Created: Monday, 12 January 2015 14:57
When my amazing sister Kris and I reviewed the draft of Mom's obituary, we noted that it sounded boilerplate. Beloved wife, devoted mother, loving grandmother: it sounded like the funeral director who drafted it just filled in the blanks with our info. Which is probably exactly what she did. We didn't mind. All these things were true, and it served the purpose of letting people know Mom was gone. We made a minor change and approved it.
The memorial was another story. That had to be personal. And it was.
I stayed away from Facebook. The experience felt too tender to share and yet, too precious not to. I've been waiting for the right words to come to me. They finally have.
It's an honor to be a part of someone's life and an even greater honor to be a part of their passing.
It's a blessing when the person who is transitioning is ready, and faces their demise with courage and even humor.
It's inspiring when each stage of decline is lived consciously in a way that leaves no regrets.
It's a gift when the loss of one family member brings the family together in new ways, deepening their love.
It's heartening when the surviving spouse settles into his new life so authentically that it leaves you in respectful awe.
My Step Mom, Harriet Jonsson, passed away December 19th 2014. I was honored, blessed, inspired, gifted and heartened. It was a grace-filled and transformational experience for all of us.
We know Mom is resting in peace because that is how she passed.
Created: Friday, 09 January 2015 17:21
I met Mary Ann in Renaissance Assisted Living a little over a year ago. She was new to the facility. She struck me as having a great attitude. She wasn't there by choice. She was grieving her home. Yet, she wasn't resisting her current fate. She told me, "I'll get used to it and this will feel like home soon enough."
I paid careful attention in part because at that time, my parents were also grieving their house and former independence. They were still resisting their new reality.
They did settle in eventually. I was touched by the sincere expressions of sadness people expressed over my Step Mom's passing. I was moved and heartened by the genuine caring I felt toward my father, both from staff and other residents. I also experienced an unexpected show of support toward me, from Mary Ann.
Mary Ann came in to the dining room, and shuffled over with her walker to my side of the table where I sat with Dad and Dave. She asked me, "How are you doing?" "I'm okay," I told her. "Well, if you need someone to talk with, call me," she told me. "Thanks! I appreciate that," I replied.
It was hard for me to explain that we were experiencing more joy and love than grief and loss. It was hard for me - and us - to convey to anyone who hadn't been through the whole journey together how much sweet tenderness and grace there was in this loss. It hadn't occurred to me that I might need support. It hadn't occurred to me that I might reach out to an assisted living resident to get support. I was surprised - and touched - by Mary Ann's offer. If I had felt the need to talk, or even just had more time free from my focus on Dad, I would have taken her up on it. I wanted Mary Ann to know how deeply her offer affected me.
When Dad and I got up to leave, I asked him to excuse me for just a moment. I went over to Mary Ann's table and touched my heart. I said, "Thank you. Your offer means the world to me."
One of Mary Ann's table mates said, "Mary Ann has a beautiful heart."
"I figured that out about her right away," I replied. And I had. I just hadn't realized how confidently and generously she would share it.
Created: Thursday, 08 January 2015 12:31
I wanted to go to breakfast in the assisted living dining room with Dad the morning after Mom passed so I could answer the question, "How's Harriet." I didn't want Dad to have to tell people. I had broken the news at dinner the night before, and it was clear they hadn't been updated about Mom's decline. "When she went to skilled nursing, we all thought she'd get better and come back to us," one of the residents said.
There would be people at breakfast who hadn't been at dinner, and I thought it would be easier for Dad if I was there. It didn't work out that way. I slept in, and woke when Dad came back from breakfast.
"How was it?" I asked. "It was great," he said, with a pleased look on his face. "The two Daves were there."
Dad and Mom had eaten breakfast with two fellows named Dave for a while. Clearly, Dad was happy to eat with his buddies.
I joined Dad and The Two Daves for breakfast for the rest of my stay. One Dave speaks in a low fast voice that is tough for Dad to understand. He has trouble understanding Dad's Icelandic accent. The other speaks clearly, but has some cognitive impairment. Conversation is limited. And yet they enjoy their mornings, breaking bread together in quiet communion.
Over the remainder of my stay, I got the two Daves talking more. I rephrased what they said so Dad could understand. It was sweet and fun to get to know them, and Dad was pleased to learn things about them that he didn't know.
It was nice while it lasted. I expect that when I left, the breakfast table got quieter. That's okay, There might be less conversation than there was while I was there, but there is every bit as much communion.
Created: Wednesday, 07 January 2015 01:53
There's always an emotional component to helping people declutter and organize, especially after loss. I was excited, but also nervous about how Dad would respond to my rearranging his living area. I did my best to be sensitive to him. After all, not only was I messing with his stuff, I was moving and removing many of the traces of Mom.
I was excited for him to try out his reading chair now that I had put stable tables on both sides. Instead, he sat in another chair and just looked around. Then he stared off in space as if deep in thought. We spend a lot of time in silence together since Mom passed, so I thumbed through a magazine while I waited for him to comment. I started to wonder if my moving so much of Mom's stuff stirred emotion in him. I didn't think he needed a rock from each country they had visited on the coffee table (there were a lot of them), but they each hold memories. Had I moved some of Mom's memories before he was ready? I gave him several more minutes, and then asked, "What are you thinking?"
"I was thinking that our guests this morning wouldn't recognize the place if they came back. It's nice."
I was glad I asked. Instead of guessing, I learned that he welcomed the change.
Dad knew how much change he was ready for. He noted that there were medicines, clothes and other items of Mom's in the rest of the apartment that would have to be disposed of bit by bit. "Would you like me to help you with that while I'm here?" I asked. "No," he told me. "Let's save that for another visit."
This is the first man I ever loved and the first man I ever feared. This is the man I strove to prove myself to and the man whose opinion of me I sought to free myself from. This is the man I yearned to share my soul with and would find myself speechless with.
Eventually I did prove myself to him: this man read my books and savored them and learned from them and practiced my methods. Now, this man and I sit comfortably together in silence and speak freely about sensitive issues like moving memories.
We did it. We made it through one of life's most stressful events with our hearts wide open.
Dad got up and walked over to his reading chair. He tried out his new setup. Yes. The changes suited him.
Created: Tuesday, 06 January 2015 01:45
Lean Manufacturing arranges things according to the point of use and flow. I continually "lean out" my own home so our various processes/activities flow. I wanted to streamline my Dad's living area now that he lives there alone. With his limited mobility and vision, placement matters a lot.
"What's the master plan?" Dad asked me.
Those are words that send chills to an interators' spine. They imply that one should anticipate every step before beginning a project. Once upon a time, I would respond to words like that by faking it. I have learned to stand up for my one-step-at-a-time iterative process. I told him:
"I'll start by getting that big table out of here and then see what works. My desire is to give you easy access to the things you need when you're in your chair. I want you to have stable surfaces to put things on when you sit. I want to get rid of obstructions and to clear a path to the light switch for the overhead lights. If you don't like anything I do, I'll put it back for you."
He was good with that. He left to make his bed and take his meds.
I had waited until late in my visit to initiate the changes. I had watched how he operated and knew what worked for him and what didn't. Now that Mom is gone and he lives there alone, it just made sense to set it up for his low-vision convenience. He had expensive magnifying glasses that broke because he dropped them - because he didn't have a good surface to put them on. He needed a lap desk to work on. He needed to be able to reach the lights. I wanted to make it right for him.
I was almost complete when Dad returned. I expected some resistance when he saw it. I got nothing but appreciation. I think his words were something like, "Wow."
And I did it without a master plan.
Created: Monday, 05 January 2015 14:58
In Lean Manufacturing, managers are required to do a lot of observation. Often, they are asked to stand in a single spot and watch a single assembly process for entire days.
One of the reasons I stayed at my Dad's assisted living apartment is so I could observe my Dad in action. I wanted to see how he operates and what he might want help with.
Now that Mom is gone, the aides assumed Dad would want them to do the laundry. When I was there before, Dad propped the laundry basket on Mom's wheelchair handles and pushed. She was his eyes at the laundry as he loaded and operated the machines.
Now that she's gone, he still does his own laundry. He can't carry the basket so he drags it with his cane. He uses the tools he has. Once the machine is loaded, he does ask an aide to start it.
He can't see much and he can't hear well. His balance is shaky. But he is at home and he enjoys his sunset days, staying as functional as someone in his situation can be. He makes it work, using the tools he has.
It's a sweet observation.