February 12, 2014

Updating

It's been just over two years since Don passed away and he is still very much missed. Since then, I've been at my other blog---The Misadventures of Widowhood---over HERE.

January 29, 2012

A Good Man Dies


Eleven years, eight months after Don's stroke he passed away after a brief hospitalization for pneumonia with respiratory failure. It was a tribute to the kind of man he was both before and after that stroke that his service was packed with many people to help give him one, final goodbye. It was a very upbeat service with many busts of laughter as several friends and family members stepped up front to share memories of Don. My contribution was the eulogy I wrote which is posted below. Don loved the Old West so I tried to put a western twist to his service. With that in mind the reverend used the Lone Ranger Creed in place of reading scriptures and used stories I had told him to illustrate how Don tried to live up to the creed. At the end we played the Randy Travis version of 'Happy Trails to You.'
Jean
****** ******* *****

The Eulogy

The purpose of a eulogy is to share a person’s life in one single speech. How do you do that for a man like Don ******* who in many ways lived an unconventional life? We could say that he was born April **** 1941 and that he grew up on a farm just outside of **********. We could share dry facts that many of you already know like he had three brothers, graduated from ****** High, and was in the Army Reserves. We could tell you that Don worked nights as a die maker at General Motors and he had his own parking lot maintenance business. Or we could talk about the fact that when ever anyone tried to get him to explain why he didn’t get married after dating and working with Jean for several decades he’d say, “Why, we hardly know each other!”

There are three themes that ran throughout Don’s adult life: collecting, snowplowing, and hunting. You didn’t have to know him well to know that these were his main passions. Before his stroke, eleven and a half years ago, he could tell endless stories about being an American Picker long before there was a TV show by that name. Also in his storyteller’s trove were tales of plowing the Big Blizzard of 1978. And when the topic of hunting came up, Don often told the story about the time his friend shot his brand new truck and then put a Band-Aid over the hole to cover it up. In all the years Don owned that truck he never got the bullet hole repaired because he delighted in telling people about how he got that hole in the hood. He loved to tell long-winded stories. So much so that friends used to tease him, saying they had all his stories numbered and memorized and all he really had to do was shout out a number and it would save everyone a lot of time.

That all ended the day Don had a massive stroke that not only took his mobility away but it also took his speech. Even then he still found ways to be a storyteller. One way was to put Jean in a position where she had no choice but to explain what was on Don’s mind. Like the day he parked his wheelchair right in front of the door to a store selling cigarettes and he wouldn’t let anyone in or out. In a militant way only an x-smoker on a mission could do, he held up three fingers while repeating the word “three!” over and over again. This forced Jean to tell Don’s story to the gathering crowd about how he used to smoke three to six packs of cigarettes a day and he blamed the habit for earning him heart by-pass and a stroke. 

There are other labels besides stroke survivor, storyteller, collector, hunter and snowplower we could apply to Don that helps define who he was as a man: brother, uncle, neighbor, co-worker, friend, boss, and landlord to name a few. 

He was also loyal to his friends, honest to a fault, and he was especially kind to old ladies which might explain why he finally married Jean when she was nearly old enough to collect Social Security.
Don was also courageous for the way he faced the challenges brought on by the stroke. His special shorthand story for all he’d gone through was to hold up two fingers and say the word “two!” This was Jean’s queue to explain that two neurologists had told the family he’d be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Most people, upon hearing this, would respond the same way: “You sure fooled them!” And it was true. To friends and family who spent time with Don after the stroke, it was clear that despite his disabilities he was still the same, intelligent and caring person he’d always been.
Over the years Don and Jean had talked about the kinds of funerals they wanted, usually after going to one they didn’t like. He even worked in this very funeral home when he was in high school. And through the experience he came to appreciate the value of a good send off. One thing Don wanted at his service is a western twist. So with that in mind we’re going to end this eulogy by reading the Lone Ranger’s Creed. The Lone Ranger, many of you will remember, was the original good guy of the Old West dating back to the days when kids listened to his serialized stories on the radio. Don was a good guy, too, who not only had a copy of this creed in his collection of western memorabilia but he also tried to live up to it his whole life.

The Creed
"I believe that to have a friend,
a man must be one.

That all men are created equal
and that everyone has within himself
the power to make this a better world.

That God put the firewood there
but that every man
must gather and light it himself.

[I believe….]
In being prepared
physically, mentally, and morally
to fight when necessary
for that which is right.

That a man should make the most
of what equipment he has.

That “This government,
of the people, by the people
and for the people”
shall live always.

That men should live by
the rule of what is best
for the greatest number.

That sooner or later...
somewhere...somehow...
we must settle with the world
and make payment for what we have taken.

That all things change but truth,
and that truth alone, lives on forever.
[I believe…]
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man."
******************
I am closing this blog now as this 'caregiver' chapter of my life is now in the past. I'm starting a new blog titled 'The Misadventures of Widowhood.' Long time followers of this blog know that writing about Don's stroke was my way of coping with the challenges it brought into our lives. I blogged often in the early years and as one challenge after another was overcome my posting became less and less frequent. I'm hoping the new blog will be the same kind of useful tool as the next chapter of my life unfolds. Stop by sometime and say, "Hi" over here.
Goodbye to all my readers here and goodbye to Don, my own special Ke-mo-sah-bee.


To get back to The Misadventures of Widowhood click here. 

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December 23, 2011

Christmas Letter to Family and Friends

Season Greetings!

Before sitting down to write our annual Christmas letter, I reviewed last year’s letter to make sure I couldn’t just say “ditto 2010” and be done with it for this year, 2011. No such luck. Then I searched a website that prints submissions of the worst Christmas letters ever received just to make sure one of ours wasn’t sent in by someone on our mailing list. Thank you all for resisting that temptation.

2011 in review: We didn’t do anything as exciting as hike the Appalachian Trail---unless dreaming about it counts---or as pitiful as sitting propped in chairs with bibs around our necks---unless nightmares count. So I guess you could say those facts speak volumes about our ho-hum lives here in our villa where it was discovered that hammers come in handy for opening childproof caps and our conversations often sound like this:

"Windy, isn't it?" I say to Don and the dog.

"No," Don replies, "Thursday."

And Levi in dog-speak says, “Me too. When is someone going to fill my water dish?”

We did accomplish one noteworthy thing this year. We saved ourselves from the embarrassment of someday having our stuff featured on the TV program Storage Wars---that’s the show where they auction off the contents of storage units when someone falls behind on the rent. With the help of a good friend, Tim, we emptied out our storage unit that had been sitting untouched since Don’s stroke. This was no small weekend project. The unit was ten by twenty-five feet and Don campaigned to save just about every other item enclosed from going on e-Bay. Thankfully, he lost most of those “keep it/sell it” duel of words and we no longer qualify to be featured on the TV show Hoarders.

That was the highpoint of the year. As for the low point, this year will live in infamy for being the Year of the Chronic Hives. I’ve officially had the hives almost every single day of 2011. After a regiment of taking three different antihistamines daily, seeing four doctors, submitting my body and blood for umpteen tests, and getting a prescription that lists the main side-effect as “suicidal thoughts”---as if the hives don’t already make you want to slit your throat---I learned that Baby Oil Gel with Lavender and Camomile from the Dollar Tree store works best at taming the itching. Thank God for that discovery because a few times I’ve come close to ordering a gorilla suit to wear out shopping just so I’d be excused for scratching assorted body parts in public.

Aside from the above mentioned highs and lows, 2011 brought us a succession of ordinary-to-lovely days, the kind that make you happy to be alive and living in a place where you can write a silly Christmas letter to touch bases with family and friends. Wishing you all a joyful Christmas and a happy New Year!

With Love,

Jean with Don’s seal of approval

October 21, 2011

From the Caregiver Kitchen

The house is quite. For now. Within the hour Don will be up and he’ll be bellowing out, “Jean!” every few minutes. Can’t get his foot started in his pants. “Jean!” Got his arm caught in his shirt. “Jean!” Can’t put on his sock. “Jean!” Of course I could save myself a lot of walking back and forth if I just stayed by his side and helped him get dressed but that would enable him to be even more dependent and give me less opportunities to complain under my breath about my role as a caregiver/spouse. Somehow doing the latter seems to cancel out my fears of total dependency on his part. He does try his best before bellowing out like a cow overdue for milking.

When my husband finally comes rolling out of the bedroom he’ll pull up to the table and starting eating cereal from the bowl before putting the milk in. The carton will be sitting right next to his bowl, but no, I’ll have to pour it in or he’d eat the entire bowl of cereal dry. This, of course, annoys me to no end. It’s bad enough that he's served cereal for breakfast day after day but to eat it dry is an ultimate embarrassment to the kitchen staff---that would be me.

Preparing breakfast is not my forte but just this past week I fried bacon for the second time in my entire life. It only took me hours of watching the Food Network to get up the courage to try. The first time I fried bacon---56 years ago---grease spit at my face and burned my eye. Every since I’ve been buying my bacon served along side of scrambled eggs and toast. Is it any wonder that I consider bacon frying as the crowning achievement in my otherwise lack lust world of cutlery arts? I came. I conquered. I climbed the mountain. Where's my trophy?

When I was a teenager and my mother was trying to teach me to cook she’d often say, “You’d better marry a man rich enough to go to restaurants every night!” I was just not catching on. In my defense she was no Rachel Ray when it came to teaching technique. I learned more from watching chefs Anne and Robert’s TV show, Worst Cook in America, than in my mother’s kitchen. But I did follow Mom’s advice about finding a man who loved going out to restaurants, thus for decades I had a cooking-free kitchen until recent years when Don became wheelchair dependent. Now, I struggle to do what other women take for granted. Oh, well, I have a back up plan, if needed. I can always sign us up for Jenny Craig just so we can get three meals a day delivered to our doorstep. ©

December 17, 2010

Christmas Time on The Planet Aphasia

Greetings! 2010


It’s that time of the year again when thoughts of sugar plums and Santa’s elves and of scoring that great gift at Macy’s fight for space in our dreams with the real meaning of Christmas. We put trees up in our living rooms, deck the halls with holly, and hang evergreen wreaths on our front doors as tributes to the season. And along with all the other traditional things people do to commemorate the birth of Jesus and the spirit of giving, we exchange good wishes through the ritual of sending Christmas cards and letters.

Out of ideas this year for our Christmas letter, I consulted one of those online how-to-write-Christmas-letters sites and got depressed after reading that most people get 20 to 30 newsletters over the holidays. Woo is me, Don and I don’t get any where near that many. Pushing past that disappointing fact, I learned that you’re not supposed to brag in your annual written greetings. Shoot! That means I can’t tell you that I finally made a valiant effort to learn how to cook this year and along the way there hasn’t been a single fire in the kitchen.

Other specific suggestions found on the web for writing Christmas letters were:

1) Tell about births, deaths, marriages and moves. We have nothing new to report on those topics unless we can count the infestation of box elder bugs that moved into our south-facing siding last fall. I must admit, though, that it crossed my mind they’d make a good source of protein. But the Food Network didn’t have any recipes for box elder stew so I gave up on that idea rather quickly. Instead, every morning for a week I vacuumed those evil insects off the house while the dog tortured a few of them to death.

2) If you live in an unusual place, have an unusual job or took an unusual vacation, write about it. In the land of Don and Jean there are no jobs. (Retirement is a great perk of growing older.) Nor did we take an exotic vacation this year unless we count going down the international foods aisle at Meijer for the first time. Who knew it was there all along?

3) Tell about the best book you read this year. You’ve got to be kidding! Do people really put that sort of thing in Christmas letters? Just in case that’s true, you should know that I joined a book club this year and that I’m lusting after an i-Pad so I can read in bed like I used to do in my single-hood days. Next year, to spice it up, there’ll be a book report in our Christmas letter---or perhaps a review of the King Arthur Flour catalogue.

4) Tell about something cute the kids did. As you know we don’t have children to do cute things but the dog should count as our surrogate son and Levi likes to track bunnies in the back yard hoping to find the “chocolate” nuggets they leave him for treats. He’ll be three years old next month and he’s still bringing laughter and “oh, yuck!” moments into our lives.

5) Share little hints for making life easier. Seriously? Who does THAT in a Christmas letter? Okay, there’s always a first time for everything. Here’s my hint: When browning a roast in a cast iron Dutch oven don’t forget to take that blotter of white paper and plastic off the bottom of the meat. Burned plastic is so hard to remove from piping hot pots.

6) Keep it light. The holidays are supposed to be happy. Oh, sure. That’s an unrealistic bit of advice for writing Christmas letters. What if your best friend died, you lost your job and the universe is spinning out of control? What if you’re measuring up a refrigerator box to live in because your house is in foreclosure? Thankfully, none of those things are true for us this year and hopefully all our friends and family reading this letter can say the same thing.

7) Know when to quit. Don’t write more than one page. That must mean it’s time to say Merry Christmas and please accept our best wishes for a wonderful 2011!

From Jean with love from all of us---Me, Don and Levi the schnauzer

June 27, 2010

Lint for Breakfast

Why do old people pick at lint? When my husband’s mother was in a nursing home she would walk the halls and pick up every piece of lint on the floors. It was a hobby or an obsession, I could never figure out which. Now, my husband is doing the same thing. Where ever he sees lint, he picks at it….usually when he sees it on me. Okay, so I’m not the queen of good laundry habits. I forget to check pockets and I sometimes wash Kleenex and we all know how that works out. But I do my best to remove the evidence of my laundry day crimes before returning the clean laundry to the closet. What Don picks at are the little hairs that fall when you brush your hair or the nearly microscopic stuff that only a person on a mission can find. It drives me crazy!

Yesterday I reached my limit of lint picking and I---well, sort of raised my voice at Don.

“Quit picking! We’re not chimpanzees who need to pick fleas off each other to control the little ugly insects from eating our flesh off. Lint is harmless. I like lint! God, if anthropologist Jane Goodall studied old people like us she’d have a hard time telling us apart from a couple of orangutans in the wild! Next thing I know you’ll be eating my lint for breakfast!”

He looked at me like I’d turned into Linda Blair in The Exorcist. I checked the floor. No, there wasn’t lint filled, green vomited all over the place. I was still me and I had just yelled at a man who was only trying to help me primp---ala monkey style---for a graduation party we were going to. So I did what I always do when I’ve made a fool of myself. I tried to turn my anger into humor. Scratching my ribs cage and doing my best imitation of chimpanzee chatter, I shuffled off as if nothing unusual had just happened. ©

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May 30, 2010

The Joyful Living Party

Don's 'Ten Years of Joyful Living' party was a week ago today. The flowers that one guest brought and the others we had scattered around the house are fading but the glow of happiness is still hanging around. It's been ten years since his stroke and even with all my husband's physical issues, he's still happy to have beaten the prognosis of two neurologists that he'd be a vegetable for the rest of his life.

Every survivor of a major health crisis should have a 'Thank God I'm Alive' type party. It gives people an excuse to tell you how important you've been in their lives and/or it gives your guests a chance to stop and be thankful for their own good health or for having overcome obstacles in their own lives. We heard a lot stories like that. And people shared their memories of happy times spurred on by old photographs they brought. The party was filled with laughter from start to finish. One good friend brought a CD he'd made of music that was representative of hunting trips he, Don and another friend had taken out West. We also have a new metal sculpture of a crane standing next to our cattail bog where he can remind us every morning that it's great to be alive.

I told Don if he ever wants another party it's going to be catered in a restaurant. It was a lot of work to throw a party for 41 people all by myself and I'm just not a person with a lot of kitchen or party planning skills. The one thing I didn't worry about at all---the individual cakes I'd ordered and paid a fortune for---turned out to be the only part of the party that I was disappointed in. They looked great but were more frosting than cake inside. But even that became symbolic of the past ten years because in the aftermath of anything that goes wrong in life, you've got to let go of the little stuff and concentrate on what went right, what is really important in life. And in this case, too sweet cake is 'little stuff' compared to the people who cared enough to make time in their busy lives to come celebrate Don's life. That's huge and we're grateful for that.

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