, self-centered, holier-than-thou bitch.” Like that would help.

Holidays are always so stressful, so filled with emotions. We battle the stress of buying presents, telling ourselves we’ll deal with the overspending in January. We exhaust ourselves by hurrying and scurrying while getting everything ready for the ultimate December 25 deadline. We fight disappointment at not getting something we wanted or frustration and anger when a somewhat inebriated sister-in-law says, “Wow, I didn’t know you were pregnant. When are you due?” With all the noise in the mix, it’s no surprise that we lower priorities with family. Family is loved ones, safe, reliable. If family gets hurt feelings, they’ll still be family a month from now and you can circle back and say, “Hey, sorry about that. I was having a bad day.” But I’m here to tell you that sometimes, you can’t circle back.

Reading Between the Behaviors

As part of my job, I am required to complete extensive training each year on a variety of topics but usually on the laws and regulations that govern the industry in which I work. This month’s training was on the topic of culture and identity, a slightly different topic from the norm but important nevertheless since my employer takes ethics very seriously and instills a culture of inclusion for all of its employees.

Two questions were asked to begin the training: What identity do you have? How many cultures do you belong to? Simple answers are the first things that come to mind but the real answers are much more complex. For example, in terms of identity I think of myself as a wife, mother, grandmother. Those are my first thoughts. But I also can identify as sister, youngest sibling, aunt, working woman, baby boomer, survivor, writer. Actually, there are many more labels that can be applied depending on the context I find myself in when needing to self-identify.

The culture thing was a little trickier for me. When asked how many cultures I am a part of, I naively answered one. As it turns out, I am a part of several since I am a white, college graduate, middle-aged, employed, married, hearing-impaired, female, American. Each one of those characteristics places me into a unique group. And each one of those groups to which I belong has its own rules and values that drive my behaviors. If a culture values hard work, behaviors will look like focusing on goals, being organized and determined, striving for success. If a culture values family, behaviors will look like respecting elders, honoring parents, offering support and encouragement to siblings.

As “one nation”, the United States is a diverse blend of communities and cultures, all sharing experiences and common influences. Our lives are governed by the same laws, systems, and processes, and yet we behave in ways that we learned from our cultural identities, based on who we identify as and how important certain values are to us.

Think of the community in which you live. How many cultures are reflected in that community? How different are the values and behaviors among all of the cultures that exist? Do you consider your community successful? Do cultures co-exist easily or is there a constant tension?

What happens when a culture is mired in despair and hopelessness, if common values are focused around the mere act to survive? How does a community blend that set of values with the values of its other cultures that don’t have to worry about survival and instead focus on achievements and success? Can members of “successful” cultures even comprehend the lives of those in other cultures just trying to live to see another day?

Cultural differences influence how we are treated simply in how others identify us or in how we self-identify. As a white person I never thought I would be subjected to profiling in America. It never used to matter that I was a woman. I was told I could grow up to be anything I wanted and I taught my daughters the same thing. But things changed during last year’s presidential campaigns and election. The Women’s March and other protests caused some men to start treating me differently, labeling me emotional, hysterical even, simply because I am a female and despite the fact that I didn’t participate in any of those events. As a citizen of the United States, I never thought I would live in a country ruled by a dictator. I still don’t, but the fear is real now when before I couldn’t imagine it. Right before my very eyes I’ve witnessed the man in the office of President of the United States knowingly lie and mislead people, blatantly and strategically breaking ethical and moral bounds if not legal ones. If a culture begins to allow lies and deceits and ambiguity, what rules and values do those behaviors create?

I am embarrassed to admit I am married to someone who defends Trump’s every word. I try to justify it by saying my husband doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand women, he’s from the “old school”. But what do my words and my behavior say to the culture of women to which I belong? When my husband defends Trump by saying it’s within the President’s authority to pardon anyone he wants, what does that say about the values and rules we have in our home?

I am an American. I am a woman. Nothing will change those identities. But I have fear today that I didn’t have a year ago, that I never imagined I would feel, ever. How do I stay a member of my cultural groups when their values and behaviors are changing in catastrophic ways that I disagree with? These sweeping changes carry the potential to destroy the America I love and crack the foundation of my marriage and my home. How does one maneuver through a minefield like the one that has sprouted up around us?

Inner Voice

Call it intuition, or conscience, or knowing, or being in touch with the Universe. The fact is, many people hear an inner voice. Of those who do, some consider it a gift while others call it a curse. For some people the voice is loud and can’t be turned off. Others struggle to hear it because it is so quiet.

I’ve been aware of my inner voice for as long as I can remember. At times it’s been loud but mostly it’s been quiet and subtle. I have to strain sometimes to hear it and even then I don’t always interpret the message accurately. When I was younger the voice scared me. No one in my life ever talked about having an inner voice and I was afraid to say anything about mine out of fear that it would confirm my worst fear—that I was crazy. Over time I learned to trust my inner voice, understanding it was trying to guide me. I also discovered that I cannot will it to speak. On my darkest days I would call upon it to tell me what to do but the voice would be silent. It only spoke when it wanted to speak. I guess that’s the curse of my inner voice.

At times I’ve found it quite a struggle to interpret my inner voice’s message. Some messages made no sense at all so I would ask for more details only to be met with silence. Some messages were very clear but completely illogical and not anything I would ever consider acting upon. Once in a while I’d hit the jackpot and get a clearly communicated message that gave me the guidance I needed so that I could take action and find myself in a better place. Those moments are affirmation that I need to continue to listen and trust. And there have been enough of them to prove my inner voice is not just a coincidence and not a whimsy message being tugged through my brain like an ad being pulled through the air by a small plane. And so there’s the rub. My inner voice has been proven. It’s not one hundred percent accurate—or perhaps it’s more correct to say my interpretations are not always accurate—but it’s been correct enough times that it cannot be discarded nor ignored. So I’ve learned to hear and interpret the message to the best of my ability and take appropriate action.

For the last several weeks my inner voice has repeatedly told me I need to clean house, as in declutter and get rid of all the extra stuff sitting around. We have a big house and there’s a lot of extra stuff. It embarrasses me tremendously to admit it, but there are about one hundred boxes in our basement that haven’t been touched since the day we moved in ten years ago. Many of them are files from my husband’s career, correspondence and other papers, some of which have value. The only one who can really determine the valuable papers from those that need to go in the trash is my husband, and unfortunately he’s not too thrilled with my Decluttering Project. Other boxes contain a lot of knick-knacks and household goods that were extras and duplicates from having blended two households. These are easy for me to go through, but it still takes time. And I know some of these items are things my daughters will want. So I’m being careful to go through everything with them in mind. It’s a big project and it’s going to take a while. But I’ve started it, and I’ll keep working at it. The message was loud and clear: Just do it!

Needless to say there is a humungous mess in my basement that can’t be hidden from my family and some of them have been asking me questions. One of my daughters understands the concept of an inner voice and I believe she hears one as well. So it was easy to explain to her that I’m doing it because my inner voice told me to. She doesn’t question that. But my other daughters and my husband don’t believe in inner voices and they have become alarmed and want to know the Why. And that’s a problem because I don’t know why, other than I am feeling a very strong “demand” that I do this now and to get it done quickly. I have speculated about the Why and a couple of possible answers scare me (and my husband as well) so I’m going to ignore them. Instead I’ve done my best to placate my family by explaining this is long overdue and I’m tired of tripping over boxes. While that reasoning isn’t necessarily a lie, I know I don’t believe it so why should they. And they don’t. So I’ve taken another approach, and that’s answering a question with an even more important question.

Why does any household need eight extra sets of sheets, three wine decanter sets, five different sets of wine glasses (along with an assortment of matching sets of twos and threes), two punch bowl sets, eighteen flower vases, three dozen mismatched coffee mugs, thirteen kitchen aprons, and two room-sized rugs unrolled for ten years?

It’s the last item that gets them distracted and they forget about the Why. “You’ve been hiding not one but two room-sized rugs? What do they look like? How big are they? Can I have one?”

Good Heart Goes Bad

April 23. It seems a lifetime ago. I’ll always remember it because it was the day after the wedding of my third daughter (which is a story in and of itself and I’m still trying to put words to paper about it). It was a gorgeous morning. My husband and I got up early, a rarity for him, and we treated ourselves to breakfast at a popular restaurant. Hubby said he didn’t feel well. Not sick really, just not well. I attributed it to the few hours’ sleep he had gotten. We went home and he took a long nap, then woke up with a cough. It started out as a typical chest cold but within just a few days he was as white as a walking ghost, with so little energy he could barely make it to the bathroom and back to bed. He wasn’t dead so it took some serious arguments before he agreed to go see a doctor.

He came home with an inhaler and some cough medicine. Another week passed and he was even worse. He was coughing so hard he would pass out. Again we argued and my words that “this isn’t normal” finally got him to go back to the doctor. Chest X-rays were all clear, but he came home with antibiotics. And in a few days he had improved. Hurray!

But it wasn’t lasting. As soon as he finished up with the meds he slipped back into a raging respiratory illness. He had to sleep sitting up because of his cough. I had to force liquids on him because he had no appetite. He was sleeping (in a chair) all but just a few hours each day and still he wasn’t improving. He went back to the doctor. Even though it had only been two weeks, the doctor ordered more chest X-rays. Still everything was “clear”. So where was all the phlegm coming from? He was given a different medicine to help with the cough.

As viruses are so wont to do, now it was my turn to be sick. Instead of a chest cold, I got a head cold. And it knocked me flat on my back. I ran a high fever and could barely heat up chicken broth for the two of us. I dragged myself to the doctor and got antibiotics for a sinus infection. I couldn’t function for five or six days. We had food delivered or we ate prepackaged junk. Finally I felt strong enough (or desperate enough) to get to the store for “sick” provisions like Gatorade, Jell-O, chicken noodle soup, canned fruit, ice cream. All that sugar gave me some energy and I came back alive. Not so hubby.

All in all I was sick for about five weeks. I was completely non-functional for about seven days during that time. The rest of the days I worked—mostly from home because I couldn’t stand the dirty looks my coworkers gave me the one day I went into the office and coughed all day.

On the first Sunday in June—six weeks after Hubby came down with his cold—he woke up and told me he was short of breath. It was a new and scary development so I insisted we go to the ER. Because he could still walk and talk, he refused to go. We argued all day. At 3:30 in the afternoon, he finally agreed to go. The ER nurse asked what brought us in. We explained about the respiratory infection and shortness of breath. The nurse took just one minute to check his vitals and said, “You might have come in for your respiratory infection, but I don’t care about that right now. You’re in a-fib and we’re admitting you.” My husband and I looked at each other. WTH?

He spent two nights in the hospital. They ran up a humongous bill of tests and more tests. He came home with ten different medicines to take and a day calendar to remind us of the time each needed to be taken. The good news from the tests is Hubby has a good heart. There is no blockage, no leakage, no bad valves. It’s all good. It just has an “electricity” problem. The top part of his heart thinks he’s running a marathon and the bottom part of his heart thinks he’s sitting in a chair watching TV. The two parts aren’t communicating properly. Seems like a pretty simple problem to solve. Not quite.

It’s now more than eleven weeks since my husband first got sick and he’s still in a-fib. We’ve learned a lot about this condition and we’ve met several fantastic nurses and a few good docs. (They all look so young!!) Today Hubby had a cardioversion procedure, in which they shocked his heart to try to get it to go back into a normal rhythm. It didn’t work. They tried three times—their maximum attempts.

Hubby is not a happy camper at all. I’m relieved and thrilled he’s still alive. What a pair the two of us make! We have no idea what the next step is, other than he has an appointment with his cardiologist at the end of the month. So we’ll continue living in limbo for a couple more weeks.

My husband told me years ago when we were dating that he came from a bloodline with good hearts and people living long lives. I told him that was a good thing because I was going to need him to watch over me when Alzheimer’s hits because that’s what is hiding in my genes. Over the years we’ve had good times and bad, happy days and frustrating days when I was so miffed with him I couldn’t say anything nice. There’s nothing like a good health scare to bring it all into focus. My husband does have a good heart and I want him to stay with me for many, many more years. I think we’ll be acknowledging treasures more often in each of our limbo days.