Reading the Last Chapter

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I have been candidly sharing what is happening in my mom’s world living with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The story has been a few years in the telling; parts of her story are not easy to tell, other parts are sprinkled with joy and little bits of humor. The part of her story that we are in right now is very hard to write about, but telling her story has been important to me because I know there are others traveling on this path and perhaps our experience can shed a little light on the path of those traveling behind us, and comfort and companionship for others.

In addition to blogging about mom’s story, I have been finding great comfort in listening to audiobooks while on this somewhat solitary part of mom’s journey Home. Books are great companions. As a wanna-be writer, I enjoy seeing how various authors tell their stories, develop characters, and weave their story lines. One of my friends likes to jump ahead to the last chapter of books and read how the story ends before she decides whether the book is worth reading. If she likes how the story ends, she’ll read the book. She explains, “Knowing how the story ends doesn’t ruin the story for me.” For my friend, there is enjoyment in knowing where the plot is headed. She loves noticing how each character is introduced and how the little twists and turns in the story line fit into how the story will ultimately end.

A phone call I received on Sunday night makes me feel like I’m about to skip ahead in mom’s story. My phone rang at 7:09 pm and lasted only one minute. The call was Kate from BeeHive calling to tell me that they believed my mom had suffered a significant stroke. Kate’s voice was filled with compassion. She didn’t have to say it, but we both knew that this new twist meant that we were most likely in mom’s final chapter of life.

I told Kate I would be there in a few minutes and then hurriedly tossed a few changes of clothing in my backpack, grabbed my Bible and my favorite pillow, then headed toward BeeHive.

I am so thankful I already know the end of the story. Alzheimer’s loses. God wins.

Tiptoe through my tulips

Another week of Spring. Daffodils are waning and tulips are still in various stages of loveliness.

Photo credit: Wayne L. Winquist
Tulipa ‘Merry Go Round’ was planted in 2014, but disappeared after blooming the first year or two. I’m happy to see this little survivor making a return. Bonus: there are multiple flowers on each plant.
I love these double, late-flowering tulips. There was supposed to be a mixture of purple, pink and white – but only these two purple ones thus far.
A newer tulip in my garden – ‘Spring Green’. It is a Viridiflora tulip with lily-like petals with a pretty green central vein. You can see I’m also losing a battle with the nemesis of my garden – an invasive creeping bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides.

If I ever need to plant a tree – I would most definitely consider planting another beautiful Star Magnolia. The flowers don’t last nearly long enough, but the tree is gorgeous and trouble-free. We have lost nearly all of the trees planted by the original landscapers back in the 1980’s (spruce, ash, birch, honey locust, flowering crab, etc.), but the magnolias continue to faithfully strut their stuff every year. I love the double skirt of petals on this one.

Magnolia ‘Royal Star’ (I think)
Photo credit: Wayne L. Winquist

Well that’s my “Six on Saturday” – thanks for joining me on a little photographic jaunt around my yard. And a special thanks to “The Propagator” for hosting “Six on Saturday” each week. If you check out his “comments” section, you can visit a whole bunch of lovely gardens, gather ideas and suggestions for your own, or have a go at posting your own six.

This Quieter Life: Time to Sew

I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit that I usually don’t know what day of the week it is anymore. Not because I feel like I’m losing my cognitive abilities; rather, my days (and yours, I would venture) have lost their structure and rhythm. With all the usual activities on the calendar wiped clean, my internal calendar has gone kerflooey.

Were it not for my phone and the special clock we bought for mom, I’m pretty sure I would often not have a clue. (Yes, it’s an old picture. Some of you may be thinking, “No wonder she doesn’t know what day it is!”)


Even though I may not know what day it is, I have challenged myself to keep busy. My house is getting cleaner by the day as I try to tackle one or two cleaning tasks each day. Cupboards and closets are being ‘tidied’ KonMari-style; even the car has been tidied, organized, vacuumed and washed. During our recent warmer weather, I was able to give the garden a little of the attention it deserves. Books that have been in my “read someday” pile are actually getting read…or removed from the pile.

My craft room is a disaster though – it looks like a fabric bomb exploded in there. This time it’s me making the mess and not my grandkids. The weather isn’t cooperating for my preferred activity of gardening, so I’m actually getting around to trying to create some of those ideas I have “pinned” on Pinterest. As an aspiring seamstress, I stink at inserting zippers. With life moving at a slower pace, I determined now was the time to practice. So, I’ve been making little things that require zippers: tote bags, makeup bags, and a little pouch.

I’m enjoying this quieter life, along with its opportunities for creativity. Even so, I’m really looking forward to getting back to normal. I’m only hoping that this time spent in quiet has helped me to see that “normal” could look different – less busy, yet more productive and fulfilling.

What about you? What have you been doing to fill your quieter days?

The Table – A Place to Gather

I think one of the things I miss the most during this time of pandemic isolation reality is being able to gather around a table with those I love. I don’t think I’ve truly understood the importance of ‘gathering together’ in my life until now when it isn’t advisable to do so.

Tables are made for gathering, and so are we.

Every room in my house has a table. Some just gather stuff: a bedside lamp and a stack of books; a little collection of photos and a jar of buttons. But most tables are designed to be a place where people sit and gather.

In our home, there’s the gem of a dining room table we found in an antique shop in downtown Milwaukee. It came with six chairs, three leaves and a sideboard. The rattan seated chairs have since been replaced by some Amish built oak chairs of a sturdier variety.

Then, there is our wonderful kitchen table purchased shortly after moving into our home 20-something years ago. I fell in love with that table when we were shopping for a couch – actually, I think it was the table’s matching china cabinet that I fell in love with, but hubby was willing to buy the whole set for me. The table has taken a beating over the years, but it’s still our favorite place for family and friends to gather for a meal, to work a puzzle or play a game, or sing “Happy Birthday” and enjoy the requisite cake.

This favorite table of mine has a little drawer on one its long sides. Matt and Beth always sat on that side of the table. I didn’t find out until they were all grown up that whenever they didn’t want to eat something on their plate, they would wait until I wasn’t looking and then tuck whatever it was in the drawer. Later, when no one was in the room, they’d return to the scene of the crime and remove the disgusting food and hide it in the garbage can. It would not have been a laughing matter if they were caught doing that back then, but it is now. Whenever I sit at that table to craft or sew, I see that little drawer and smile.

My favorite table in its present abode – my craft room…and a glimpse at Matt and Beth’s drawer.

Memories are even etched in the table top itself. If you look at its table top from just the right angle and in the right light, you’ll notice years and years of homework assignments, letters, and grocery lists etched into its soft pine wood. My favorite table continues to gather memories of this sort (along with paint splotches, glitter and glue) as my grandkids gather around it and work on various arts and crafts.

Tables are made for gathering. I hope that my favorite table will be a place to create and gather memories for many years to come.

The Hidden Grace of Social Distancing

I’m a familiar face at Oregon Manor Skilled Nursing Facility in Oregon, WI. Normally, I’m in and out of there several times a week, transporting my brother Brad to or from somewhere or another, or just stopping by to bring him a smile and a cup of coffee (and a donut, if he’s lucky).

Things are a bit different now. Now I can’t go in at all.

On Monday, I rang the doorbell to the skilled nursing facility and then waited on their front porch. Tom, the facility’s administrator answered. I told him I was there to pick up Brad for an appointment at the VA. Tom went to get Brad from his room and then delivered Brad and the necessary paperwork with his medical information to me on the front porch. Tom apologized for being unable to let me in, but I understood; it was for the safety of everyone, myself included.

Even purchasing a cup of coffee for my brother was entirely different, somewhat strange experience.

I usually stop at the Kwik Trip just down the road from where Brad lives and pop in to buy him a cup of coffee to drink on our way to the hospital. Brad likes their coffee, so it’s a treat for him. Today I couldn’t pour him a cup of coffee and fix it the way he liked it because they had suspended all of their self-serve food and beverages. No worries, though. Thankfully, an employee, donned in gloves, poured Brad’s Kona dark into the extra-large cup, then added half & half until I said “when” – he likes a LOT of half & half, so “when” took awhile.

Our route takes us through the UW-Madison campus, normally teaming with student activity. Not this time. No students on bikes. No pedestrian traffic. Businesses that cater to student customers seemed forlorn and bereft of customers – some looked closed. Definitely an easier commute, but sad at the same time.

We needed to answer more than the usual screening questions at the VA’s parking garage, which seemed cavernously empty. In stark contrast to my usual squeal of delight when I actually am able to find a handicap parking spot (with my brother giving me the amused side-eye), we were both in wide-eyed wonder that we had our pick of ALL the prime handicap spots today. In fact, ANY spot would have been large enough to maneuver my brother in and out of the car with his wheelchair. It was like a ghost-town.

The procedures for gaining access to the hospital changed too, so as to minimize the risk of infection. There was a designated entrance with closer scrutiny and screening, and explicit directions to use an entirely different designated exit to minimize contact. There was no wait for an elevator (although there was one man on the elevator who protested that we got on it with him); it’s really hard to practice social distancing when you’re in an elevator and pushing a wheelchair.

Checking into the podiatry clinic was different too. A line of blue tape on the carpeting masked off a safe distance from the clinic’s reception desk. Brad and I had the pick of ALL the spots in the empty waiting room in the Lighthouse Clinic’s waiting room, where we normally have to find a spot within ear-shot in a nearby hallway. Very few patients are being seen, but they wanted my brother to come in because he is at great risk for bone infection and they are concerned about the possibility of him losing his big toe. I’d show you a picture, but trust me, you don’t want to see it.

Working with a skeleton crew in their clinic, the doctor himself came out to call Brad back to an examination room. Normally dressed in standard issue scrubs, today he was wearing a mask and had a hospital gown over his scrubs; the gown wasn’t the usual disposable gown made of blue paper, rather the cloth type one wears if they are an in-patient in the hospital — you know, the ones that tie in the back and leave your backside exposed. He carefully examined Brad’s toe, emphasizing how important it was that we get this problem under control in order to avoid amputation. Brad routinely refuses care in his nursing home, so I’m hoping that this frank discussion put a little more cooperation in him. We’ll see.

In no time, we were headed back to Oregon Manor. Arriving at the same porch where I picked Brad up, we rang the doorbell and reversed the procedure. I thanked Tom and Brad’s nurse for all they’re doing to keep residents safe and healthy, assured them of my prayers for wisdom and protection, then headed home.

It’s a beautiful spring day and it was late-morning, so I decided to make McKee Farms Park my destination on my way home. The luscious fresh air is still a little nippy, so I buttoned up my jean jacket and headed to the paved walking path. It’s my custom to pray as I walk. Today I thanked God for the people who, at risk of their own health and welfare, take care of my brother and my mother. Walking, praying, and enjoying the beauty, I couldn’t help but notice how social distancing is evident even here at the park with people keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance between themselves. The playground was eerily quiet, with no children enjoying it, even though they are all out of school.

But you know what? I noticed something else at the park too – something nice. Families. They weren’t hanging out at the playground with the kids running around and parents seated on benches looking at their cell phones. Moms, dads and kids were out walking or riding their bikes together. They were talking, smiling and laughing together. One dad was out there teaching his little one how to ride a bike. Another dad was helping his kids fly kites while mom pulled a little picnic blanket and snack out of her backpack for them. One family was taking a walk ahead of me on the path, and the kids were having fun practicing what we’ve come to know as ‘social distancing’ as they held onto the ends of 6′ ropes.

As I continued my little prayer walk, I thanked God for showing me another hidden grace of this difficult time when we’re being advised to shelter at home and practice social distancing: families truly enjoying this slower pace of life together.

I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comment section below one of the “hidden graces” you have noticed during this crazy time of responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Touching Lives: Bessie’s Note

Every now and again, someone will share a sweet story of how my mom touched their lives in some way. I love to hear the stories and decided I should really take a few moments to write them down so that I can continue to be reminded of her kindness and generosity.

One such story came via Facebook Messenger from my friend (and Mom’s) Janet Farley. Many moons ago Mom, Janet and I served together in our church’s ministry in a club for kids called Awana. I was the director of the girls’ club, mom was my club secretary, and Janet was one of our faithful Awana leaders. Janet’s daughter Bess was one of the clubbers in this ministry to kids in grades 3-6.

Mom sporting her own millinery creation for ‘Crazy Hat’ night in Awana

Janet shared with me that her daughter Bess recently came home with her husband and baby Charlie for a visit. While Bess was at home, she decided to go through some of her old things. Janet shared, “Among them was this kind letter from your mom. Your mom has changed so much, but this note is how most of us think of her. She is a wonderful lady.” Janet shared these photos of the note and I have permission to share it with you:

If you take time to read the notecard you will surely see that my mom made the card so personal. Janet made this observation about the card sent to her daughter,

“I think it is special that this note to a young girl is not just a rushed short card but is full of details and caring.”

Janet Farley

My mother had a good example in both her mother and her grandmother, who faithfully took time to write wonderful letters. Her grandmother, also named Bessie, set aside time each evening to write one long letter and one short note. As her eldest great-granddaughter, I was privileged to receive several of her letters.

Receiving thoughtfully written letters and cards via postal delivery has all but been replaced by email and memes. My sweet momma enjoys reading (and re-reading) the cards she still receives, but Alzheimer’s has advanced to the point where she can no longer compose her own letters. I’ve “inherited” her large stash of stationery, cards and postage stamps. Now it’s my turn to continue this letter writing legacy by picking up a pen and writing to someone who needs encouragement and a little bit of love in an envelope.