When Life Feels Meaningless

Every now and again, Momma says something that makes me get up, grab a piece of paper and a pencil, and write it down. Sometimes I use the quote as my writing inspiration, other times the note gets buried in one of my too-numerous stacks. Today I stumbled upon one such note I scribbled on a scrap of paper more than two years ago.

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Back in the days when I lived with Momma in her senior apartment.

My mom was still living in her senior apartment and I was camping out on her living room sofa each night. (I’m so glad that those days are over!) It was well after midnight and I could tell Momma was restless and agitated in her bedroom on the other side of the wall, so pulled up an app on my phone and looked in on her via our D-link camera. There she was sitting in the dark on the edge of her bed just looking around. Her back was to the camera, but I noticed she was reaching for tissues every so often, so suspected she was crying.

I decided to go check on her. Sure enough, she was crying…and very glad to see me. I sat on the edge of the bed and, with my hand on her shoulder, asked what was wrong.

“Oh, Cindie! My life is so meaningless,” Momma lamented through a flurry of tears. What have I even done in the past few days? I feel like I’m not pulling my weight around here. I feel useless. Just so useless!”

Just a few short years ago, I would be hard-pressed to find a busier or more productive lady. Her life was filled to the brim with post-retirement activity. Mom traveled every year with my Dad to all of his Air Force reunions; their trips took them to so many interesting places. Mom kept her retired nursing skills relevant, oftentimes accompanying a friend to a doctor’s appointment, visiting someone in a nursing home, or helping someone recovering at home understand their doctor’s orders. When Dad went through surgeries and treatments for any of his five cancers (colon, prostate, melanoma, lung, and sarcoma), she was right there beside him helping him too. My mom was super-involved in her local church – her church family knew they could count on her in any of her various ministry endeavors too.

As busy as she was, she always found time for opening the doors of her home to those in need. Several of mom’s children and grandchildren received help from her (and dad) through the years. If a grandchild needed help earning money for something they “needed,” Mom and Dad always seemed to have a too-well-paying job for them to do. A few of them needed more substantial financial help as they grew older – she was always generous. Some needed a place to stay on the cheap – there always seemed to be an extra bedroom to sleep in (with magic clean sheets every week), and favorite foods in the never-empty fridge.

Momma can’t do any of that anymore, but she really wants to help – to feel useful again. Don’t we all want that?

My sweet mother’s tears reminded me that one way I can be a blessing to her in these declining years of health is to make that extra effort to make her feel useful in her remaining days on this earth.

A New Box of Crayons

When I married my husband, my last name became Winquist. As I have melded into that name over the years, I have learned that there are certain things that go along with that name. New culinary tastes are part of the territory. I’ve learned, for instance, that homemade pies are very important. Especially rhubarb pie. Mashed potatoes are definitely made from scratch…and gravy too (still haven’t caught on to that part).

As a newbie Winquist, I learned frugality was a high priority. Empty jars and worn-out t-shirts get a second life, leftover ketchup packets are saved for future home use, and fruit and veggie scraps become wonderful compost for the gardens. My dear mother-in-law was the ‘Queen of Repurposing’ long before repurposing was even a thing. Bread bags and plastic butter tubs were rarely thrown away. Boxes took on a new life when they were covered with contact paper to make classier looking storage containers.  She even made her own rubber bands from her old support stockings (some of which are still in use in this house today).

Yes, frugality is a way of life for us.

When my daughter was in first grade, her teacher shared a concern with us at parent-teacher conference. Apparently, our family’s frugality was getting in the way of Beth enjoying first grade to its fullest. The Winquist-by-birth in our family had vetoed the Winquist-by-marriage during the requisite annual school supply shopping expedition by deciding that our daughter’s gently used crayons from kindergarten still had enough life in them for first grade. But, apparently, our Beth couldn’t help but notice that ALL of the other kids in the class had brand new crayons. It apparently sucked the joy right out of coloring for her.

At Mrs. Warner’s suggestion, Wayne lovingly laid aside his frugality and bought our Beth a new box of crayons. You would have thought he bought her the rarest treasure on earth. By laying aside the frugality and the putting on of generosity, the joy of coloring was back! In fact, since we had delayed our purchase, she now proudly owned the newest crayons in the class!

Momma happily engaged in coloring
This memory from our daughter’s childhood came to mind the other day when my still frugal husband exercised loving generosity by purchasing a fancy-schmancy set of Thornton’s colored pencils for my mother – complete with a carrying case. It was neat to witness the same joy in Mom’s eyes that I had seen in my daughter’s eyes years before. Momma’s world, lived in the throes of Alzheimer’s, was suddenly brighter and filled with more color and joy.

Spreadsheets (and other scary things)

Math has never been my strong suit. My earliest memory of my aversion to mathematics goes back to grade school. Details are fuzzy, but flash cards and standing with chalk in hand at a blackboard with snickering classmates behind me were involved in the torture. No amount of remedial help or after supper tutoring from my dad could erase the ill feeling of dread and fear whenever our teacher would stand in front of the class with a stack of paper and ask us to put our books away and take a pencil out of our desks. I can still picture her walking up and down each row of evenly spaced desks, placing a sheet of paper face-down on our desks, instructing us not to turn it over until she gave us permission. The only thing pleasant about the dreaded math quiz experience was the strangely pleasing pungent aroma of the alcohol (spirits) on the fresh, purple-inked quiz paper freshly printed on a “spirit-processed” Ditto machine (now I’m really dating myself).

“Ditto” ad and resulting sample of the purple-inked math quiz…obviously not my paper.

I dreaded getting my paper back after my teacher graded it too. That purple ink on the page would more often than not be accompanied by numerous red check-marks next to each wrong answer. Oftentimes, right next to the grade at the top of the paper, there would be a little note from the teacher that said “See Me” or something like that. It was embarrassing to never quite “get it” when everyone else around me (so it seemed) was catching on just fine.

In marriage, opposites often attract. My husband enjoys math. It’s probably not an exaggeration of facts to say that

playing with numbers brings him great satisfaction. On a related note, he truly enjoys spreadsheets. Creating them. Updating them. Analyzing them. Sharing them. He’s the type of guy that looks at pieces of information and says with a smile, “Hey, let’s build a spreadsheet for that!”

While I struggle with remembering which credit card to use in each purchasing situation, drag my feet at keeping spreadsheets updated, struggle with understanding investment principles, and chafe at always being asked for receipts for updating those spreadsheets, I can be thankful my husband is strong in those areas. His love of managing details means we can pull up a piece of needed information with a moment’s notice when caring for my mom and brother. It means he is a natural choice to be their financial power of attorney (a job I very willingly relinquish). It means our own budget is always balanced. Our retirement investments always well-tended and growing. Our bank account never lacking. Our vehicle and home maintenance always scheduled at appropriate times. Our emergency fund always available. Our taxes always done on time and without error. Our giving always done wisely and with generosity.
For this man, I give thanks to God.