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Posts Tagged ‘aging’

A friend reminded me I haven’t posted here in several months, so here I am again. There have been some changes, some sadness, some soul-searching since then. My last post was about springing my 91 year old mother from the nursing home and moving her to my sister’s home. That was almost a year ago. Mother is still with us, but barely. Her eyesight and hearing are pretty much gone, her body is shot, but her mind was strong until recently. When I went to see her at Christmas, though, she didn’t know me. She asked for her sister Frances, who’s been gone for 5 years. They were as close as twins, and the best of friends. We couldn’t get through to her to explain. I wonder if, during all those hours she’s drifting between sleep and consciousness, she’s been making visits to the other side, getting ready for her permanent relocation.  Mother, it’s all right, there are so many of our loved ones waiting for you there, it’s okay to let go.

m

March 2012 092

Sadness – my 52 year old niece Becky slipped into a diabetic coma and left us suddenly last spring. She was born profoundly deaf, and with neurological problems, and her life was not easy, but she loved life and her two beautiful children and her cats … sweet girl, I hope you passed into the arms of your Papa who loved you so, and got to meet the grandfather who died so long ago on a mountain in Wales, and all the others we miss down here.

beckysalute100_1643 daddy-1

mem.day2005_0530Image0062  HRHflag

I turned 66 in September and had to face the fact that I’m far beyond middle age now, unless people live to be 120. I started receiving my late ex-husband’s Social Security benefit as a Divorced Widow. It’s a few hundred more than mine. Don, I appreciate the extra $, but I’d far prefer for you to still be here.

Sept. 2, 1967

Sept. 2, 1967

don571

Do you know Baylor is about to get that Ph.D., and has turned out to be a terrific teacher? And to think we both warned him he was not cut out for the academic life! Guess he showed us! That makes me happy. Our oldest granddaughter just started college. Autism has never stopped her from being a spectacular young lady. She was asked to join the School of Engineering which thrills her engineer grandfather to no end. The twins are almost 17, smart, talented, well-mannered (thanks, Lisa) and total nerds like their dad, and now like me. I came to nerddom rather late, re-discovering Doctor Who a few years ago and falling madly for #10, David Tennant.

Ashley born Sept. 1, 1994

Ashley born Sept. 1, 1994

Amber and Autumn, Jan. 27, 1996

Amber and Autumn, Jan. 27, 1996

Just got back in touch with my dear Welsh friend, Steve Jones. He’s had some experience as a movie extra, and I’m trying to convince him to get a job on one of David’s projects so I can come over and meet him. Come on Steve, I know you can do it! And I am so happy to hear that after all these years the lovely Sabina has made an honest man of you! I do hope to see you both again, even if you don’t come through on my very reasonable request.

Steve Jones and Shirley Wetzel in Wales

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So, after years of counting the months, weeks and days until I reached retirement age, I decided not to retire after all. I’d spent a few months after foot surgery on house arrest, and I actually got tired of reading, watching tv, and doing nothing. I’d planned to write, but just couldn’t make the words flow. Since I couldn’t drive for much of that time, maybe it wasn’t a fair comparison to what retirement might bring, I still fear that if I do retire I will slowly vegetate, accomplishing nothing. More importantly, I wasn’t sure about the economy. I decided to keep working while I can, for another year or two anyway, and save the SS money to make some really nice trips.

Another thing is, if I’m a retiree, that officially means I’m old. I remember my mother, a couple of decades ago, telling a friend that she knew she wasn’t young any more, but in her head she still felt the same as she did when she was 38. Me, my head tells me I’m 43 … my body says otherwise.

Mortality rears its ugly head. I had a health issue last spring that is now under control, but could prove to be a Bad Thing eventually. I am in what, statistically speaking, should be the last 1/3 of my life, but because of that thing, and because I’ve seen so many people my age and younger leave this world too soon – well, we are not promised tomorrow. I wonder if my first-born son will forgive me for whatever it is he holds against me before I’m gone. I hope he does, for my sake and his. I know he will regret it if he waits too late, just as he did with his father. Son, I couldn’t love anyone more than I love you. Parents are human too, and young parents can make mistakes they regret when they become older and wiser. Jeff, my baby boy, I am so proud of you and you are my rock.

bay847 copy

jeff846

What else? The presidential horror show, where I watched the country I love tear itself apart, with an us and them mentality I can’t even believe. Facebook has been great for keeping in touch with friends and kin and getting to know family I’d never have met in real life. Thing is, we got along fine until this came up, then I discovered that I am a liberal, socialist commie pinko intellectual hippie atheist baby-murdering – oh, the list goes on. Just too sad.

More sadness, 20 little children were cut to pieces in a school massacre called Sandy Hook, and things turned even uglier. The first thought of many of my more conservative acquaintances was “Óh sh–t, Obama is going to take my guns away! “Now I am a mild mannered, laid-back, calm, reasonable, open-minded librarian, but as time went by, I got branded as one of those who wanted to take their guns away, even though that was not what I said, and it is not what the president is saying.  Our country seems to be getting even farther divided and I don’t see any relief in the foreseeable future.

My guru Ma Jaya left her body last spring. I did not get to say goodbye. I have talked to her since then, so that’s okay. In October I went to the beautiful Berkshires for the Guthrie Center church concerts, reuniting with many of my dearest of dear friends in a soul-renewing week. Arlo did three incredible, uplifting, emotional shows, despite, or maybe in part because, his wife Jackie was fighting her last fight. His courage, and that of the rest of the Guthrie family, was indescribable, so I won’t even try to describe it. So much love and grace and strength. Jackie was the heart of the family, but she did her job so well they will be able to go on without her.

My first pictures

Now we’re back to Christmas, You know what happened then. Oh yes, the family home was finally sold, and all the years of memories had to be sorted through, divided up, and given away or, least favorite thing, discarded. No more family photos on the old front porch, but things hadn’t been the same since our own heart, my silver-haired daddy, joined the heavenly band on Dec. 24, 2009. Time marches on. For everything, there is a season …

porch669 

Front porch Oct. 2009

Front porch Oct. 2009

And now it’s a new year. Blank slate, fresh start, let’s see what happens next.

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John Flynn

The title comes from a new song by my friend John Flynn, a very talented singer/songwriter and a fine human being. http://johnflynn.net

It resonates with me, because I realize, like it or not, there are far more years behind me than there are in front of me. I’ve lost one parent:

Sterling L. Hornsby Sept. 27, 1920-Dec. 24, 2009

My mother is 90 and a half, and I don’t think it will be long before I become a motherless child:

Velma Stewart Hornsby April 2, 1921-

When last I wrote, she was just leaving the old house where she and Dad lived for 40 years, watching grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren grew up:

leaving home

We had high hopes that she would be happy in the fancy “assisted living” facility where she was promised, and paid for, the full level of care. Being almost blind and deaf and in a wheelchair, she was helpless to do the simplest things. Even though my sister checked on her every day, and I made several visits, she did not get that wonderful care, and the staff did not help her find friends. One day my niece found her sprawled, unconscious, on her bed and asked the nurse to check on her – “Oh, she’s fine, she always sleeps like that-”  Terri insisted on having them check her blood sugar. It was 60. Any lower and she would have gone into a diabetic coma and died. Due to a reaction between a morphine shot she’d had at the ER after she fell and hurt her arm and a pain pill she took later, she came close to death. My sister came and took her home with her. She sits in her room, in her chair, listening to audio books. Sometimes I come and take her to the old house to go through all the stuff collected over a lifetime, and she rides her electric scooter through her garden, and that makes her happy – and sad. We are getting ready to sell the house now. A family with one-year old twins want to buy it – it’s a fixer-upper and they have skills and not much money, so it would be a good fit. Mother wants to know that another family will live there and love it like she did.

Thanksgiving was – well, she put it best, when my cousin called to ask about it -” pitiful.” Only my sister, brother, and niece were there, and the dinner was store-bought. Mother was horrified that the cornbread dressing had sugar in it. Horrors! My oldest niece wrote on FaceBook that it was the first time she could remember when we didn’t gather at Granny and PaPa’s house. Seems like when my dad died, the heart left our family. Mother declared that we WILL all gather there for one more Christmas, and I hope she gets that wish.

The end of the beginning … my sons are grown, I’m not likely to have any more grandchildren – but I do adore the three I have. I have wonderful friends, but some are not doing well and some have gone on to the next world. As John says, “old friends you can count on even though their ranks are thinning.” If I want to achieve the things on my Bucket List, I need to get busy.  “The journey of a step can begin with a thousand miles.” Here I go, taking that step. Maybe I should start with finishing that mystery I’ve been working on for … a good long while.

Book launch Oct. 2011

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I remember vividly my first day of kindergarten. Because of my September birthday, I was the youngest in the class, and very shy. In those long ago days, mothers usually didn’t work outside the home, and kids didn’t routinely go to day care. This was the first time I was away from my mother for more than an hour or two, and I was scared and homesick, and I cried. The teacher called me to her desk and let me sit in her lap (probably can’t do that any more, but those were innocent times)  Finally I calmed down, and I soon learned to love school, but those first days in a new environment were difficult.

Shirley Jean Hornsby

The first time I had to leave my two-year old at day care, he wailed and hung on to me as tight as he could. A grandmotherly lady (she probably looked like I do know, but I was 30 and she looked very old) took him into her arms and sat in a rocking chair. She told me he’d be fine, and eventually he was, but I felt such guilt sending my baby into the care of strangers.

Jeff 1975

One of the hardest goodbyes took place the summer after my divorce was finalized. I went to Missouri to work on a dig, and my sons stayed with my parents. They came to Missouri to celebrate Jeff’s fifth birthday. Jeff wasn’t yet old enough to understand that things would never be the same after that summer, that something precious was broken, but his big brother did. The pictures are heart-breaking. Jeff is smiling, splashing in the swimming pool, giggling about the trick candles that wouldn’t go out. My dignified dad was wearing a party hat, but his face was solemn.  In one shot, I have my arms around the boys. Jeff is smiling, I am trying to smile, and Baylor looks  like he’ll never smile again. When it was time for them to go, he held on to me for so long my father finally had to gently pull him away. It took all my strength to get in my car and drive away, when my mind was screaming, “quit that job, take your sons, and go home,” but there was no going back.

Velma Ruth Stewart and Grandma Davis 1921

Now I am a grandmother, and my sons are all grown up, and I will be taking my mother away from her home of 41 years, trusting strangers to care for her. She is 89, closing fast on 90, and we all tried to honor her wish to remain at home until the end, but she is almost blind now, is a brittle diabetic, has congestive heart failure, and the list goes on. She knows she will be safe and well-cared for at the assisted living home – she’d better be, or the staff will answer to a very large and angry family.

PaPa surveying his kingdom

I’ve written about how my silver-haired daddy took care of her every need when she became so ill, even as he grew frail and his mind started wandering. We tried to get him to take it easy and let us help. I asked him “what will you do if you fall and break your leg, who will take care of Mama then?” He replied “I’ll take care of Mama even with my broken leg.” Then he did fall, and he broke his elbow, and the doctors couldn’t fix it, and through a series of hospital and nursing home neglect and error we lost him on Christmas Eve, 2009. For the first few months, family and friends and neighbors rallied around and stayed with Mother, fed her, managed her medications, but as always happens, the help gradually stopped showing up. Medicare sent a nurse and an aide after each hospitalization, and there have been many, but once she was “well” again that stopped. My brother, a disabled Vietnam vet, lives with her, and he tried as best he could to help, but it wasn’t enough.

We tried various ways of keeping Mother at home, hiring a housekeeper who didn’t last long, paying grandchildren to help, but things weren’t done the way Mother wanted them to be, and her needs were greater than they could manage. We had big yelling, screaming “family meetings”about what to do, and every person had a different idea. Mother just wanted to stay at home, but after burning herself badly two times trying to cook for herself – she is a stubborn lady! – her doctor said she couldn’t stay in the house  virtually alone, and she couldn’t afford care 24/7. Her nurses and I tried to talk about the good things about assisted living – she’d get all her meals and snacks served to her, she’d make friends, she’d get to go on field trips, there wouldn’t be any more stressful family meetings … She tried to be enthusiastic, then she’d say “I don’t want to live with all those strangers, I just want to crawl under the bed and stay there …”In her weary eyes I see myself all those years ago, begging just to let me stay home.

Tomorrow I will drive to Dallas to help Mother gather up the last of the special things she wants to bring to her new home, and Saturday the furniture will be moved  and she’ll get settled in. I can’t help with the physical aspects of the move, but I’ll try to help with the emotional side. I think I’ll take her out for breakfast, and then maybe an outing to Walmart, so that she doesn’t have to watch her world being dismantled and reassembled. She said she would try not to cry when she walks out the door, but I told her to cry all she wants to, I certainly will.

For the first time, she’ll be able to have photos of both her husbands on her walls:  2nd Lt. Hulbert H. Robertson, her first love, who died in WWII:

2nd Lt. Hulbert H. Robertson, 1943

Gwen at her father's grave, Cambridge American Cemetery

And my father, Sterling L. Hornsby. They celebrated their 65th anniversary in October, 2009 at that old house.

Sterling L. and Velma Ruth Hornsby, Gwen Robertson

Jan. 2010 Velma Hornsby with her second folded flag

CPO Sterling L. Hornsby

DFW National Cemetery

Several generations of our family gathered on that front porch through the years:

The Scoggins family

Front porch Oct. 2009

Gwen, Shirley, Velma, Gary, Sterling L. Hornsby

65th anniversary Velma Ruth Stewart Robertson Hornsby

Great granddaughters Lindsey Wiggins, Megan Scoggins, and Maddie Mansfield; Great-great grandtwins Gage and Clare Wiggins

 

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It’s been 62 years since my dad and I spent our first Father’s Day together. I was tiny, red-headed, and precocious (I started walking at 7 months, yes, that’s the truth, several witnesses who weren’t even related to me swear it’s so!) and Daddy was tall and handsome and strong, with jet black hair and high cheekbones proclaiming his Choctaw heritage.

Now I am big and my knees have gotten a bit wobbly again, and my red hair has turned to dark brown with a few artful silver streaks. My dad’s hair is now a beautiful silver, but at 88, after years of hard work as a farm boy and a sailor who went to war, he’s no longer tall and strong, and he has finally admitted he can’t do what he used to. He walks with a cane, and uses his handicapped hang tag even when Mother’s not in the car. He forgets things, but never people, never us, especially not Mother.

We spent this Father’s Day at the hospital in Dallas, watching over Mother as she struggled to breath, lungs filled with fluid, trying to tell us between gasps for air that she was fine now and wanted to go home. When I got the call Friday morning, I left Houston not knowing if she would still be with us when I got there, but somehow she made it through yet another crisis. Each time I left the hospital, she’d tell me “Don’t let your daddy come back with you, he’s too weak and shaky, make him stay home and rest.” Well, my silver-haired daddy is weak in body, but not in spirit, and I wasn’t able to sneak away without him one single time. I told her “he’s going to keep trying to take care of you as long as he can stand up and walk, and maybe even after that.”

“I know, but I worry.” She worries, because he does forget things, and he stumbles, and his trips to the grocery store 4 blocks away sometimes take 3 hours. After spending all these years taking care of others, he is finding it hard to let go.

They have not had a perfect marriage – there were some rough times among the almost 65 years they’ve spent together – but in these last “Golden” years they have become an inseparable unit. I do know my dad has been in love with Mother since he first saw her eighty years ago, and he’s never stopped. I suspect Mother never stopped grieving for her first love, lost in the war, but she made a good home for all of us, and now she can’t imagine being without Dad.

We made our final visit to Mother at the hospital and I dropped Daddy off at home. As I drove away, he stood in the yard waving goodbye, his silver hair shining in the hot Texas sun. I knew in a few hours he’d hobble out to his car, drive back to the hospital, and sit, mostly dozing, by Mother’s side until the sun began to set. Tomorrow he’d go back again, and the next day, and the next, as long as his legs will carry him, he will be there at her side. He’s a good man, that silver-haired daddy of mine.

Dad & me Oct. 2009 - 65th wedding anniversary

Dad & me Oct. 2009 - 65th wedding anniversary

My father

My father

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CPO Sterling L. HornsbyI spent the last few days in Dallas, helping my mother while Dad was in the hospital yet again for another painful and debilitating health problem. He’s 87, and the last few years have been hell for him, and for the rest of the family too. He was always strong and healthy and used to being the head of the household and taking care of everybody. Now it’s time for him to let us take care of him, but he just can’t let go, and it’s breaking my heart. I finally got him to promise he’ll quit driving – that was a Big Thing, long overdue, his last grasp on freedom, and I know he’s really hurting if he’s ready to give up the car keys.

I know he and Mother don’t have too much longer in this world, and we certainly can’t say they didn’t have long, full lives, but it’s still hard to realize the end is near. What I never wanted for them was to be in the shape they are in right now — physically almost helpless, in Mother’s case, and mentally drifting in Dad’s, without enough money to make their big old house safe and comfortable or to hire full-time help, but with too much to qualify for government help. Enter the V.A. Aid & Attendance pension we’ve been trying to get for them, if we can figure out exactly how.

My dad served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941, on the U.S.S. Elliott. His ship was one of the few that were out on training exercises when the attack happened. His best friend John P. Lynch, who’d joined up with him, found out when their ship got back to port that his brother was lost on the Arizona. The Elliott later took part in the battle of Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands. He changed to the U.S.S. Lowndes in Aug. 1944, married Mother in Long Beach on Oct. 4, 1944, and then shipped off to the Pacific, where the ship took part in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was so proud to serve his country, and it’s time for his country to serve him back.

What’s the next step? We need to file the papers for the pension, and then wait up to 6 months for approval. Some of the family members think they should move into assisted living, me among them. Others, like my “disabled vet” brother, who’s been sponging off them for years, are against it. Gary is truly physically disabled, although not nearly as severly as our mother, who continued to cook for him up until last week when she just couldn’t do it any more. He served in Vietnam, but not in combat. His main disability is his refusal to take responsibility for himself. It was only because I took him by the hand and walked him through the application for disability that he has any money at all, a small V.A. pension because he is disabled and served ina war zone. My subsequent attempt to help him were met with hostility, and I’ve given up. Luckily our sister Gwen still likes him. When we had our first Family Meeting 4 years ago, he let it be known that he planned to stay on in the family home when our parents are gone. Nah-uh, said we all. The house, if it isn’t sold to pay for their care, is left to the 3 of us and will be sold ASAP after Mother & Dad depart. He doesn’t have enough $ to keep it up, and at almost 100 years old it needs a lot, so he’s gonna have to make other arrangements. I knew how bad the situation had gotten when I saw Gary actually cook something for Mother – he sees the writing on the wall. My oldest niece, a bossy young lady, says they’re only staying in the house so they’ll have something to leave us. I say we don’t need no stinking inheritance. Gwen & Gary have pretty much already used up their share, and I can get along fine on my own. Dad has some savings, not much, he was saving for a rainy day. Dad, look around, it’s pouring! Use it on yourselves already!

There is a lovely facility where Dad stayed for a couple of rehabs after surgery, and he likes it. Mother doesn’t want to give up her home, but she’s almost blind, can’t keep up with her meds & insulin shots, can barely bathe, has severe pain … the home health care she’s finally gtting is not enough. I know she’ll like the apartment, and she likes to be around people, she just hates the idea of leaving her home and her stuff for the unknown.

My dear son Jeff went up to see them while I was there. He was almost in tears afterwards, seeing them in such a bad situation. He has taken up his dad’s role as caretaker, but he doesn’t have his dad’s funds to really help at a material level. He’s going to take charge of the V.A. process, and do all the other things he can think of to help. What a Good Boy he is. I told him I’m making it easy for him when my time comes – I’m already getting rid of some of my stuff, and I will head for the Old Folks Home as soon as possible.

Onward through the fog …

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