dinnertime…

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It’s my favorite part of the day.

The evening is winding down.  Books are scattered across the table as my studious child is bent over a book, brow furrowed in concentration. The other one is running in and out, doors slamming, as he tries to sneak past me once again. The dogs are watching, waiting for a small morsel to drop. I am laughing as I try swatting at my son to stay out of the pantry. He rushes just out of reach, a triumphant smile across his face.

It’s almost time for dinner.

The sound of onions and mushrooms sautéing in the pan. Fluid motions of chopping, the rhythmic sound of the knife slicing and dicing. With the flick of a wrist, the food is absorbing the heat and sizzle and beginning to meld into a meal. The smells are wafting into the house, and the sounds of laughter are mingling with the sounds of footsteps. My children are gathering around the table. Dinner is almost ready.

Matthew sits patiently, quietly. His chair turned towards me.  He loves to watch me cook. I know this about him.

Even on days when I barely have the energy to move, if my children are gathered around the table and I am cooking, I am in my happy place.

It was a subtle sound.  I didn’t even hear it at first.

As I am setting the table, my back is turned as I am dishing up pasta into a serving bowl.  My focus on gathering everything to take to the table.

There it is again.

I glance up, twisting my neck to see behind me.

Matthew’s face is red. His eyes are bulging.

He is sputtering.

Kaden and Peyton’s eyes widen.

My son jumps up.

Matt, are you ok?”  I can hear the panic in his little voice.

I set everything in my arms down, but Kaden is already rushing off towards the bedroom. Peyton is standing up out of her chair, unsure of what she can do to help.  I am walking quickly towards the bedroom, ready to grab the machine if Kaden is struggling.

Matthews face has gone from red to purple. He is trying to cough, but there is no sound.  A small wheezing gasp is all that can be heard.

Kaden comes running towards me, cough assist in hand. I can see the look of terror on his face as he glances from Matthew to me.

I smile, trying to reassure him that Matthew will be fine.

I press the “on” button, balancing the machine against my thigh, as I juggle the hose and mouthpiece.  It is taking forever to switch on.  I slowly count to three out loud. More for Matthew’s sake, to help him to remain calm and that he will be able to breathe again soon, than for myself.

One….Two…Three

Finally, the “swoosh” sound begins, indicating it is ready.

Matthew leans towards me, pushing his face into the plastic covering that encompasses his nose and mouth. The familiar sound as the machine forces the air in…then out fills the air.

After several deep breathes, Matthew leans back into his chair, relief across his features.  His face is still red. Tears streaming down his cheeks.  Snot dripping from his nose.

I set the machine down, grab a rag and begin to clean him.

This is automatic.  This is not the first time he has choked on his own spit….and it will not be the last.

I glance at my children, frozen in place. I give Peyton an encouraging glance and ask her to keep telling me about her day. Looks of terror on their little faces slowly dissipate and I can see their chest begin to rise.  They are only now realizing that they were holding their breathe.

And just like that, life returns to normal.

Our normal.

“So” I say, “What was the best part of your day?”

San Fran or Bust!

ALS Fact of the Day~

San Francisco or Bust!

Inverness, CA is solitude and beauty and quiet in a way that I have not experienced in years.  I want more, but I will be content with the few minutes I was able to enjoy before I was needed by the tiny travelers and the big guy. There is a part of me that could stay here forever, watching the tide ebb and flow with the seasons.  I must admit, the food and the local market leave much to be desired, but seriously…when was the last time you sat outside and listened to absolute quiet?  Just the gentle lapping of waves as they caress the shore.  No cars, no loud brakes or honking or engines revving.  It was peaceful.  I desperately want to come back someday.

Check out time is noon, which should give me enough time to shower Matthew, clean out the van and get re-packed.  The entire process should only take me a couple hours, but the kids are happy to watch a movie, and Matthew is laying back resting. And I don’t want to be the drill sergeant ruining the peaceful setting. So I wait…almost patiently.

The night before, I had tried to lay Matthew on the bed, with pillows all around, under his head, his arms and legs.  However, sometime in the middle of the night, the pain was too much.  So, once again, I get up, trying desperately not to wake the kids as I grab the lift and put him back in his chair.  His knees and hips are hurting, regardless of what position he is in lately, so it means a lot of moving, and stretching and trying new ways to make an impossible situation bearable.

Finally!  At 12:00 pm, we load up and are ready to hit the road.  Everyone is in good spirits once again, and I suggest we get gas and a good meal before we attempt anymore of Hwy 1.  Our navigator thinks it would be better to get down the road a bit more. ( I silently disagree with his assessment, but I let him make the decisions, as he is the one who planned all of this!)

So begins the swerving, and curving..the topsy-turving.  In and out, and all around, we roll from side to side.  The kids begin complaining of headaches, and belly aches.  My arm hurts from holding Matthew steady.  Still, he wants to move onward.

Where the redwoods stood tall and proud behind us, the trees that come around the bend are different.  The only way to explain them is as if you were to take all the different kinds of trees from across the land, and then toss them haphazardly across the landscape.  There are trees that are leafy, that reach over across the highway to touch the fingers of the trees of their lovers across the road. It was almost as if they couldn’t bare to be apart, and even the simplest of touches would have to suffice.

The next trees were lined up, one-by-one, along the road, in an almost military style, as if they were saluting the cars as they passed by, standing proud and strong at attention.  Next were the trees that were a bit too lazy to make the effort to create strong branches. Instead, they had vines and moss that were hanging from limb to limb, as if with a small smile and a happy gesture to say welcome, but they were not going to offer any shade.

We were down to an eighth of a tank of gas again, and everyone was getting hangry. I have such happy memories of S.F. and I can’t wait to show them the sights!  But, my anxiety at letting the gas gauge get that low, and the kids are noisily munching on the last of the bags of baked chips and popcorn.

Matthew keeps repeating, “Its about the journey, not the destination.”

I know!

But I really want to get to our hotel room and then explore and it is already 2:00 pm.

We see the Golden Gate Bridge. I reroute us so we can get closer, but hauling a trailer behind us is proving to be difficult in a tourist hot spot.

We agree getting to the room and then coming back would be better.  I am getting antsy. I don’t want to be in the van anymore! I want to be out, walking around and seeing things!

We navigate our way through the back streets towards the Fisherman’s Wharf.  Only one problem…. The valet won’t take a vehicle with a trailer.

I have the kids unload everything, and I have them all go in and check in and get things to the room while I navigate the parking arrangement.

Each parking lot within a four-block radius refuses to let me in.

It is so bad, in fact, that they come running and won’t let me even enter.  They yell at me that I can’t park there, and they send me on my way.  One man glares at me, putting his body between the barrier and my can. All I can do is ask as politely as possible, and know that the prison system in California frowns against running over people for no reason. So I smile and back out into honking traffic.  Each place looks at me as if I have two heads for even attempting to bring a trailer downtown.

There was a moment, when one of the garage attendants was telling me to go away, that I almost started to cry.  It was close, but since I only cry when I am truly desperate, I backed that trailer up, in the middle of rush hour traffic like a true Mountain Woman, and short of telling him to piss off, I drove away with my head held high.

Until I parked and went into the hotel and saw their faces.

The kids were so sad.

I don’t know what is worse. The fact that they were ecstatic over the size of the large bathroom, so I would be able to help Matthew, and we had to leave, or the fact that they had to go back up to the room and load it all back up, while I brought the van and trailer around.

People are often unaware of what it takes to find accessible locations. I can’t say it was ever anything I ever would have considered during my life before ALS.  But, now, it is constant. I look at stairs, and steps, and dips and holes, I am constantly navigating and judging if it is something we can do.  Most times, we are unable to venture out to the highlighted attractions simply because Matthew lacks legs that can take him up or down a few steps.

I refuse to let this ruin our day.

I pull the kids off to the side of the trailer after we have loaded it back up again.  The damn valets and hotel guests can take a flying leap as far as I am concerned.

I kneel down, and I hug each of them and I tell them how much I love them and how proud of them I am.  Not once did they complain or become rude.  They did what was asked of them, even when they were disappointed. Not many kids could hold it together as well as they have today.  I told them that things weren’t always going to go as planned, but that we could only do the best we could do and go from there.

So off we were, once again.  A hotel booked about an hour south from here.  With the idea we would return in the morning.

I don’t know if I should thank San Francisco for permanently scarring my children to the effects of drugs and prostitution, but they got a pretty good idea of what it leads to.  As our safari bus tried to make its way out of the city, we went from light to light, witnessing drug deals, people literally leaning against the building to use the restroom…and I don’t mean #1!  There were people talking to themselves, and people dressed up in various outfits.  I tried to explain that some people were not given the same chances or advantages that others are given, and others become broken through a lifetime of bad choices.

They seemed oblivious to the seriousness of what was happening around them, and as we went up the steep embankments and then down again, I couldn’t help but laugh so hard I was snorting.  The kids were freaking out at the almost 70-degree incline (so not joking here!) and I was literally trying not to crash as I help with one arm to keep Matthew from slamming his head into the dashboard on the way back down.  Brakes are good!  I know, because I was on them for quite a while!

But alls well, that ends well.  I managed to drive us through the city and to our hotel in San Mateo, where they are above and beyond accommodating!

We have hotels figured out for the next six days, and now we will attempt to see San Francisco once again..this time without a trailer in tow, as we will be leaving it behind to navigate a bit easier!

Some important life lessens here:

  1. Don’t do Drugs! They do scramble your brains!
  2. Don’t use the bathroom on the main thoroughfare..at least go the alleyway!
  3. Even when people are assholes, try not to lose your patience. They are only doing their job
  4. NEVER! I repeat…NEVER! Attempt to take a trailer into the city…EVER!!!!

 

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sharing is caring…

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Tonight, I want to share an article that was sent to me recently. It has some good thoughts about the stresses that many of us deal with on a daily basis.
For example…Guilt!
 
Oh my! I could write a book about just that emotion!
 
So. Much.Guilt!
 
I do not understand why there is guilt, but it is there in bucket loads. I am never doing enough, trying hard enough, or just the fact that I feel I am “never enough” is all it comes down to.
 
I live with guilt that my children are growing up and will remember their stepfather as someone who was dying during their formative years. Worse yet, I feel guilty that they had no choice in this part of their lives, I simply made the decision for them.
 
I feel guilty if I feel I am neglecting Matthew. I know he is a grown man and can and will tell me when he needs something, but damn if I don’t carry the weight of each decision on my shoulders.
 
While being a caregiver can never truly be understood until you are actually in those shoes, I feel it is always good to try to find empathy and compassion for those who are in a role that we may find ourselves in one day or simply to offer someone a place to fall apart if necessary.
 
Really, the world just needs more people to take the time to learn about the plights of others, to hear their stories without judgement and to, at the very least, offer a bit of kindness. At the most, really try to step up for those they can, and offer empathy.
 
And if you are a caregiver…allow yourself some grace, damnit! It is hard to be selfless and giving and even harder if you are doing it all by yourself. Remember, you are only human, and you are doing the best you can. Some days may not feel like it, but you are worthy, and you don’t need to think years down the road…just breathe, and make it through today<3
 
I am also sharing this article because I am tired, and my words just are not flowing like they normally do. I decided to let someone else do the talking instead. Yet here I am, still typing…
 
Ok..read it if you can..I’ll shut up now:)
 
 

slowly, they all just disappeared…

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You didn’t think it would happen. Not to you. You had it all. You had a loving and supportive family. Siblings and cousins you saw or talked to almost every day. You had friends. Friends who grew up right down the street from you, buddies who had gone through thick and thin with you.

Slowly, so slowly at first, it seemed almost as if you might be imagining it all.

First, the words of condolences.

“I am so sorry you are going through this.”

“I heard about the diagnosis. I am so sorry.”

Next, they see you out and about, but instead of the happy greeting you would normally get, they avert their eyes. You sort of stop. Unsure of how to proceed. You see them look away. You clearly make them uncomfortable now. They are hoping you don’t call out or draw attention to them. They duck, they turn away, they do anything to avoid having to face you.

It seems awkward at first. You take it personally. You feel as if you have inconvenienced them in some way, but you aren’t sure how.. After a while, it becomes such a common occurrence, you do them the courtesy of simply not even looking in their direction.

The pain is less sharp with every ripped page of a calendar month. It seems that time has a way of helping you adapt. You adapt to the loss of mobility. You adapt to losing your independence. You adapt to losing camaraderie with co-workers you used to see daily. You simply adapt to losing something, each and every day.

You think you have managed to come to terms with all the changes, but then you realize that the changes never stop.
After your body has morphed into something you no longer recognize, and you only slightly look like the person you used to be, you must now adapt to a new challenge. The friends and family you hold so dear. have all just slowly dropped out of sight. You had no idea that this is the part that would test you.

You thought dealing with the disease would be the hardest thing you would ever have to deal with, but you discovered you were wrong.

The hardest part, in fact, would be watching everyone around that you love move on with their lives, and all you can do is stare at a screen and watch it all happen.

You do everything in your power not to click on that icon, you try so hard to stay away from social media.

You don’t need to be reminded of all the Christmas parties, the weddings or the birthday celebrations that you are no longer invited to.

You don’t get to be included in the phone calls, or the invites for a drink to commiserate a friend’s breakup or loss of their favorite sport teams championship game.

The connection is gone.

Funny that you didn’t notice at first. You were so focused on the loss of your legs, you hadn’t noticed that those friends who used to talk to you every day, haven’t reached out in almost a year now. No one has stopped by to visit in so long, and you don’t even bother asking for visitors. They all promised, but its been so long, you finally quit anticipating anyone knocking on the door.

The invitations you had gotten were either to someplace that cannot accommodate your new situation, or it was a pity invitation. At least, you assume it is a pity invitation, so you politely decline. You feel you have done everyone a favor by not going.

You thought the disease would be what caused your body to stop functioning. Now, you no longer believe that. Your heart is breaking, and you begin to imagine that it is possible to die from a broken heart.

If you had only known the disease would not be the hardest part to deal with. You found out the most difficult part of each day would be to live and then die from isolation, depression and sadness. The ability to see all those people you once had a connection with, posting pictures of their lives, their loves, and their ups and downs, but you somehow, realize that you were forgotten.

You want to turn away, but you so desperately need to feel as if you are still worthy of their time or effort.
Now, you scour the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…anything that connects you in some way to the people you used to know. The anger is gone. Now, you simply want a connection with them. Even if the only link to them again is by pressing the “like” button.

ante up…

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The dealer looks to each player at his table. Shuffling, he asks for their ante.  The sound of the chips as they bounce in a pile is all the indication the dealer needs. He shuffles…eyeing each player as he slides the cards along the felt table top.

The players duck their heads low. Holding their hands over the top of their cards, they peek at what has been dealt to them.

Some of them silently groan.

Their cards don’t offer much. They will have to discard many of their cards, and hope for something better.

Other players are inwardly giddy. Their hands are set. It won’t take much to win.

Each player discards a portion of their hand.  Looking across at each other, some for the first time, they take in what each player is doing. Looking for each other to show emotion, a tick, a nervous twitch, anything to show or tell them what hand the other person has, as the dealer gracefully pulls the discarded pile away, and swiftly thumbs the new cards.

The players shift in their seats.

Some players had poor hands, but the newest cards have given them an advantage.

Some players had a fairly decent hand but would have preferred a better one.

Others, hanging their heads in shame, they throw their cards down with a heavy sigh…not willing to bet, or even try to bluff for a win.

The dealer raises his eyebrows.

Who will raise the stakes?  Who will show their “tell” and give it all away by a twinge of their mouth or a tap of a finger?

Most players throw a few chips in.

Not a word is said.

The tension is building.  Spectators have crowded around the table. Not brave enough to join in but enthralled with the daring and recklessness that these players have.

It is time for the reveal.

Who will win?

One woman holds a pair of nines.

An older gentleman, he had bet everything he had left…on his straight.

It was the young man though. The one who had been quiet and unobtrusive the entire time. He was holding a Royal Flush, yet to everyone’s surprise, he didn’t gloat. He stood, accepting the round of applause for his strategy and discipline. He then, walked away, leaving all his chips on the table.

A young woman, her eyes bright and sharp, chased after him. She yelled, “Sir, you forgot all the money you won!”

He turned back, and said, “It was never about winning. It was simply for the joy of playing.”

*******************************************************************************

Which player are you?

How are you playing the cards you have been dealt? Sure, you could hand in a few cards and hope for a better hand. But if you can’t find happiness and the thrill of living in what you have, what makes you think you can with an entirely different hand.

Can you play the game simply for the joy of living, or are you still searching for different cards to make you happy?

Something to ponder…

He waits…

 

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He waits…

There is not much more he can do these days, but to wait.

He knew the disease would slowly take his ability to move. A few days after his diagnosis, every website that explained the disease in gruesome detail explained to him what to expect. He would steadily become a prisoner in his own body. There would be no cure, no treatment to slow this process down, and no one with answers as to why this was happening.

He waited…

The days would pass, as they often do. Lives go on, people come in and out of his world, but still…he waits.

He is locked inside what was once a six-foot two-inch frame, of broad shoulders and the strongest of legs…legs that had easily ran up mountains, swam in oceans, and walked with confidence through any door. His fingers have curled, the tendons and bones are all that are left to show hands that had once caressed his wife’s body. His arms lay at his side. He no longer fights the urge to raise his arm to scratch an itch.

Instead, he calls out for someone to come wipe his eyes, to reposition certain body parts, to adjust and to maneuver.

And he waits…

His legs spasm, not in pain, but in the normal progression of the disease.  He glances down at his feet.

There is nothing normal about this.

His toes are beginning to resemble his fingers as they too, curl inward. The disease has ravaged his feet.  He stares at his toes, willing them to wiggle, to move, anything to prove that he hasn’t lost that small little ability.

He waits…

Nothing. No movement.

He glances up.

Rolling his head from side to side, he feels the heaviness that is slowly taking hold.  He knows what is coming.

Soon, the weight of his head will be too much.

He stares out the window.

There is a bustle of noise coming from the kitchen. Pots and pans clanking, the scraping of spoons as they are stirred by someone else. Someone else who can move easily from one task to another.

The familiar pang of sadness at his loss begins to creep into his consciousness.  He closes his eyes.

He has been waiting.  Waiting and wondering when the time comes that the smells that come from the kitchen become intolerable.  He wonders how long he will have to wait before he can no longer chew the food that someone else places into his mouth. His jaw is already sore.  It is getting harder to speak, and to chew.

Someone calls out his name.

The footsteps grow louder.  The door opens.

He has been waiting.

Waiting for someone to come and wheel the metal arm closer to the bed. To hook each loop into the bar, and effortlessly pick him up.

He glances at the reflection in the mirror.

Legs dangling, a large sling wrapped around his body, as he hangs helplessly from the air. He looks away.  He knows what he looks like.  He is naked, in the most vulnerable way a man can be.  There is no covering him.  He is long past embarrassment, but the vision of seeing his reflection staring back at him and being incapable of covering his most private of areas, is difficult to see, even for him.

Someone pushes and grunts and pulls to maneuver his body back into his wheelchair.

He waits…

He waits patiently for the metal arm to slowly place him into a sitting position in his wheelchair.  A blanket has been laid gently on his lap, his teeth are brushed, and his pills have been swallowed.  One of the pills catches on the way down, causing him to cough and choke.

Quickly, someone grabs the small machine and hose that is never far from reach. The machine is meant to simulate a person coughing.

He waits…

He waits and tries not to feel claustrophobic as the mask is tightly pressed against his mouth and nose. He couldn’t protest if he wanted to. The machine forces air so hard into his mouth and lungs, his cheeks swell against the mask. A click of the machine, and the reverse happens, as the air is pulled, almost violently from his body. It is the only way his body can cough. Over and over again, this procedure is done, the machine straining, as it forces air in and back out again.

He waits…

His airway clear again, he can breathe.

The momentary adrenaline rush at the lack of air moving fluidly through his body slows as his heartbeat returns to normal once more.

He is wheeled out into the kitchen. Someone has prepared dinner.  His meal looks less than palatable. Soft foods so as not to choke again. He sighs…He waits while someone sits down next to him, grabbing a fork and begin to gracefully place the food onto the prongs and then lift it to his mouth.  He opens his mouth…chews the food, moving it around his mouth, a bit of anxiety and hope that he can swallow this bite without choking again.  Small bites. Slowly….he swallows.

He waits.

He needs a drink. Watching, he leans forward with his head, lips outstretched towards the glass.

The effort is exhausting. He shakes his head. His jaw is tired.   The water dribbles down his chin.

He waits…

He waits for someone to grab a napkin and wipe up the droplets hanging, threatening to spill beside the bits of food he had been unable to hold in his mouth, that are now laying in his lap. He waits for everyone around the table to finish their meal.

He waits…

He maneuvers back into the bedroom to watch television.  Someone else needs to get ready for the day. The children are all running, a cluster of excitement as they get ready to leave and go about their busy lives. He positions himself in front of the screen.

He waits…

He waits for everyone to say “goodbye” as they run out the door. A quick kiss to the forehead, and the door slams behind them. He listens to the stillness of the house.

He waits…

The caregiver walks in. She swiftly picks up the remote, points it towards the wall, and clicks on the tiny buttons to the channels he prefers. The television has become his only outlet and escape from this disease. It is all he can do to pass his time now.  He can lose himself in make believe for just a while. For just a moment, he doesn’t have to think about what he needs, what others do for him.  He wants to go out. He feels trapped…trapped inside the house, and inside his body.

He waits…

He watches the hours pass.  Eight more hours before someone else comes to tell him about their day at work or running errands. Nine more hours before the kids arrive.  Ten more hours and everyone will gather for another meal around the table.  Twelve more hours and he can go back to bed.

He waits…

He waits for a text message, an email, a phone call. Anything that shows that he is still participating in his life.  He seldom hears from those who had once been so close to him. He wonders if they think about him.  He understands that the world kept turning, he just isn’t turning with it.

He waits…

He waits for visitors that never come. He wants to ask them to stop by, to sit and tell him about all the new experiences they are having. He supposes they feel guilty. He knows he makes them uncomfortable now.  If, and when an old friend pops in for a visit, it is always the same.  Big smiles to hide the awkwardness as they lean in for a hug. They complement him on his inspirational strength, but the smile falters. They fumble for words, for stories, and things to talk about. They feel guilty for still living, as they sit across someone who has so little time left.  They glance at their watch. They need to go soon, but they promise to come again soon…But they won’t, and they both know it.

He waits…

He waits for conversation…but the caregiver is busy taking care of him.  The caregiver is not there for companionship. They sit out in the living room, staring at their phone. Too busy counting the hours before their shift is over so they can leave. He understands…he is counting down for their shift to be over as well.

He waits…

He has to use the restroom again. He calls out for help. He waits until someone is finished doing their chores before they stomp in to help…again. He tries to hold it and tries desperately not to lose his patience. He hates asking for help, but there is no choice. He wonders what is taking so long this time.

He waits

He waits for hands to touch him, but the only caress comes in their efforts to be efficient.  He misses reaching his arms around a loved one for a hug. He misses breathing in their scent.

He waits…

He doesn’t want to ask for help again.  It feels as if it is constant.  The need for something, the constant requests for drinks, food, adjustments.  He feels like a burden.  Time is ticking by, and his requests grow more frequent with every passing day.

He wonders how his life came to this moment.  The limbo of wanting to live but waiting to die.

He looks out the window…

And waits…