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I Can’t Talk to My Mom

I. Just. Can’t.

I am presently sitting in a cheap hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today was to be the start of our “new life”. We’ve rented our home in Oklahoma and we headed to Arizona where we have a small vacation home and we will live there. I’m planning to commute back to Oklahoma for frequent visits. My whole family is there (except for two of eight living siblings).

Most importantly, mom and dad are there. They are my main reason for planning on going back. They are my main reason for leaving.

We decided to rent our house to help my parents with mounting home health costs. We were waiting for some pegs to fit into some holes. The Veterans Administration was supposed to start paying my dad his well-earned special pension after several medical emergencies left him with slurred speech, cognitive damage, weakened limbs and constant pain. The aid was promised by Monday so Friday seemed like a good day to leave town. The money hasn’t come but our house is now occupied. I want to stay but I can’t.

Medicaid was supposed to start providing a person to assist my parents with lunch in their home beginning Monday, so Friday seemed like a good day to leave. They showed up only twice and the first day they forgot about lunch. The service isn’t working but our house is occupied.  I want to stay but I can’t.

I visited my mom and dad yesterday. I have the flu. I shouldn’t have gone but I knew I wouldn’t see them for awhile. Mom looked so pretty. Her bangs were clipped back and we sat at the dining table talking about bits and bobs. It was hard to leave. When we did get up to go she insisted on a hug even though, you know, the flu. We had a U-Haul to load and a house to clean. The renters were coming the next day. I wanted to stay. But I couldn’t.

We finally got on the road at noon today. At 2pm, my sister called to say mom seemed like she was having a stroke so she was taking her to the ER. I wanted to turn around but I have a husband and a dog and a trailer yet, I have no home. So I couldn’t.

They admitted my mom to the hospital. All day I answered texts and phone calls from my sisters about my mom’s medical history and what my dad’s needs are going to be while she’s out of the house. Because you see, my mom can’t talk. She can’t.

This woman who just talked with me yesterday about cars and medicine and prison and dogs and therapy and the Bible; who is conversant in every topic under the sun who loves to read and share her thoughts with everyone…this beautiful woman cannot talk. She can’t tell the doctor’s she had surgery in October, what medicines she is taking, where she hurts, what her name is…she can’t tell my sister to make sure my dad takes his pill at noon and where her medical directive is located. I could tell them because I’ve helped her put these things in place these last several months. I want to be her voice. I want to be her person. But I can’t.

A few months ago I expressed to my mom my hurt of being one of eleven children and largely ignored. She told me how hard it was being a single parent of eleven kids (my dad was a of town for 7 of my first 8 years). And she sobbed deep bellowing sobs. I regretted instantly being so childish. How could I not have seen her sacrifices? From that moment, I was driven to be more invested in her life her wishes and her fears. While everyone else has properly doted on my father, I’ve been giving mom baths and going through old pictures and memory boxes and sorting her closet–I’ve had an admitted obsession of lightening HER load–not dad’s. During all of this “work”, some days I’ve felt like an only child–the way I always thought only children must feel–Like your parent is your best-friend.  We’ve talked more in three months then we had over the combined 53 years of my life prior.  And a deep chasm in my soul has mended. I’ve never loved her more deeply than I do today.

I never thought when I started down this road today, figuratively and physically, that I would become disconnected from my mom today. But she can’t talk and I have never felt so isolated and lonely as I do tonight with the flu in a cheap hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I love you, mom. I love you so very much. I want to talk to you.

I. Just. Can’t.

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When Bird Poop Looks Like a Diamond

There’s a metaphor in my title. Please bare with me.

My life is going in circles, or rather, it’s a veritable roller-coaster. We’ve so much to celebrate this year. And yet. And yet.

My 91 year old father battles health issues. This stalwart man who drove up to 100 miles a day until June of this year has been battling his betraying body. A pacemaker, a stroke, another stroke, a blood clot. And my mother, equally strong at 88 but on her 89th birthday we found ourselves waiting for her to get out of surgery for a broken hip.

My roller coaster starts the ride back up. I sing each morning to my pup. Usually, it’s a pop song with the words “black and white dog” and “Jersey” and “found him in a cardboard box” substituted for the real words. He allows me to serenade him every morning as I dress to take him on our two mile walk. Rain or shine, I walk the boy. These days I’ve started singing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to him with no word substitutions. Because, your true colors shine through in a crisis.

The Husband and I have done our level best in this crisis–these crises. We’ve rallied and we’ve found ways to be present in my parents lives while also finding ways to ease them into this transition of being more aged and less able. In the process, we’ve decided to rent our home. It is a financial move. I want to be at the ready to make sure my parents stay in their home as long as they can. If it means paying for their home health, we will rent our home of 21 years to afford that for them.

In the home we have decided to rent out, I have a closet for sewing and another one for my home decorating projects. I have an entire wall of cabinets full of painting supplies. My garage is half full of power tools for tiling and woodworking, the other half is full of golf equipment and bicycle gear. I’m a hobbyist. A creative. Whatever label you need to slap on me, that’s me. That’s who I am. Or was.

As we pack our things to make the move to a home with, literally, no storage space, I find I’m having to let go–Let go of things. Let go of identity. Let go of grudges. I’m not just a hobbyist. I’m not an invisible child to my mom (as I’ve felt for most of my life). I’m mostly just my mom and dad’s daughter. And if that’s who I choose to be, you can bet I’m going to do it with gusto.

Lord, here I am. Send me.

Walking Jersey this week with The Husband we spend the entire two miles lamenting about what still needs to be done–for my parents–for the move. It’s overwhelming, really.

When we got home I noticed one of my diamond earrings was missing. I knew immediately it had dropped out of my ear at some point during our two mile walk. My heart sunk. The earrings had been bequeathed to me years ago by a dear family member. I wore them nearly every day for more than a decade.

I have to say, this is not the only time I’d lost said earring. Oh, no. Not by a long shot. I’d lost one in Paris, but found it. I left both in a Las Vegas hotel but they were still there when we went back to claim them. I lost one on my bathroom floor which took me several hours to find (rolled into a hidden niche). In each of these occasions, I was bereft. Yet somehow, in this autumn of my parents’ lives and me now cloaked in this new identity of mine, this time I didn’t start to cry. This time, I mostly scolded myself for not getting the earring backs fixed. 

I said out loud but to myself, “You didn’t deserve them anyway. You’re a Cubic Zirconia Girl from now on”.

Still, I sang “True Colors” to Jersey yesterday morning as we started off on our walk. It was a frigid 23 degrees. I found myself looking for the earring even though the odds were ridiculous. I even tried not to look.

“Don’t be stupid Zirconia Girl. You lost it. You lost it.”

Among the fall leaves, the smashed walnuts and berries, this was an impossible task. How many times did I stoop over to investigate what I thought was my diamond earring, only to find it was white bird poop? True colors, indeed.

Zirconia girl. Stupid irresponsible Zirconia Girl. And then. My diamond earring. Right in the middle of the sidewalk where dozens of people would have already walked were the day not so frigid.

I promised you a metaphor and here it is: When life seems insurmountable and crap is in your way, find the diamond. Cue music.

I see your true colors shining through. I see your true colors and that’s why I love you.

I am a hobbyist without a home for hobbies, I am the child of aging parents, I walk my dog every day and sing to him. I look for diamonds. Those are my true colors.

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Fake News is Not New

You know me Readers, I aim to keep my Blog relevant. So with today’s headlines being filled with the horrors of all the “fake news” being propagated by persons on social media, I feel very strongly about my post today.

While packing up my house to move to Arizona and I came across this “newspaper” written, illustrated and published by my then 9 year old son.

Turns out Fake News is not new, nor was it invented by social media platforms. A strong case could be made that it was started by a nine year old Okie boy. It’s hard to make out, but the headlines of the day were:

  • 3 Year Old Boy Bigger Than His Mother
  • 63 Foot Long Shark Found in Hawaii Washed Up On Shore
  • Dinosaur Found in Maine
  • Godzilla Found Dead in Tokyo
  • Dracula Found Dead in His Cascit
  • Man Kill Himself to See What Its Like in Heaven.

Special note: My son could not afford an editor at the time.

 

Ralph's WWII Album

Happy Veterans Day, Dad

My 91 year old dad tends to exaggerate when retelling a tale. Or maybe I could say he turns an average story more colorful by augmenting the details. I suppose some might say he lies but, whatever…tomato, tomotto.

So, please understand that all these years when he talked abut his World War II Navy service in the South Pacific, some stories seemed fabricated.  My personal favorite was when he grew a savage beard while he was on Borneo Island. He had to avoid cannibals, but, not to worry, his pet monkey could smell the enemy and warn him. Is it just me or does this story seem plucked straight out of The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking?

After my dad suffered a stroke this past August, we sent for his Navy records, hoping to find any evidence that he was injured in the war. An injury, we were told, would get him the “Golden Parachute” in benefits. When his records arrived last month, I learned that my father was in five battles (including Luzon, the second largest battle in the Pacific), his ship took a direct hit in a Japanese air bombing, he earned three bronze stars, a Meritorious Mast, and a ribbon for his participation in the Battle at Leyte.

Obvs, thanks to a certain monkey with a heightened olfactory sense, my dad suffered no injuries during the war. To which I say, Step off Pippi Longstocking, bye-bye Golden Parachute, and HELLO war hero Dad!

Within hours of receiving the Navy records, David and I go to visit my dad at the skilled nursing facility where he currently resides. David starts by shaking my dad’s stroke-weakened hand and says, “I just want to thank you for your service, I had no idea what a war hero you are”. Dad’s eyes are immediately bloodshot as he holds back tears. We sit there using our church voices for a bit, reflecting on his heroism. He assumes the humbled but grateful posturing of a true war hero as tears well in his eyes. Then–Presto Chango— someone in the room unwittingly takes the focus off Dad by asking, “Wasn’t it Audie Murphy who was the most decorated Army soldier?” I try to quickly direct the conversation back to my dad. I tell him how proud I am of his service, to which he retorts,

“You should be, I’m the Audie Murphy of the Navy”.

Maybe he exaggerated? Perhaps he’s not the most decorated Navy vet. Whatever…tomato, tomotto. He’s the Audie Murphy of my family.

Happy Veterans Day to all the heroes out there, Audie Murphys all.

Ralph's WWII Album
LST 471, South Pacific, Circa 1943
Ralph's WWII Album
Ralph Pierman, U.S. Navy, Circa 1943
Ralph's WWII Album
Australia, Near Brisbane, Circa 1944 (Ralph far right)
Ralph's WWII Album
Ralph Pierman (front) with his Mates
Ralph's WWII Album
Ralph Pierman, WWII Hero

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The Addict and The Boy–A Story of Redemption

The Boy was conceived in error, really, if we’re being honest. His father and I had just returned stateside from a difficult two years in Turkey. We had discussed giving our marriage a few months to see if things would improve. But…we got home in August and by September The Boy was conceived.

The following July he was born. I was pregnant for ten months and would have been longer had he not been evicted from my womb. This would not be the sole eviction in his life, but that’s another story for another day.  On the day he was born, I saw his beautiful long fingers curl around my own and I remember crying tears of joy and gratitude believing that this precious baby would be a man someday.

The Ex and I amicably divorced a year later. The Boy would see his dad every other weekend and return to me for happy reunions. I would put him to bed with butterfly kisses and be filled with awe and wonder that this tender boy would be a man someday.

He was a conventional and curious boy; beautiful, with platinum locks and baby blues. He was smart–off the charts smart. I would have meetings with his teachers and they would say he was exceptional. And I would be reminded, with esteem and pride, that this prodigious child would be a man someday.

The Ex remarried. This would begin a succession of step-moms for The Boy. There would be Dina, Gina, Dina (again) and Tina. Except for me (who followed his high school girlfriend, Regina), there was only one other Non-Ina.

I remarried when he was ten. This life change was a mere flesh wound for The Boy, but he didn’t know it at the time. He just knew that his Only Child throne had been dismantled by two half-siblings, courtesy of The Inas, and now two step-brothers from my new marriage. He became estranged from his dad and it was during this phase that he became decidedly less innocent. So I began to wonder with worry and angst…who will love this mixed-up kid when he becomes a man someday?

To say he took some bad turns in life is akin to saying Kennedy once had a bad day in Dallas. My flaxen-haired blue-eyed Boy would become a drug addict. The kind you see on highway billboard signs. The very worst kind. The tumult of seeing someone you love disappear and in his place appear an abhorrent and vile stranger…well, that’s another story for another day. The Addict devoured The Boy so completely that I could no longer find him. I would cry myself to sleep with horror and confusion…and I stopped believing anyone could love this damaged soul someday.

One December day when The Addict said he might kill himself and take The Boy with him, The Boy finally fought back and checked himself into a treatment facility. The Addict begin to let go of the body he had possessed for too many dark days and The Boy reemerged; older now with battle wounds and vacant places where memories should be. He transformed back into a conventional and curious boy but he was nicked and scraped so I prayed that God would bring someone to love this redeemed man someday.

Then…This Girl.

She would not be like the girls he had dated in high school; those children of country-clubbers who went to cheerleading practice and traveled to big cities to shop for clothes. No, This Girl was an old-soul, seemingly plucked from a by-gone era when frugality, high morals and a strong work ethic were expected.

Someday had come for The Boy and SHE would love him. This child of God who never purposely took one wrong turn in her young life, though life would take her on tortuous paths and her journey would not be an easy one–This Girl would love My Boy, now a man, who has been sober now for nearly four years.

He made amends with his dad recently and he got over wishing he was still an only child. All of his brothers stood beside him this summer (and two of the Inas were there)–on his wedding day–when he married This Girl.img_3450

Thank you precious Girl, for giving me another story for another day.

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Road Scholars Rank Their 50 Favorite Books. How Many Have You Read? What Would You Add to the List?

I am reblogging this because I want to have access later. I’ve read about 17 of theses books and have seen the movie for about five more. I love to read and am now curious to knock out the rest of this list! How many have you read and what is your number 1 favorite?

Road Scholar Blog

When I was researching my book Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier I learned a lot about Road Scholars’ reading habits and book club involvement, but there was another question I was dying to ask. In a recent survey I polled 500 Road Scholars on their favorite books of all time; I knew they were well read, but the results blew me away and gave me a couple of titles to add to my own book bag! Universally recognized classics, Baby Boomer icons, recent best sellers, novels with strong female protagonists—they’re all here in this list of the top 50 vote-getters. (Actually, because of a tie, it’s 51.)

How many have you read? (I’ve read 18.) What would you add to the list? Why?

View a slideshow of all 51 books that made the list and add your comment below!


Peter Spiers, Senior Vice President of Strategic Outreach, is the…

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The A, B, Cs of Having a Good Time

I had a communications class in college. For whatever reason, I remember this: Communicating with other humans is complicated because if you and I are the only two people in a room talking, there are really six personalities there. How? Because each of us have three selves: A, B and C:

A. The person you think you are

B. The person I think you are

C. The person John Stossel exposes you to be on “What Would You Do?”

There were six of us in Italy. I can’t even do the compound math based on the above hypothesis. We got along just fine, really, considering the arena sized grouping of our Selves As, Bs, and Cs cavorting about. When there was bristling, it was when the As and the Bs acted like they were 5th cousins or had never even met each other. But whatever. I think that’s pretty normal. I prolly wouldn’t like Ali B as much as I like Ali A. [Publisher’s note: Mom, I intentionally spelled “prolly” wrong].

Anyway, here is what matters. The Rome Empire fell (as a point of clarity, it fell long before before we got there). We saw the ruins.

We walked the same cobbled-grounds as Caesar and the Pope.

We swam in a sea that I didn’t know existed.

We sang in the Blue Grotto. imageWe gazed at the Pietà. We rubbed the bronze cast of Saint Peter’s foot. We saw, probably, the greatest example of Raphael’s work in the world. (And we know who Raphael is). image

We saw casted remains of bodies of people who were just minding their own business in Pompeii, Italy in 79 AD and then they were gone.

We bought some hand-made sandals. image

I got a sassy new blue leather jacket that makes me think I look like J-Lo. We ate some authentic pizza and pasta. We drank Limoncello (though this was a duty and not an pleasure). image

We listened to Dire Straits on a boat while coasting along the Amalfi Coast on azure blue water under a sailor’s sky. We saw Capri up close one day and also every day from a distance when we glanced out our bedroom window.

We went to an Ice Club where it was -5 Celsius. imageWe got caught in the rain in Rome on a September evening and drank white wine in the basement of a centuries old building in wet socks and jeans.image

In other words: We. Nailed. It.

And now, here is what matters the most. To my sisters: We have amazing parents who are both still living and who need us all. Every A, B and C one of us.

Carry on, Soldiers.