Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April 30 – “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Viewing.  Visitation.  Wake.  I have often wondered how funeral customs come to be.  It’s one of the most fascinating things to study in the field of sociology.  Anthropology, too.  And archaeology.  And history.  OK.  I guess it sounds like I have some kind of morbid fascination with all things dead and dying.  Not really.  I am just interested in why groups of people act the way they do in some of the most intense situations they ever face.  And you can’t get much more intense that a death.

Last night was the visitation portion of Mom’s funeral activities.  That’s the word most of our family uses.  The body lies in state, surrounded by flowers.  Friends and family gather to reminisce and hug and cry and laugh.  It is a great opportunity for the catharsis of emotions to begin in a safe setting.  In our case, it sure felt like there were hundreds of different people who came by to offer condolences and show respect for Mom.  Twenty or thirty on-duty fire fighters were there to show support for their comrade Nathan.  That caused no end to comments by the other visitors, who entered the building a little tentatively, cautiously looking and sniffing for the source of the fire.  The Assistant Chief and two Battalion chiefs came by.  Even some of the honor guard came by in uniform.  I’m pretty sure they had been standing guard at the visitation at another funeral home for a retired fire fighter, Joe Peck, so we were honored that they would stop by to see us as well. 

I don’t have access to the sign-in book yet, but I remember seeing people from just about every phase of Mom’s life.  Family, of course.  But also Grace Episcopal Church (I saw a guy I haven’t seen since high school.  We used to be acolytes together), Gulf Village (Can’t beat those neighborhood folks.  They have already been bringing over food.  The Cagnola girls were there - we bought their house – as were reps from the Families Whiteman, Alessi, Odom, and Glinski), My high school days (Eric from just down the street, Charlotte who gave us the tokens at the hospital, Robert who was also a baseball cohort and just happens to be Betty Head’s son), Seaside (the Stones, Bollmans, Boyers, and Robert Howard.  Sam was by the house earlier), the secretary from the roofing company Mom and I worked at, square dancing (Jack Solari as well as a few of those aforementioned neighbors), our Spring family connection (that would be Spring the place, not the season), Oleander Society (I didn’t know the sweet lady, but that’s how she introduced herself), Libbie’s Place (always great to see Alice).  There were lots more, I’m sure, but we were pretty overwhelmed at the time.  And I haven’t even mentioned the phone call we got from one of Chris’ best friends, Olivia, or the many texts and emails and FaceBook posts we have enjoyed. 

All eight of our grandchildren were there as well as Mike and Serena’s son, Wyatt.  They staked out a place in the back of the room where they could play and color and enjoy being cousins together.  Mom would have that no other way. 

Speaking of children, they have their own ways of figuring out this whole grieving, visitation process.  Cailyn immediately went up to the casket with Chris.  She studied the situation carefully before quietly asking, “Is that blood on her lips?”  Chris assured her, “No, it’s lipstick.”  And that was fine.  Cailyn said, “Oh, OK,” and was off. 

Later in the evening, when she had become an old hand at this, she grabbed me by the hand, “Come with me, DadDad.”  She dragged me (literally) up to the casket.  Pointing reverently, she quietly said, “There’s MeeMaw, DadDad.”    “I know,” I responded, copying her reverent manner, “I saw.”  She continued, “Look at her, DadDad.”  I took another glance, and quickly returned my gaze to Cailyn.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear what she might say if I couldn’t see her lips.  I replied, “I did.  I saw her.”  Apparently I moved too quickly, though.  She chastised me with, “Well look for a long time.”  Well, OK.  I guessed that must be part of how she was making sense of this whole thing.  She wasn’t quite finished, though.  “Will they close that lid so we can see what it looks like on top?”  Valid question, I guess.  “Not tonight while we are here, but they will tomorrow.”  And then the real reason for the concern, “Will it squish her?”  There it was.  The perfectly logical question to be asking.  I reassured her, “No, it won’t squish her.  And remember, MeeMaw is not in there anyway.  She’s with Jesus and right there in your heart where you can remember her.  That’s just the body she used to use.”  She still looked a little concerned, so I pointed to the contour of the casket and continued, “Besides, see how it’s kind of curved?  It won’t squish the body either.”  The wheels were still turning, though.  I waited to see where she would go next.  Didn’t have to wait long.  “Well, how about her hair?  It looks like that part over there will push on it and mess it up.”  Of course.  Why didn’t I think of that?  Not so much about the disposition of the body as it is how her hair looks.  Well I sure felt like a dumb old … boy.  I replied, “No, it will be fine.  It’s kind of like she’s in a bed, sleeping.”  That was what she wanted to hear all along.  The hair will be fine.  A quick hug and she was off to search for more cousins.

Job 36:26 says, “How great is God — beyond our understanding!  The number of his years is past finding out.”

Father, thank you for chicken spaghetti and fettuccini alfredo, KFC and Subway, chocolate chips and peanut butter cookies.  But most of all, thank you for hugs.  They seem to say your heart better than anything.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29 – “Do something”

Well, family has started arriving for the funeral festivities.  Yep.  You heard the right word.  Our intention is to really make this whole funeral gathering a festive occasion.  After all, Mom always loved a good party, and I imagine she’s enjoying a better one right now than we could ever throw.  We are going to give it our best shot on Wednesday after the burial.  Everyone will be invited to stop by the house for some food and sharing. 

Mike and Serena and Wyatt arrived from Lubbock on Sunday night.  They told us that Wyatt hadn’t said a word the whole way from Lubbock.  Uh-huh.  He hasn’t stopped talking since they arrived here.  Welcome to Galveston, Wyatt.  Josh and Christi and their boys should be here later on today.  Josh has to finish assigning duties to his staff so things will be covered while he is gone.  Ah, the trials of a big church pastor.  It’ll be good to get them down here, though.  Chris never got to see the boys when they were here last week, so I know she is excited. 

Friends and neighbors have been helping us out a lot with food.  We have received some fried chicken and chicken salad and that Italian stuff I can’t pronounce but that tasted really good, spaghetti, strudel, pork roast, Subway sandwiches.  It has been great for Chris not to have to worry about cooking anything.  And flowers have begun to arrive as well.  Cut flower arrangements and plants of several kinds.  One thoughtful gift was paper plates and cups.  Wouldn’t have expected that one, but it sure has come in handy.  Oh, and of course the cartons of cokes of all kinds.  Everything has been greatly appreciated.  I do have to say, though, that the award for Most Creative Expression so far has to go to the Geran family.  Yesterday they brought by an arrangement, not of flowers, but of blooms of giant Nestles Crunch bars.  And the vase was full of Hershey’s kisses.  Now how great is that?  OK, so that was special to me because of my oft-stated affinity for Nestles Crunch bars.  But here’s the one to beat.  Brennan presented us with a framed certificate indicating that 20 pine, spruce, oak, birch, tamarack, or cedar trees will be planted by the Arbor Day Foundation in the Superior National Forest in memory of Mom.  I had to look that one up.  It is in that really cold part of North Texas called Minnesota.  They need a lot of trees up there to keep oxygen levels up. 

Many things have been so helpful during our time of hospital and hospice and recovery.  I have been asked many times what are some helpful things people can share with a family going through similar circumstances.  The bottom line answer to the question is … anything that expresses your heart.  No, really.  People going through tough times understand that you probably have no idea what they are feeling, so any attempt to connect is so greatly appreciated.  Here are some ideas that I have seen in the past:  A simple card or a quick post on FaceBook saying you are thinking of them.  Food, of course.  Gift cards to WalMart.  Hospital parking tokens.  Gift cards to restaurants/fast food places.  Fruit, snacks.  Movies, books, puzzle books.  Clean the house (the mundane stuff, like sweep and mop).  Mow the grass.  Get the point?  Anything that shows you care and you are thinking of them.  Don’t worry about how big or small it is.  That’s beside the point.  Do something. 

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Father, thank you for the encouragers you have sent our way so far.  Bless them in mighty ways for their expressions of love and concern.  Amen.

Monday, April 28, 2014

April 28 – “Nuh uh, Daddy”

Yesterday was one of those odd, in-between kind of days for us.  We were supposed to go to Waco for Luke’s baby dedication.  I had already made arrangements for the director of the Galveston Baptist Association to fill in for me at Seaside.  And we almost convinced ourselves to get up early and make the trip anyway.  That would have been a really dumb move, though.  One thing we realized was that we were both pretty much exhausted.  A trip anywhere would have been downright dangerous for us to attempt.  Like the time we came to Galveston from Denver and drove straight through for about twenty hours.  About an hour at a time was all we could muster before we had to change drivers.  And an hour catnap at a time was just not enough to recharge the internal batteries.  Not to mention it took at least a day and a half after we arrived before we could even function.  We didn’t want a repeat of that fiasco.  So instead Josh FaceTimed us on his phone.  A good friend of ours from Arlington, Cary, held the phone the whole time so we could see what was going on.  I tried to do a little cutting up, but I guess they couldn’t hear me.  And I don’t think they heard when Chris teared up at the end, either.  It was a pretty special moment.  Sure wish we could have been there in person, but thank you, God, for the miracles of modern technology.

While we were waiting for the call we did some cleaning in Mom’s room.  We needed another place for people to stay during the funeral festivities.  That was an interesting experience.  We found all kinds of strangely designated keepsakes.  A church bulletin from Arlington, invitations to birthday parties, every prayer list ever printed for our home Bible study group, any card she ever received from anybody – from her 80th birthday to Wednesday Club and Oleander Society functions, the tags from every piece of clothing she ever bought or received as a gift.  My two personal favorites, though, were: an old unopened Discover Card bill addressed to us (Sorry about that, Discover.  I’m sure that was one of those times I had to call and question why we had a penalty charged when we never received the bill), and a hodgepodge of random paper glued upon paper.  Chris recognized that one immediately.  It was one of the “projects” that Mom and Cailyn had worked diligently on one time.  I made sure that one was placed in a bit more of a prominent place for the time being. 

Speaking of Cailyn, she and her parents came over for lunch.  A sweet lady from Seaside stopped by with a bucket of fried chicken, so we had some fresh KFC to share when they arrived.  It was good to just enjoy some hugs from Cailyn.  She and I went back into Mom’s room one time and guess what she noticed right away?  Yep.  She declared matter-of-factly, “That’s the picture I made for MeeMaw.”  I told her, “It sure is.  MeeMaw was very proud of that picture.”  And she beamed with a five-year-old’s pride.  Earlier Nathan told me of a discussion he had had with Cailyn.  Seems she asked: “Who is the oldest in our family Daddy?  I know who it is.  It’s Uncle Jerry.”
He replied, “Well, no.  ‘Cause remember Uncle Jerry is with Jesus now, so he’s not here anymore.”
Wrong answer, Nathan.  But he was quickly corrected: “Nuh uh, Daddy.  He’s still here.  So is MeeMaw.”
I’m sure Nathan’s mind was reeling with how he would come up with an answer to that one.  But before he could formulate a response, she tapped herself on the chest and continued: “You told me she would always be right here.  So will you and Mommy and Nani and DadDad.” 
OK.  Done crying yet?  Best theology I’ve heard all week. 

Psalms 25:6 says, “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.”

Father, thank you for once again invading the grief process with the simple faith and words of a child.  Amen.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

April 27 – “And so the dancing begins …”

The weekend continuous care hospice nurse arrived for his shift at around 8 yesterday morning.  What we didn’t know was that he was actually the elusive most interesting man in the world.  He was an ex-firefighter and ex-paramedic.   When he heard Chris had been a pediatric nurse he remembered that he had been one of those as well.  In fact as the morning wore on we discovered that he was an ex-just about everything else you might want to mention in his presence.  And on top of all that, he has lived in Alaska and the Caribbean and Mexico and anywhere else you might have ever lived.  He said he wanted to hear our stories about Mom, so we tried sharing a few.  But every time we took a breath, he just happened to have a story about that very thing.  Like how when his Mom died he breathed in her last breath so that she would continue to live through him.  Something about the customs of wherever she was when she died.  As I said … Interesting.  We were not sure all of his stories were true, but they were for the most part quite entertaining.  We needed the comic relief.

And the reason we needed it was that right around 9:15 a.m. on April 26, 2014, Oralee Vaughan joined a square dancing square in heaven with Jesse as her partner and Jesus as her corner.  And so the dancing begins.  I had to use the square dance reference because it was one of the favorite activities her and my Dad ever enjoyed together.  As it became more and more evident that the time was near, Chris, me, Nathan, and good ol’ Nurse David gathered around Mom and held hands.  I said a brief prayer, and just as we all said “Amen,” Mom drifted off peacefully.  It was actually quite a beautiful moment.

We made our notification phone calls and soon both of my brothers and their wives and one of my nieces were at the house to see her off.  Nathan and Kel joined their families at a one-year birthday celebration for Kel’s daughter Noa.  Couldn’t have thought up a better way to celebrate Mom’s move away from this world than to rejoice at a birthday – a celebration of a life just moved into this world.  And to top it off, up in Waco, Josh and his family will be celebrating as well today by dedicating their new youngster, Luke, to the Lord.  They will head down here after that service to join us.  We have already heard from numerous good friends wishing us well and encouraging us with words of comfort.  Family visitation will be on Tuesday evening (29 April 2014) from 5-8 at Carnes Brothers Funeral Home in Galveston.  The service will be the next day (30 April 2014) at 2 p.m. at the same place.  There will be a brief graveside service to follow, and then we’ll have whoever wants to come over, well, to come over for some food and sharing and being together. 

Chris and I have already talked about how very different it will be around our house.  We were able to recall a brief period of our life together right after we got married when it was just the two of us in the house.  And pretty much ever since then, for the bulk of our almost 39 years together, we have had someone living with us – our own children of course, but also Robby, Katie, an entire family one time, Brian and Brandon, Allen, along with the host of others who have been here for a night or two or maybe more.  Not to mention the months that Chris moved in with her mother to care for her at her end of life.  We wouldn’t have traded a minute of it, either.  Now we are wondering what comes next.  Oh, we are planning to take a vacation.  Where?  No idea.  We may just start driving and see where we end up.  It’ll give us a chance to talk and get reacquainted.  I for one am looking forward to that.  She’s quite a woman, you know.

Thank you again to everyone who has offered prayers and condolences and encouragement through our transition walk with Mom.    It’ll be difficult to say individual thank-you’s to everyone, but know your expressions have been and will continue to be appreciated.  Oh, and … keep ‘em coming.  They really do make a difference.

Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Father, would you say hello to my Mom for me?  She’ll be the one who’s been dancing with Jesse since yesterday morning.  Thanks.  Amen.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

April 26 – “The Phantom Strikes”

Today Mom’s respirations are very shallow, and she is having more and more periods of apnea – not breathing.  I know I keep saying this, but it really shouldn’t be much longer.  We are amazed she has kept going this long.

We did have some excitement over here last night, though.  About 2 in the morning, to be exact.  What happened?  Hit and run.  Yep.  Right in front of our house.  The hospice night nurse had her car parked in the street next to the oleander bush.  Chris and I had both been on couches dozing.  I had just returned to my perch when I heard a loud crash.  It didn’t wake up Chris right away, so I paused a few seconds to see how the dogs would react.  Sure enough they started barking, so I jumped up and started to the street.  The nurse said, “I sure hope someone didn’t hit my car.”  How’s that for foreshadowing?  There was not a soul to be seen anywhere outside.  But something did seem amiss.  The nurse’s car was about halfway into our driveway.  It looked OK at first glance.  Just seemed odd that she would have parked like that, obstructing our car.  I decided to walk out into the street and look around.  And from there … it was a mess.

Debris was scattered everywhere.  And the left rear of her car was completely smashed in.  Kind of stunned, I looked around for any evidence of the car that hit her.  But there was none.  Nothing.  I was hoping for an errant license plate so it would be easy to track the perpetrator.  But he left absolutely no trace.  A phantom.  A wrecker driver arrived well before the police officer, and he followed the same procedure I had, looking for telltale signs of the other vehicle.  Nothing.  His best guess was that the other driver had been going at least 40 miles per hour and hadn’t even attempted to stop.  When the officer arrived, he did the same spot check for offending debris and came up empty as well.  And he concurred with the 40 miles per hour estimate.  Of course he postulated, as we all had, that it was most likely a drunk driver.  The problem was, even if they caught him and his car matched the damage here, there was no way to get a conviction to stick, simply because no one saw it happen.  The phantom struck, and vanished without a trace. 

It took us a while to settle back down.  I whispered to Mom that she missed all the action, but I figured she and Hedi Kunz would be comparing notes in a few hours anyway.  Just as they had done so often while sitting on their front porches over the years, presiding over all that happened in Gulf Village. 

Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Father, help Cheryl to work out the details of dealing with her wrecked car.  And walk with her as she deals with the details of the struggles in her life.  Give her hope and bring her to joy.  Amen.

Friday, April 25, 2014

April 25 – “Crisis Care”

We received word from hospice yesterday that Mom has reached the stage where she qualifies for their “Crisis Care” or “Continuous Care” program.  That means they will  provide a nurse who will stay here at the house 24 hours a day to administer medications and help with Mom’s care as needed.  They appear to work 12 hour shifts from 8 to 8.  At least that’s how they did it yesterday.  Both have been quite helpful, and hearing their stories about how they came to become hospice nurses in particular has been fascinating.  They have both been calm and immeasurably respectful every time they have approached Mom to give her meds or to reposition her.  I have to say it has been odd to have a stranger in the house, but Chris has been amazing in her ability to connect with them and make them feel at home.  You just can’t keep a gift of hospitality like she has from leaking out all over the place, even when so much else is going on. 

Jay and Fran and Becky came by and had lunch with us.  Stan and Sue and Amy came by later after Amy’s flight arrived from Arizona.  We talked a little about how best to notify them when Mom does die.  Melissa from Seaside brought over some fried chicken for supper.  We haven’t had fried chicken in a long time.  I spent a good part of the afternoon mowing and edging the grass.  Chris did a lot of inside cleaning.  I guess the therapeutic part of exercise is kicking in.  I just wanted to get tired enough that I wouldn’t wake up more than two or three times during the night.  I was … successful.  And as a result today I’m kind of sore.  Worth it, though.  Can’t beat that physically exhausted feeling when you have actually accomplished something. 

Speaking of exhausted, I have just about exhausted my supply of Celebrex for my rheumatoid arthritis.  I called the doc’s office Tuesday and again yesterday.  Took three tries, but they finally returned my call.  The deal is, I am on one of those programs through the manufacturer where they provide my medications free.  My insurance refuses to cover Celebrex.  To qualify for the program I have to send them an application form and a copy of my income tax statement.  The problem is, they don’t want to receive the application packet from me.  I have to send it to my doctor and they have to file it for me.  Fine.  I did that back on the 11th of April.  The calls this week were to follow up and see where we stand in the process, since I only have two days of meds remaining.  Well, then.  After being on hold for fifteen minutes, it appears no one has seen the fax I sent back on the 11th.  Which means the form has never even been sent to the company.  Which means by about Sunday evening I will be out of Celebrex.  To make a long phone call story short, after intervention by the office manager who promised to “look into the situation,” apologies all around, and me re-faxing the information, the office nurse was filling it out and sending it on before we even hung up the phone.  They will try to get permission from the doctor to send me some Celebrex that should arrive by Saturday.  Whew.  Deep breath.  You know, one of the underlying causes and/or activators of rheumatoid arthritis pain is … stress.  Gee.  Do you think I might have a flare up this week?  Nah.  Surely not.

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Father, I’m here doing some casting.  Not much live bait available around Galveston lately, so I’ll just hook up some these worries and frustrations and weariness and give them a good toss in your direction.  Amen.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

April 24 – “A respite from intensity”

I have started to receive a little bit of feedback from the Bibles Chris and I donated to each of the stations this Easter.  Several guys have expressed their appreciation.  One wondered if I had accidentally left my Bible there.  I still need to deliver one out to station two.  That’s where I was headed when I got word that I was needed back up at the hospital to help make some decisions.  And I have one for the admin office and the fire marshal’s office.  Sorry about the delay on those, guys.  Here’s praying that they will make a difference in somebody’s life.

Nathan called to let me know my Class A fire department uniform had been delivered and was at station 5.  I’ve been waiting a long time for that delivery.  If I remember correctly it was sometime in September when it was ordered.  Six months.  Quite a long delivery time, isn’t it?  I hope they do better with the fire fighters’ orders.  The uniform fits pretty well.  Now all I need is my hat and all the hardware that goes with the uniform.  I’m not completely sure what all that includes.  I think it’s things like badges for the coat and hat, lapel pins for the coat and shirt, and name pins for the coat and shirt.  It was really good to spend those few minutes at the station.  I’m still kind of in awe that they asked me to serve as chaplain.  The guys there gave me a brief respite from all the intensity that is my world right now, kind of like when Chris was able to take a walk.  Their crazy world helped me to take a deep breath or two away from mine.  Thanks, Station 5, for letting me hang out for a few minutes.  

While I was gone, two aides from hospice came by to help bathe Mom.  They also brought along some hospital gowns and even a lap quilt for her.  They were all made by hand for hospice patients.  And they were pretty nice looking, too.  Chris chose to start with the one that had the most of Mom’s favorite color, pink.  I know.  Not my choice by any means.  But it sure looks good on her, especially after that drab hospital green one she came home in.

We had a few visitors yesterday.  Nathan came by and had lunch with us (thanks again for the spaghetti, Alice).  Betty Head and her daughter Liz came by as well.  Liz is Mom’s goddaughter.  They brought some chicken salad and fettuchini chicken alfredo (Whatever that is.  We haven’t tried it yet, but the salad is great).  They also brought some watermelon, so Chris was in hog heaven.  That’s an all-time favorite of hers.  Stan came by for a while, too, and brought us some Dr Peppers.  And I have to admit, it’s hard to beat DP’s. 

Psalms 4:1 says, “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God.  Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.”

Father, I know the distress we feel is normal and that you will bring us through to the joy on the other side when Mom is finally released into your presence.  Thank for the brief periods of respite on this side as well.  They really help.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April 23 – “A bit of love and a few tears”

I did make it to water therapy yesterday.  I could sure tell I missed last week.  Although, I’m not as sore as I thought I would be today.  I spent most of the morning working on paperwork about the baptisms from Easter morning.  I knew one of the ladies wasn’t from Galveston, but I found out in reading over her papers that she is from Colorado.  That’s a long way to come to get baptized.

Josh came back to spend the morning and afternoon with us before heading back to Waco.  Oh, back from Crosby.  After we decided to bring Mom back to the house, he took Christi and the boys up there.  It was really good to have him around, even though there was not a whole lot he could do.  He finally headed back home to get some work done there.

Our regularly assigned hospice came over for her first visit.  She reviewed all the medications again and went through all the start-up paper work she had to get done.  She recommended that we give Mom the pain medication on a regular basis to keep that under control.  That meant another prescription, though.  But they have a contract of some kind with Kroger, so all I had to do was go by and pick it up. 

Mom is still sleeping most of the time.  She stirs from what we think are maybe some cramps in her abdomen, but that doesn’t usually last long.  And she has obvious pain when we have to move her to keep her cleaned up and to rotate the parts of her body in contact with the bed all the time.  But generally speaking she seems pretty peaceful. 

Our long-time neighbor Alice brought over a big pot of spaghetti and some garlic bread for lunch.  Good stuff.  Christina later brought us one of those already-cooked chickens and some wheat rolls.  We cut up the chicken and added it to some leftover salad Fran and Jay gave us before we left the hospital the other day.  Mom’s best friend Betty stopped by to share a bit of love and a few tears.  Oh, and Anne from home group stopped by with some flowers.  I know … who cares about our visitor log or what we had for supper?  But hey, it gives me something to write about on a day when frankly not much happened.  I guess I could have just said it like this: “People cared.”

Matthew 27:55 says, “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.”

Father, I hadn’t thought about it much, but there were people around doing their best to take care of your needs, too.  Thank you for those you have put in our path who want to give us care.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22 – “Back at Home”

Yesterday was a mostly quiet day.  Mom slept a lot.  We talked to the doctors and confirmed decisions yet again.   The difference was this time they pretty much admitted that they agreed with us.  Several nurses, patient care techs, and even the Occupational Therapist who have worked with Mom over the course of her hospital stay stopped by to say goodbye.  They all agreed that she had been “a real sweetie to work with.” 

The hospital hospice team came and we were able to finalize everything with them as far as in house concerns.  I made some phone calls to check out local hospice agencies, and received nothing but good reports about Hospice Care Team, based in Texas City.  As it turned out, they were the ones who cared for Uncle Jerry last week. The hospital staff contacted them for us, and before long we met with one of their chaplains to take care of their paperwork.  The old guy sported a white goatee and was very mellow.  So much so, in fact, that he reminded us of an old college professor we used to have, Dr. Cain.  He had the slowest cadence of speech of any human being I have ever met.  This guy was probably a close second.  We wanted to jab him in the ribs or something to get him to speed up just a little bit.  Very sweet guy, though.  He patiently went through each paper we had to sign and offered to answer any question we might have had.  I was afraid to ask him anything, though.  We would have still been in there. 

The other decision we made was to bring her home to our house for her final days.  We had thought about taking her to the Meridian care center.  In fact she still had a room assigned to her there for the rehab that was originally supposed to happen there.  But Chris really wanted to honor Mom by allowing her to come home.  We chuckled a bit as remembered Mom used to say she didn’t really want to die in the same house where she was born.  She did want to be at home, though, wherever that might be at the time.  Josh and Nathan went back to the house to clear out a space for the hospital bed, which hospice had delivered within a few hours.  April joined them when she got off work, and apparently she cracked the whip to get them to do more than just move furniture.  The whole house was cleaned up, and even the dirty dishes were being washed.  She ran over to WalMart and got some sheets for the bed, and added a little personal touch we appreciated.  She put on the bed the afghan that has been adorning the foot of Mom’s regular bed for years.  Sweet touch, April. 

The home hospice nurse arrived within about an hour to go over things with us.  She told us we were supposed to have been informed of a home care kit that had been called in to the Kroger pharmacy.  We never got that message, but the pharmacy was still open, so I made a quick trip and picked it up.  It consisted of some of the basic care prescriptions we would need for Mom’s comfort here at home.  She went over each of them with us.  Chris of course knew exactly what each one was for, but I was happy that she went through them anyway.  I sure didn’t know a thing about them.  She checked Mom’s vital signs and listened to her heart and lungs.  She also told us that we would be receiving several visitors the next day.  A social work case manager would be by to go over the care plan with us and familiarize us with their policies and procedures.  Another nurse was also supposed to come by to continue the evaluation process.  And an aide would be coming every day (or at least five days a week) to help with baths, medications, emptying the catheter, and anything else we might need.  It was good to hear that so much help was available from them.  It was also good to read the posts of encouragement and offers of help from friends.  It is not easy in the midst of such a situation to have a handle on what you need, though.  You just aren’t thinking in those terms.  It’s all about the care of the loved one from our perspective, so please don’t think us ungrateful.  We appreciate every tiny expression of love and support whatever it might look like.

So our first night back at home was fraught with the anxieties of EMS personnel and nurse visits and calls to the emergency hotline of the air conditioner repair company (forgot to mention that one, didn’t I) and frantic trips to get to the pharmacy before it closed.  There finally came that time, however, when Mom was resting comfortably.  Chris got her much-desired shower.  We settled in on the couch, took a deep breath or two, and watched an episode of Once Upon a Time that we taped while we were in the hospital.  Around 10:00 we turned off the TV and most of the lights.  Chris settled down on one couch and I took the other so we could hear if Mom needed anything during the night.  Sleep came in intervals, at least for me.  I’m not sure how much Chris really slept at all.  I woke up at 1 a.m. to some soft moans, and when they increased in intensity, Chris was at her side, turning her, cleaning her up, and calmly comforting her.  I helped a little with the turning part, following strictly as I was led by the incomparable head nurse who is the woman I married.  We settled back in, and repeated the process closer to 5 or 6.  This is going to be an interesting portion of our opportunity to walk with Mom on this last part of her journey to Jesus.  We can feel the spiritual strength that results from knowing friends and family are praying.  Keep ‘em coming.

Numbers 6:22-26 says, The Lord said to Moses, Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’”

Father, here we go on this last leg.  So glad you’re walking it with us.  Come on.  Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

April 21 – “Bittersweet”

The gerontology team professor finally reached the point of what I guess you would call understanding yesterday.  The surgery professor preceded him by a few hours.  It is clear that surgery is not really a viable option for Mom.  Her lungs are beginning to fill with fluid again, as is her abdomen.  She expressed for the first time since she has been in the hospital that she was having some pain, so they gave her some morphine to take the edge off and then ordered some Tylenol every six hours.  All the brothers and their wives have been here.  Jer was even able to stop by last night.  Kel and his family have all been up to see MeeMaw.  Nathan and April and Cailyn were there yesterday, and Josh was able to get into town last night and made his way up to see her.  Her best friend Betty  and Betty’s daughter Liz spent some time there.  We will be talking to the palliative / hospice care team later today to determine a specific course of action. 

Well, that was the bitter.  Now to the sweet.  Awesome how the Lord has a waay of putting the two together.  Makes the difficult times easier to walk through.  But then, that’s what he’s in the business of doing for his kids, isn’t it?  The sunrise service on the beach yesterday was once again amazing.  It was a beautiful, clear day.  The sun rose over the relatively calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the East while the moon clung to its position in the western sky.  Seagulls screeched in search of morning morsels.  Pelicans soared past in majestic flight.  And a pod of dolphins frolicked about, greeting the morning with playful dalliances.  And on the shore near 400 humans gathered in lawn chairs, on blankets or simply standing in awe of the coolness of the new day. 

Wow.  What an amazing Resurrection Day morning.  Do have somewhat of a picture in your mind of what it was like?  The service went great.  We presented a Bible and a check for $100 each to the chief of the Jamaica Beach Volunteer Fire Department and the chief of the Jamaica Beach Police Department in honor of our theme for the day – Heroes.  Of course Jesus won out over all comers in that category.  We had scheduled four baptisms in the Gulf of Mexico.  By the time we finished we ended up with eight.  A young man who decided to join his sister in the Kingdom.  A little girl who was following her heart as best she knew how.  And two ladies who were concerned that they had never been obedient to the Lord.  And one of them was wearing a long dress.  Come on in.

We had been a bit worried about having enough breakfast for everyone who comes over after the service.  We needn’t have.  We had so much food that we were able to offer breakfast to all those attending the ten o’clock service.  And they took us up on it.  There were 63 more in that service, and only eight of those had also been around at 6:30.  That’s a lot of new folks.  One family visiting from Maine told me that if they lived closer they would join this family in an instant.  The 1800 mile commute just seemed a bit too daunting for them, though. 

After the second service I changed hats and began making rounds of all the fire stations.  Chris and I got each station a Firefighter’s Bible.  It was great to see the guys who were on duty for the holiday.  Two of the stations were having family days, with lots of food.  Central even had an Easter egg hunt planned for the kiddos.  Just as I was leaving Central and headed out to station two, Chris texted me that my brother and his wife had arrived at the hospital, and Nathan, April and Cailyn were also there.  She wanted to fill me in on the latest details of Mom’s care plan.  I just felt like there was a sense of urgency there, so I went right over to the hospital.  I’ll make it by station two later.  I’m pretty sure the guys will understand.  Families understand about those sorts of things.  You know, family is … well … family, after all.

Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Father, thank you for my family … well, families.  The blood one that is watching one of us finish out her time here before she gets rewarded with an eternity by your side.  And the church one that is doing its best to follow your lead and fulfill a purpose.  And the fire department one that every day has each other’s back in crisis situations.  Wow.  You have really overwhelmed us with support.  Thank you.  Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20 – “Confusion”

And so the confusion begins.  Our understanding of the situation from the infectious disease docs and the surgeons was that if we chose not to do the surgery, then Mom would not last much longer than a few days.  Then the gerontology team came in and started talking in terms of weeks as long as we continue the antibiotics.  Then the infectious disease doc came back and said they were discussing discontinuing the antibiotics.  I think the surgeons are just standing by sulking because they don’t get to practice.  April said we should speak to a case manager, and they would set up a meeting with all the doctors at one time so they will be forced to talk to each other and all of them to talk to us.  I didn’t think that would be possible. It makes too much sense.

I made it to the wedding I was to officiate with no problem.  Turned out to be one of the freebies I do on occasion.  Not about the money, though.  They started only about twenty minutes late.  Not bad, actually.  I think there were only two evangelical Christians in the whole place: me and the videographer.  He was impressed at the way I “snuck in the gospel without them even knowing what hit them.”  I really enjoyed the duo they had signed on to play music.  Guitar and trumpet.  They played jazz and blues.  Wish I could have stayed to hear them some more. 

By the time I got back to the house to change I was exhausted.  Never made it back up to the hospital, but Kel and Christina and their kids did.  Chris said Mom perked up when they got there.  She did doze off after a while, but perked up again when they said goodbye. 

I am heading off to the sunrise service, so this is a short one.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Luke 24:1-8 says, On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"  8 Then they remembered his words.

Father, what can we say in the face of Easter but thank you?  Nothing else would be enough.  Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

April 19 – “The News”

Barely able to catch our breath after Uncle Jerry’s funeral, we received some news about Mom yesterday.  Her white blood cell count that points to infection had jumped to 31 and then dropped to 29, basically hovering around the same thing.  The docs next step was to check for an infection known as C-DIFF (Clostridium difficile - a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.  Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications).  That definition is from a textbook somewhere.  Chris explained it to me as the extended antibiotics use killing off too much of the “good” bacteria in the intestines, allowing the “bad guys” that sneak past the antibiotic explosions to thrive.  Until the test came back, she would still be taking zocin and levoquin, but not vancomyacin.  Seems the level of that one in her system had reached the point beyond which it would become toxic rather than helpful to her body.  Oh, and her kidney functions were off as well, so they stopped the naprocen she was receiving for pain.  The CT scan of her abdomen showed “some opaque areas,” but there was initially not much further explanation related to that.  The gerontologist had called in some infectious disease doctors to look at the scan and see what their opinion was and what other treatment courses they would recommend.  He said they probably wouldn’t be by until the next day.

Whew.  That was a mouthful, I know, and most of it medical jargon, but it should give an idea of the mass of information we were dealing with.  It was hard to stay completely focused after a point.  One thing was obviously piling on top of another and on top of another and so on and so on.  I had to leave the hospital for a while to lead a wedding rehearsal for the wedding I am officiating this afternoon.  I stopped by Office Depot to pick up the programs for the Easter sunrise service and by WalMart to grab some Easter candy and stuff for our grandkids.  They were supposed to come over this morning to dye some eggs and do an egg hunt.  And just as I got to the house to change clothes, Chris called and asked if I had a second to talk.  Never a good sign.  I plugged my phone in to recharge and sat down on the couch.  The infectious disease team had just left.  Yep.  The ones who weren’t supposed to come until later on today.  And their news was not good at all.  Those “opaque spots” were pockets of air in the abdomen that shouldn’t be there.  They suspected a rupture of some sort in the colon.  From their perspective, the next step would be surgery, but they didn’t think Mom was a good candidate for the surgery.  They asked Chris how many kids Mom had, then said “The brothers, then need to get together and make sure everyone is on the same page as to what is going on here.  They and maybe any grandkids might want to make a trip up here to see Grandma.  Best case scenario, they get to see grandma over the weekend.  Worst case, they get to say their goodbyes.”  Needless to say, that news hit Chris pretty hard.  And I was frustrated that I wasn’t there to hear it with her.  I assured her I would be back up as soon as I could.  And I called my two brothers to make sure they were in the loop and that we were indeed still on the same page.  We all agreed that it was Mom’s wish not to have any sort of invasive procedure done that would extend her life at the expensive of quality of life.  We were thankful that she had made this decision time easier for us. 

As soon as the rehearsal ended I headed back to the hospital.  Chris filled me in on some more of the details, and we just sat and talked quietly for a while.  She finally convinced me to go on back to the house and try to get some sleep.  I agreed, knowing that likewise, she would never sleep as long as I was there.  We decided that with things in this upheaval of sorts, it would probably be better to call off the family Easter egg party for the time being.  I made it back to the house and after working a few crossword puzzles, I finally drifted off to sleep around eleven.

My phone rang right at 1:45 a.m.  It was Chris.  The surgical team had just left the room.  They were wanting to do a surgery right then.  She tried to explain the family’s wishes, but she knew they wouldn’t be satisfied until they talked in person to whoever had medical power of attorney.  So back to the hospital again.  The picture of what had happened to Mom over the past ten days or so was slowly beginning to take shape.  The doc had started out by saying “We know she had diverticulitis.”  That was news to us.  The urinary tract infection was probably caused by a small leak in the colon, which was compromised by the diverticulitis.  Over a period of days the leak has gotten larger, and now the CT shows that she has the air in her abdomen.  We were left with two options.  One, surgery.  That would clean out the infection, but would leave her with a colostomy bag and considerable post-operative pain.  The downside was that she was a very poor candidate to survive the surgery because of her age and the event back in the ER that had compromised / weakened her heart.  Two, no surgery.  There is a very remote chance that the problem will correct itself.  In the meantime she would be treated with antibiotics and medication to control the pain.  Once again, bolstered by the knowledge that Mom knew she was right with God and was headed to heaven when she died, and by the confidence of her having stated her wishes much earlier in life, and by the solidarity of the brothers, I thanked the surgery team and assured them that we had made an informed decision.  They accepted it, and assured us that they would be there to answer any questions or to be available if we changed our minds. 

OK.  Double whew.  Once again I sat quietly with Chris for a long time before finally coming back to the house somewhere around four a.m.  I dozed kind of fitfully until around six, my usual time to wake up.  I called the brothers again to keep them updated.  Pretty soon I’ll head back up to the hospital to see if the results of that C-DIFF test have come back.  The reason that’s a big deal?  If it is positive, then that is an infectious disease and the little guys shouldn’t come up to see MeeMaw.  That’s an awful lot of bad news to handle over the course of one 24 hour period that just happened to also be Good Friday.  Not any worse than the rampant bad news that swept the world on the first Good Friday, though.  But the incomprehensible pain and agony of that day resulted in the most incredible joy and long-lasting benefit that the universe has ever known.  Easter ... So much more than just bunnies and candy and colored eggs.  And for Mom?  Won’t be long before she’ll be dancing the dance of ultimate joy with Jesus and Jesse.  I know she’d happily take the trade-off. 

In John 14:27 Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Father, it is really hard not to give in to those troubled hearts you talked about, and the unknown always has that all-too familiar taste of fear in it.  So thank you for that peace, for your peace.  Amen. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

April 18 – “Coming Together ... Remembering Jerry L. Vaughan”

Aaaand … Mom’s white count rose again yesterday, back up into the 30’s.  No discharge yet. 

Uncle Jerry’s funeral went pretty well yesterday.  Deacon Sam from Holy Family Parish did a great job with the service, especially in the way he wove in scripture and chose selections appropriate for the situation.  He also put together a nice eulogy.  Really helped that he knew Jerry well.  Jerry’s two granddaughters each had a speaking part, and they did a fantastic job.  I know he was proud of them.  His two grandsons were among the pallbearers.  My part was to share what was in my heart and to coordinate an open sharing time.  There were comments of remembrance and encouragement from people who had been touched by Jerry in all walks of his life: Rotary Club, Family, Knights of Columbus, Neighbors, Sailing … even some members of his high school football team.  Here is what I said:

Coming together:  Remembering Jerry Vaughan  April 17, 2014

A great way to discover encouragement in the midst of a frustrating time like this is to come together in some common bond, to find some ways to connect.

1. And the first place to connect is always with God
            He wants to be in a personal love relationship with you.  So much so that he somehow became a man – Jesus – lived a perfect life, died, and rose from the dead to take care of the problem with sin that we all have.  Since that is taken care of, now that relationship is again possible.  But remember he wants it to be one of love.  And the only way love has any real meaning is if you can choose it.  So God gives us that choice.  Begin a love relationship with him the same way you begin any relationship – start talking.  Say something like this: “God I know I sin, and I’m sorry.  Best I know how, I want to turn away from that and to you.  I believe you lived a perfect life, died, and rose from the dead for me.  Come into my life and take over.  You be the boss.”  Now that’s a connection.      

2.  And it’s good to connect with other people who have made that God-connection.
           We are doing that today.  Being here together.  Saying together the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s not about how we are different.  The important thing is coming together in agreement around the most important thing – Jesus Christ.

3.  One of my favorite ways to connect is to remember together - out loud.
            Get together and share some of the things you remember about Jerry.  Little things.  Things that inspired you.  Things that taught you.  Things that made you laugh.  Things that made you cry.  And in that spirit, I’d like to share my own …

Top Ten Random Fun Facts about Uncle Jerry
10.  When we were kids we called him Unkie.  I never was sure if that annoyed him (which I’m sure we were going for), or made him proud.  I called him that not too long ago, though, and he smiled really big and said, “I sure haven’t heard THAT in a long time.”
9.  Again, when we were kids, Jerry was a lifeguard at the Seahorse Motel.  He would come home with terrible sunburns – the kind that causes your skin to peel off.  My brothers and I used to have contests to see who could peel the biggest piece of skin off of Unkie’s back.  I know.  Strange, right?
8.  Jerry was a wealth of information of all kinds.  Here’s an example of what he remembered:
“We went through the 1942 Storm in that house on 25th Street, on the alley corner between L and M.  The wind blew an oak tree onto the house.  City crews came and pulled it off the house and replanted it, but with a tilt toward the street this time.  That’s why so many of the trees in Galveston lean over the street.  That was because of the 1942 Storm. 
“Did you know that there was a P.O.W. camp about where the Rainforest CafĂ© is located now?  We used to go over there and watch the prisoners play some weird game we had never seen before.  It was soccer.” 
7.  Jerry played high school football.  He was the quarterback for the Kirwin High Buccaneers.  But you know, one of the times we talked, he told something about my Dad – his big brother Buster.  He said, “You know, Buster played football at Kirwin.  He was number 22.  That was the reason I always wanted to play football at Kirwin, too.  Buster was kind of my hero.”  Hey, here was the guy who I always idolized as the big football hero telling me that his idol was my Dad.  That meant a lot to me. 
6.  One of the things he was most proud of – outside of his incredibly beautiful and amazingly talented grandkids – was the fact that his nephews had such a conglomeration of interests.  More than once he pointed out that I was into theology, Joey was into biology, and Jay was into geology – all coming together in some mystical union within one family. 
5.  One time as we waited for the paramedics to arrive to take him to the hospital, Jerry thanked me profusely for coming to his aid.  He said he wanted the world to know that “whoever said Catholics and Baptists couldn’t coexist – especially in the same family - has never met the Vaughans.”
4.  Jerry was really looking forward to the grand re-opening of St. Mary’s here in Galveston after the big post-Hurricane Ike reconstruction project there.  That’s this week I think.  But you know, his excitement wasn’t so much about the beautiful historical landmark.  Nah.  He was just excited to see his friend Cardinal DiNardo again.  Friends were important to him.
3.  Speaking of friends, a lot of people knew Jerry, too.  I know he had FaceBook friends from literally all over the world.  One of his long-time friends, Bill Cherry had this to say about him:
“Jerry and I were friends for decades. One of the great thinkers and great Roman Catholics of all times. If you don't have a copy of his books, you should immediately go to amazon.com and buy one each. They will enrich your life, I promise. RIP, Jerry.” 
And I am certain Jerry would grin broadly at that and say, “Thanks for the plug, Bill!”
2.  Jerry was incredibly proud of his kids.  He loved telling people that he couldn’t say what top secret things his son Jer was doing with the Air Force or “he’d have to kill you.”  And any time he was in the hospital he always insisted that the doctors stick around his room long enough for him to call his daughter Kristen, because “she is a doctor and can understand whatever it is you’re talking about.”  And Karen was pretty special to him, too, because he said she reminded him so much of her mother.  I’m just impressed that she has lived for so long in Chicago.  It’s cold up there.
1.  Jerry loved living on an island.  Fishing.  Rotary Club.  Sailing.  Knights of Columbus.  A host of friends.  All were important to him.  But when you got down to it with him … he just wanted to be close to the water.  Galveston was home. 

Don’t leave here today without sharing a story or two and a hug with each other. 

Psalms 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

Father God, thank you for being right here with us.  Thank you for the friends and family who have been touched by Jerry, and who have in turn reached out to comfort these folks here.  Our prayer for today is that you will surround our family with your peace that passes all understanding.  Our prayer for tomorrow?  The same.  One day at a time, walk with us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.