Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Define "normal"

A few years ago, I was considering moving Tevis out of the group home and back home with us. Over the years, his explosive, aggressive behavior had decreased, and I thought that it might work. When I had a meeting with the owner of the group home company and some other staff people, I was taken aback at their negative reaction to the idea. One of them said, "It's not normal for someone Tevis' age to move back home with his parents. People his age are leaving home, not moving back."

I've thought a lot about that statement since then, and especially since Tevis moved with us to Saint Louis. What exactly is "normal?" When someone has significant disabilities, why single out one facet of a normal life (moving out of the family home) and use that as the standard of what is normal? In doing so, many other aspects of a normal life are sacrificed. What is normal about being "cared for" (I use the term loosely) by an ever-changing staff, on three shifts, weekday and weekend, with a very high turnover rate? What is normal about having to worry if the next staff person will be fired and/or arrested for assaulting a resident? What is normal about spending most of your time shut in your room, watching TV, sleeping, and, well, let's say, entertaining yourself? What is normal about being unable to help yourself to a snack or go outside by yourself?

So, according to those folks, Tevis has regressed by moving back to his parent's home. But by every other standard his life is now much more normal. He spends his days in a variety of activities: drawing, taking pictures with my old digital camera, watching a little TV, playing his electronic Leapster games, and working on my laptop. He fixes his own breakfast, lunch, and snacks, does his own laundry without being told, and takes the trash out to the dumpster. He goes to the grocery store and library, and plays basketball with The ARC on Saturdays. He checks his blood sugar twice a day and takes his own medication. He can cook a grilled cheese sandwich, and he recently bought a blender and is now the "Smoothie King."

Recently I've been taking an online course on psychosocial rehabilitation. It's defined as providing the skills and supports to enable a person to live in their environment of choice. "The environment of choice" is the key. At Thanksgiving dinner, my son Jesse was asking everyone what they were thankful for. Without hesitation, Tevis said, "I'm thankful I don't live in the group home any more." Enough said.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coffee with my hero

Today the boys and I had coffee with a woman who is a personal hero of mine. Her name is Debora and, like me, she is a pediatric occupational therapist. In 1981, she began treating a set of one year old twins...my future son Marcus and his twin brother.

In spite of a slightly premature birth, the babies were generally on target developmentally. They were social and explored their environment. But over the course of the following year, Debora became concerned that the boys were showing signs of ever increasing emotional disturbance. They started to avoid eye contact, cried a lot and could not be consoled, banged their heads on the floor, crawled into corners to hide their faces. They often had bruises in the shape of a hand or of a hair pick. When they were about 15 months old, Marcus had a broken arm, and a month later, his brother had a broken leg.

Debora meticulously documented the disturbed behaviors and contacted Child Protective Services about her concerns. She described the increasing signs of emotional disturbance and ended her letter with the statement: "I seriously fear for the safety of these boys." But CPS left the boys in their mother's home.

A few months later, the mother brought Marcus to the emergency room. He was semi-comatose with a severe brain injury. He had detached retinas from being shaken. He had 3 broken out teeth and a wound on his forehead, indicating that he had been thrown against a wall or floor. He had second and third degree burns on his feet, legs, and buttocks from being placed in hot water, that appeared to be a couple of weeks old. Debora, of course, was heartbroken that her prediction had come to pass.

She knew that Marcus' emotional recovery would be as important as his physical rehabilitation. She hung a blue, handwritten sign on Marcus' hospital crib, with instructions to the nurses:

Her treatment had a vital role in Marcus' healing. After the injuries, he was regressed back to the developmental level of an infant. In a sense, he got to start over, to be re-parented with the kind, loving touch and words and rocking that he had never known.

After I adopted him, he had explosive behaviors and signs of PTSD for many years, but, over time, he resolved these problems. He grew into a kind, generous, helpful person. I give Debora the credit for starting the healing process.

I never met her in person, but for many years we exchanged Christmas cards, and I kept her updated on Marcus' progress. But we sort of lost touch a number of years ago. Last weekend, I suddenly remembered that Debora had been an occupational therapy professor in St. Louis the last I had heard from her. I googled her and discovered that she teaches at St. Louis University, only a couple of blocks from our house! I emailed her and we planned to meet.

So today we met at a little coffee shop at SLU. This was the first time Debora and Marcus had seen each other since Marcus was 2. It was a very sweet reunion. I have always considered her a hero, for trying to save Marcus and for starting him on the path to emotional healing.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The American Dream

When I went to the cemetery to pay my respects to my grandparents, I left with many emotions and many thoughts to ponder. One thing I discovered was how little I knew about my family. Buried next to my grandmother was Mamie Barthel Hathaway. I'm embarrassed to admit that, at the age of 58, I had not known that my grandmother had a sister, who had died at the age of 26! Next to Mamie was Hollis Fannin Barthel, my grandmother's son, who died just shy of his second birthday. His portrait had always hung in my grandmother's bedroom, but my brother and I only learned who the beautiful child was after my grandmother took the portrait to be cleaned and repaired. She reported to my brother that, after the frame shop had finished with it, they hung it on the wall in the shop, until she could pick it up. The shop keeper told her that several people had been so taken with the little boy's picture, that they had asked to buy it. "Can you imagine?" my grandmother said with indignation. "How in the world could I sell my own son's portrait?!" Nearby was a headstone, engraved simply "Infant Adams, January 26, 1914." And so I learned that my grandmother's first child had been stillborn.

It may seem incredible that I've known so little about my family. We always had a close relationship with my maternal grandmother and my mother's sister, Aunt Jing. But I never knew that my great-grandmother had died when my grandmother was only 10 years old. And I was in third or fourth grade when I learned for the first time that I had a grandfather who had spent about 30 years in a VA psychiatric hospital. Of course, back in my childhood, most adults felt the need to shelter children from the harsh realities of life. But when I think back to the conversation which surrounded me in my grandmother's living room or around our big circular dining room table at our house when the family gathered, I remember family tales of accomplishment, togetherness, and relationship, not tragedy.

Similarly, only towards the end of my mother's life did I learn of some the adversity she had faced. I had never known that when her father returned from WWI, traumatized by his experiences as a medic on the battlefields of France, he could not accept this baby born in his absence. I knew my mother, as a teenager, had gone to boarding school, working for room and board, and I had sometimes wondered why her sister had stayed at home. Only as my mother neared the end of her life, did I learn from my brother the sad story. When my mother was 12, my grandmother sat her down and basically said, you know your father can't accept you, so it would be better for everyone if you went to boarding school. When my mother had talked about school, she spoke proudly of working hard and graduating when she was 16, and her only complaint was that on Sunday evenings, they always gave the students a sack lunch with a peanut butter and banana sandwich, the smell of which ever since would turn her stomach. She came of age during the Great Depression and started her family as WWII began. When I was growing up, she made occasional reference to "during the Depression" or "during the War," but her stories almost never touched on hardship.

As I learned more about our family and its trials and tribulations, I felt humbled by what I learned. I thought of how we complain in these present times, how we bemoan the "Death of the American Dream." Most of us interpret the "American Dream" as the promise that things are always getting better, that if you work hard, you will improve your lot, and that your children will have things better than you did. I came to realize that this "American Dream" is the fantasy of us Baby Boomers, who happened to grow up in a time of prosperity and optimism, that came on the heels of depression and a horrific war. I considered the lives of our parents and grandparents, only one and two generations behind us. Their lives were a constant struggle to get by, and they were buffeted by frequent tragedy. Yet, at least in my family, they seemed to concentrate their attention on what they accomplished against the odds and how they supported each other. Perhaps that is the real American Dream.

Every chapter

Returning from St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, I left the interstate to take the route through Muskogee. This was the hometown of my grandparents and my parents. As a child, I spent a week or two there every summer, staying with my maternal grandmother, "Gaga" Adams, and making the rounds to visit all the other relatives who lived in town. Gaga was the last surviving grandparent, and after she died in 1974, I had not been back to Muskogee since her funeral.

I headed straight for the cemetery, where I stopped in the little office to inquire about the location of the graves. First I found my paternal grandparents' grave and the nearby grave of my dad's sister, who died last fall at the age of 98. Then I drove to Gaga Adams' grave.

And then the tears welled up, as all the memories from so many summers washed over me. I remembered the anticipation as we neared Gaga's house, usually after the sun had already gone down. How vividly I remembered that sort of cooing sound she made, as she fussed over us, and how she smelled of face powder and Sweetheart soap as she kissed us. I remembered that we sat around her Formica kitchen table and ate vanilla ice cream with Hershey's syrup. I thought of how the whole family would sit in the little living room, and the grownups would talk, and I would amuse myself or, if my aunt was visiting, too, I would sit on the floor while she brushed my hair. And I thought of those times when Gaga took us out to her beloved Sallie Brown School, the little two room schoolhouse, once a chapel, where she began teaching at the age of 17.

And the tears ran down my cheeks as I realized that when my brothers and I are gone, there will be no more direct memories of these precious people. At some point they would be like others in this cemetery: a name on a headstone at an unvisited grave.

I came back home in a somber mood, weighed down by the thought that the real loss that comes with death is the end of a lifetime of memories, and the end of the living connection with the past. And then I happened upon John Donne's Meditation XVII, which begins, "All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated." How those words spoke to me at that moment!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Treasure hunt

So I've been going through lots of boxes, throwing out and sorting, trying to get organized for our upcoming move to St. Louis. I am a confirmed pack rat. I've been this way ever since I was a kid. My brother Jim is just the opposite...so neat and tidy and unsentimental that I've often compared his living quarters to a monk's cell. When we were kids, he would be cleaning out his room, tossing things in the trash with abandon...and I would be fishing them right out, saying, "Oh, you can't throw this away! Can I have it?" So I have boxes in closets and the garage, many of which haven't been opened in years. It's not exactly a picnic, but the one rewarding aspect of the job is finding treasures that I haven't seen for the longest time. I have thrown out a lot of things (WHY did I keep THIS?), but, yes, I am very sentimental for some mementos.

I found an old scrapbook, which contained this class picture of my sixth grade class at Meadowbrook Elementary (1963-64), on the east side of Fort Worth. Amazingly, I remembered the names of about 2/3 of the class, and my friends on Facebook provided the rest. This was a time of great stability, and many of these kids were my classmates from 1st through 12th grade.

I found this envelope, with the note on the outside, written in my grandmother's hand, "Found by Nathan S. Adams on the Battlefield in France World War I." Inside were this rosary and the flight wings. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only thing my grandfather brought back from WWI. He came back with a severe case of PTSD, which was known as "shell shock" in those days. After a decade or so of deteriorating mental health, he was committed to a VA psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life. I met him only once, when my parents took me to Shreveport to see him for a brief visit.

I found the box that contained special items related to my kids. For most of my kids, at least the ones who were adopted at younger ages, I kept the outfits that they wore home the day I brought them home. This is the outfit Marcus wore home at age 3. I remember that his social worker almost cried when she saw him in it, saying with great emotion, "Oh, someone bought him new clothes for this day." His foster mom did not come out to the car to see us off...it was too hard to say goodbye to this special little boy, whom she had started on the road to emotional healing after he was so severely injured by his birthmother.

I made this purse during high school or college. I never took art in high school...didn't want to take the risk of ruining my grade point average. But I hung out in the art room sometimes with a friend of mine. Ms. Dorothy Weatherby, the art teacher, said to me one day, "I know something that I bet you would enjoy..." and she proceeded to show me how to macrame. I later bought some instruction leaflets and made this purse. When I found it in a box this week, I was somewhat amazed that I had made it!

This is our venerable copy of "Little House on the Prairie," which was a gift to my brother from my grandmother during WWII.

This is some of Jesse's art work, probably from kindergarten or first grade. As you can see, his calling as a beautician had early roots.

I was SO happy to find my old monkey, JoJo. I'm not sure who sewed JoJo, but it was my brother's before it was mine, so it was probably made around the time of WWII. So this little monkey is somewhere between 60 and 70 years old.

Now this may be the most inexplicable memento (I told you I was a pack rat). This jar once contained a yellow salve, compounded at Morrison's Drug Store on East Lancaster. It was my mother's cure-all when we were growing up. Scraped a knee? Go get some of that yellow medicine. Burned by steam? Go get some of that yellow medicine. Got a blister on your heel? Go get some of that yellow medicine. I have a feeling that it had sat in our bathroom cabinet so many years, that it had long lost its effectiveness, but we kept using it. Morrison's Drug Store had significance to me for other reasons. The store was robbed one evening and Mr. Morrison was murdered. It was the first time that crime had intruded into my world.

We awaited the arrival of Haley's Comet with great anticipation. I bought Jesse this shirt; the back says, "See you again in 2061." We drove out to Lake Benbrook at 4 AM to try to see it. I was expecting a huge fireball blazing across the sky with a flaming tail. I'm not sure we actually saw it, but we convinced ourselves that we did. We bought donuts on the way home. I had the boys draw pictures of the event and we wrote a story about it, which I also found tonight.

These cute little shoes are Korean slippers that were sent with Leslie when she flew to the US when I adopted her. Evidently they are unisex, because Hollis arrived with a pair, too.

Here are some of my political buttons that I've collected over the years. For several years I thought I might never have a winner among my collection, but there have been several now.

These are baptismal stoles from the baptisms of my first 7 children. The three children who came from Russia had been baptized in the Russian Orthodox church.

I'm sure there are more treasures squirreled away...more boxes await!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Back from Colorado

We left last Saturday for our trip to Colorado. We were more than ready to escape the Texas heat and we were not disappointed. In fact, we were welcomed by snowfall as we drove over the mountain towards Winter Park.

We got settled into the Rocky Mountain Inn and Hostel and awoke the next morning to a very cold rain and gray skies. Undaunted, we headed up to the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Trail Ridge Road, which follows a stunning path along the ridge of the Continental Divide to the eastern side of the park, was closed due to icy conditions. So we explored the western side. We ate a picnic lunch and then walked to the nearby historic cabin, built by a would-be farmer in 1903.

We did some hiking.

This was Tevis' first time to see mountains and he thought they were pretty cool!

We were on the lookout for wildlife and were thrilled to see moose grazing in a thicket near the Colorado River.

The next day we drove the LOOOOOONG way around to the east side of the park, not realizing that the Trail Ridge Road had been opened at noon. But there was some spectacular scenery on the long detour route.

We stopped in Estes Park for a late lunch. I was surprised that it was such a tourist trap...I much prefer sleepy little Winter Park!

And then we began the drive along the Trail Ridge Road. Since I don't like heights, I missed a lot of the spectacular views, since my heart leapt up in my throat when I looked off in the direction of the precipice. We stopped at several of the scenic turnouts.

But sometimes a still photo can't do justice to a spectacular vista.

The last day of our stay dawned with brilliant sunshine...perfect weather for the guys' rafting trip, organized by the National Sports Center for the Disabled. They took off for a great adventure, while I returned to the national park. (Sure wish I had photos of the rafting trip, but of course everyone was too busy paddling to worry about a camera.) I did some more hiking and took some photos in the sunshine. First, Grand Lake was on the way.

I hiked along the beginning of the Colorado River.

The elk seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as well.

And then it was time to return to Texas and 95 degree weather...sigh.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

St. Louis---WOW!

This week Jesse and I went on a road trip to check out St. Louis. I had been there once before, at a professional continuing education course, but on that trip, I spent all day in the course, and tried out my luck at the riverboat casinos at night. So I didn't really see much of the city on that trip. So we spent a couple of days trying to see as much as we could. I wish I had taken more pictures of neighborhoods and street scenes, but, given our mobility problems, we weren't able to do much walking.

We went to Forest Park, which has SO many free and interesting attractions. We toured the Missouri History Museum, which had a fascinating exhibit about Charles Lindbergh.

A unique attraction in the park is the Jewel Box, a lovely Art Deco greenhouse built by the WPA in 1936.

Jesse, of course, wanted to pose on the spiral staircase of the Jewel Box.

We took the Metrolink to the famous Arch of St. Louis. I would have liked to take some photos of the stations and platforms, but, of course, that's a big security no-no.

And, lest we forget...

Jesse took the ride to the top of the Arch, but, with my fear of heights, I was quite satisfied to explore the exhibits at the base.

As it turned out, nature provided its own impressive arch after a thunderstorm late in the day.

We took a look at some houses. St. Louis has wonderful, historical houses, with a great variety of architectural styles. Unfortunately many homes have decayed and many have been razed in some neighborhoods, but quite a few have been rehabbed. I really liked this duplex!

I'm looking forward to a return trip in the near future.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My mobile garden

Last summer I was standing in line in the garden center of Walmart, when I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me. I was admiring her flowers and she started explaining that they were an addition to her "Square Foot Garden." "Have you heard of square foot gardening?" she asked. When I indicated that I hadn't, she began explaining the main tenets of SFG, with the ardent passion of a true believer.

I kept meaning to look into it, but only got around to it this spring. I checked out the SFG website and ordered the SFG book from Amazon. I got all fired up and ready to go, but there was one BIG problem. The typical square foot garden is built 9 to 16 square feet...a small space, right? But I literally do not have 9 square feet that get sufficient sunshine all day, much less all summer. With about 25 trees on my lot, and given the ever-changing position of the sun, every promising spot eventually winds up in total shade.

Spurred on by the thought of eating a homegrown tomato, I began to consider possible solutions. Maybe I could make it smaller, maybe I could make it portable...voila, the Mobile Square Foot Garden!

As the Beatles sang, "I'll follow the sun." As the sun moves north and then south during the summer, I can relocate my garden as necessary to try to keep it in as much sunshine as possible.

So I managed to make two squares for tomatoes and one for green beans.

Hoping for a bountiful harvest!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mother's Day 2010

"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."
Harriet Beecher Stowe

This is my first Mother's Day without you, Mother. And I have shed many bitter tears in the last two months. As painful as your last weeks and days were, I was grateful for the opportunity to tell you much that was in my heart. Yet every day, I think of something I wish I had told you, something I wish I had done.

Thank you for the countless things you did for me: sewing all my clothes, leading my Scout troop, sending me to camp, saving to send me to college, etc. There are literally too many things to list, but I remember something different every day.

Thank you for all you taught me: right and wrong, responsibility, to have high expectations for myself and to do my best, to be considerate of others, to think for myself. You can rest assured that if Debbie stuck her head in a hot oven, I wouldn't do it, too.

I wish I had appreciated much earlier in my life how much you had overcome, how much you had sacrificed, how strong you were. You occasionally referred to "during the Depression" or "during the War" or "when I was away at school," but it was only in the last months of your life that I learned of some of the hardships you endured. After Dad died, in spite of your visual impairment, and even after your stroke, you fought to stay independent.

And lastly I wish I had made all of those other Mother's Days more special for you. I know that you didn't care a bit about presents. What you enjoyed most of all was my company. I wish I hadn't been so concerned whether my own children would honor or insult me on that day, and had focused on honoring you.

So today, dear Mother, you may not be here in body, but you are always with me.

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.
Abraham Lincoln

Friday, May 07, 2010

Housing crisis hits home, new direction, etc.

Well, the housing crisis has finally hit home here. A few weeks ago I got a check for about $1000 from my mortgage company, refunding overpayment into myescrow account. I was so pleased at this unexpected windfall, I didn't think about the ramifications of the overpayment. When I got my statement from the county tax assessor this week, I realized that this was not a cause for celebration. The valuation of my house declined about $40,000 in the past year! Now it was over-valued in the past, considering all the rehab and repairs it needs, but this was quite a shocker. It is now valued at the price I paid for it...in 1993.

I finally took the first step on my path to a new career yesterday by signing up for an online course in psychosocial rehabilitation. I plan on taking three courses offered by Boston University, and another two offered by St Lawrence College in Canada. Hopefully I will then be able to pass the exam to become a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practioner, and by the time the training and certification is complete, I will have had some effective treatment to relieve my spinal problems enough so that I can work at least part-time.

We're looking forward to our trip to Colorado in June, but I have to say that so far, our weather here has been fairly mild. And this is that wonderful time of year when I walk out my back door and the air is fragrant with the heavy sweet smell of honeysuckle, and I walk out the front door and am greeted with the heavenly aroma of jasmine. Texas at its best, in a very brief window of time.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Another year

Friday we celebrated Gabriel's 24th birthday. We went to Texas Roadhouse for dinner and then yesterday we had red velvet cake from our favorite bakery (the same cake we had on most of Gabriel's birthdays---see above) and the presents. In recent years, Gabriel has asked for clothes and he always comments on the irony that, when he was a kid, he never thought he'd be asking for clothes on birthdays and Christmas! For me, the biggest reason to celebrate this year was that it has been a whole year since Gabriel and I have made a trip to the ER.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My bodyguards

Grief, despair, and guilt...
They fill me up and surround me,
Like hulking bodyguards,
They keep others at bay.
"Always so serious,"
"Everything's depressing,"
"Just can't take a joke,"
"I want to run away."
Well, this is how I am,
Take it or leave it,
And if you leave, just know
I know how to be alone...
Alone through great sorrow,
Alone in solitary vigil,
Alone in darkest despair
When not a single light shone.
I just wish I could sleep,
But when I lay in bed,
Images of pain and death
Play and repeat in my brain.
If someone would listen
And put an arm of comfort
Around my weighted shoulders,
Perhaps that would ease the pain.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I brought you two pots of violets
To brighten up your room.
One was laden with pure white flowers,
But the other had yet to bloom.

I put them on the window sill,
Where they caught the winter light.
You smiled and said, "That's good,"
Pleased by the homey sight.

We considered the barren plant:
What color would the violets be?
"I don't know," I told you softly,
"I guess we'll just wait and see."

Simple words, yet carefully chosen,
I wanted us to share expectation,
To look to a future, to hold out hope,
To banish death from consideration.

Now you're gone, the white blooms have withered,
But now pink violets have burst from the other.
Their beauty brings me bittersweet pleasure,
If only you could see them, too, Mother.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My mother's hands

Her hands are gnarled and deeply veined,
Their trembling now is still.
At unaccustomed rest they lie,
From work at last released.

Childish hands in younger days
Knew the toil of country life:
Feeding chickens, toting water,
Planting, picking, shelling, shucking.

Shell shocked soldier and Great Depression
Conspired to send her off to school.
Her hands not only wrote her lessons,
But also worked for room and board.

Independent, self-reliant,
With the inner strength her mother taught her,
With determined hands she pushed
The confining limits placed on women.

A mother's hands worked ceaselessly,
Keeping the house, keeping the books,
Sewing thousands of straight, true stitches,
Guiding her children with a straight, true heart.

In later years, her weary hands
Of necessity took over other tasks,
As touch replaced her fading vision,
And gestures augmented her jumbled speech.

Through her pain and through my sorrow,
Our hearts spoke all they had to say.
Her hands grasped mine with newfound strength,
At once both gaining and giving comfort.

And then those precious hands grow cold,
As we look into each other's eyes.
And yet, even now, I feel their warmth
As Mother's strong hands guide me home.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Esther Adams Gregory 1918-2010

The eulogy, a group effort by the family:

Esther was a Christian who believed and taught her children that religion was a private matter and that one witnessed one’s faith by practicing the Golden Rule. Her code phrase was “Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.” She was born and raised her children during segregation, but neither expressed nor instilled in her children racial prejudice. Her mother told her always vote for the Democrat. After marrying a federal civil servant from a staunchly Republican family, she rarely expressed her political views until Ronald Reagan’s policies toward retired federal employees had transformed her husband Newell into a Democrat as well. After surgery in early 2001, she told every healthcare worker that she was counting on them to see that she recovered because she needed to live to vote again in 2004.

Esther graduated from high school and entered junior college at age sixteen. It was there that she met the love of her life Newell. Each was walking to vespers with others from their respective men’s and women’s dormitories. When the groups met, they paired off into couples. When he and Esther were the only ones left, Newell remarked that it appeared that it was the two of them. Esther thought he was being a bit presumptuous but reluctantly agreed to walk with him. Telling this story, Newell always added that Esther was the only woman who would have him. Esther and Newell honored her mother’s request that since they were so young, they wait one year to marry. They were married for sixty-nine years. On Valentine’s Day, they would go to the buffet restaurant that they frequented. That day lunch was free for couples married at least fifty years. It was not the free lunch, but the opportunity to announce how long they had been married that drew Newell there.

Esther knew adversity and hardship early in life and overcame it through independence and self- reliance. She and Newell raised their children to be equally independent. After years of being Newell’s ears and he her eyes, Esther returned to independence and self-reliance upon his death. More than anything else, she wanted not to burden her children. Next most importantly, though legally blind, she counted on the continuing judgment of her ophthalmologist from his very first diagnosis of her macular degeneration that she would never be completely without vision and require a full-time attendant.

After her marriage, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Esther perhaps found the advancement of women during her lifetime most gratifying. As a young woman, her mother had returned to Oklahoma from a properly chaperoned trip to visit relatives in New York City to announce an intent to move there and support herself as a secretary. Esther’s grandfather had forbidden her mother from doing so, declaring that no daughter of his would ever be any man’s secretary. Esther’s mother subsequently taught bookkeeping to men attending business college but could not obtain bookkeeping work herself because she was a woman. By her death, Esther had watched her and Newell’s daughter, granddaughters, nieces and great-nieces pursue whatever careers they chose. In 1984, considering it historic for women, she stood for hours at a rally to hear Geraldine Ferraro campaign as Mondale’s vice-presidential candidate. In 2008 she watched Hillary Clinton compete for the presidential nomination. She transitioned from signing as Mrs. N.W. Gregory to signing her own name and from being “et ux” to being one of the named owners of real estate. When advised that contrary to the apparent custom, her first name had been inscribed on the left side and Newell’s on the right of the plaque marking their couple’s tomb, she responded that if her name was indeed first, it was for the first time ever.

While gratified by the opportunities that opened for women, Esther herself wanted to be a full-time wife and mother. She stretched Newell’s income by employing the home economics which she had studied in junior college and by carefully managing their finances. Her brother-in-law told everyone he knew that if Esther’s sister Jimmye had managed money as well as Esther, he would have been able to retire as a very young man. At one point, Esther studied for and earned a real estate license. Upon realizing that the prime hours for showing properties would be after school, she decided that her family needed her more than whatever income she might earn.

After Newell was drafted, Esther and Scotty spent part of the war living with her mother and sister. Newell’s sisters and sisters-in-law were similarly gathered in Muskogee. The bonds and friendship among them all were forever strengthened as they assisted and supported each other.

Her children thought she authored phrases like “Don’t run with that – you’ll put your eye out.” “Eat your _________. There are children starving somewhere in the world.” “Of course you can’t have a BB gun. You’d put someone’s eye out.” Somewhere in the ozone there is a trove of water guns, pea shooters, Spud Guns, bean flips, sling shots and such. They all disappeared at her hands. Why? Well, of course, they could put someone’s eye out! If one dared use the argument that “Johnny is doing it,” the response would be, “Well, I’m not Johnny’s mother.” Or “If Johnny put his head in a hot oven, would you put yours in too?”

Her daughter-in-law of almost fifty years says that had she looked the world over, she would never have found either a mother-in-law or father-in-law who could have treated her any better or accepted and loved her anymore.

Setting opinions about fashion aside, her grandchildren remember her love, acceptance, support and belief in them. Within her own family, she was truly able to judge a person not by the color of his skin...or his disability or his sexual orientation...but by the content of his character. And, after so many years of being on the receiving end of Grandma's kindness, some of them learned the satisfaction of giving back, by helping her in many small ways after Granddad's death.

Her great-grandchildren remember their and their Grandma Essie’s mutual love but maybe not her exclaiming that they were trying to jump out of their skin or her thinking that Gramps was buying them too many toys. She was proud of their accomplishments, such as earning their Eagle Scout award, and loved to be included in discussions of their college plans.

Newell’s nieces and nephews recall her as tough but kind and dear.

All of her family loved Esther and will miss her so very much.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Advocate for Medicare therapy services

Today my mother's physical therapist informed me that my mother will be discharged from PT this Friday. This was frustrating to hear, since this is the first week my mother has really felt well enough to benefit from therapy, and after 6 weeks basically spent in bed, she definitely needs therapy to increase her strength and endurance for walking and independence. So why is she being discharged? Because of the Medicare Therapy Cap:

Medicare Therapy Caps to Return in 2010 Without Exceptions (At Least Temporarily)
The Medicare therapy caps will return on January 1, 2010, although the policy will likely be in place for only one month as both health care reform bills that were passed by the House and Senate contain provisions to extend the exceptions process. These bills are being merged together for a final vote which congressional leaders have said they would like to have completed prior to President Obama's State of the Union address in late January.

Until that time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have reported that speech-language pathology and physical therapy will continue to share a combined cap of $1,860, with a separate cap of $1,860 for occupational therapy. As before, the cap does not extend to services provided in hospitals. Settings impacted by the therapy caps include private practice, rehabilitation agencies, skilled nursing facilities, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities, physician offices, and Part B home health agency services

Please, friends, contact your representatives and Senators to encourage them to pass the "extension to the exceptions process for Medicare therapy caps."

Colorado Bob is fundraising for Shelterbox - JustGiving

Colorado Bob is fundraising for Shelterbox - JustGiving

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

As the end approaches

My mother has been in the hospital for several weeks now. She had surgery, and after a few days, was sent to a skilled nursing facility for rehab, to regain her strength and her mobility. Her plan was to be home in 7 days (she's a tough little lady!). But after a few days there, she seemed to be declining. I called her on New Years Day, and I didn't even recognize her voice at first, she sounded so frail. I rushed over to the SNF, and, after spending a few minutes with her, listening to her cough and laborious breathing, I told them to send her to the ER. She was admitted to the hospital with a heartbeat that was way too high and irregular, plus a mild case of pneumonia.

On Sunday, she seemed to take a turn for the worse. It was so alarming to me and so dramatic, that I sent a message to my brother, telling him that it would be good if family members could call her that day. I really thought the end might be approaching.

When my dad died three years ago, it was sudden and unexpected. He went about his business that day: gassing up the car, checking his email, calling his sister. That evening, he died in his recliner, watching TV. We knew this was how he would have wanted to go...no hospitals, no lingering. My mother remarked many times that it would have eased his mind so to know that this was how the end would come. But, because his death came unexpectedly, I felt a lot of regret that I had never told him the things I wanted to say.

So on Sunday, I sat there next to my mother's hospital bed, as she coughed and gasped for breath and moaned, fearing that death might be near. But I couldn't bring myself to start THAT conversation, because I feared that she would think I had given up hope. But obviously she was thinking the same thing, because she opened the door for me by telling me that she wanted me to have her car. Once she said that, the tears welled up, and I began to tell her so many of the things I wanted to say....as did she. It was a conversation I will never forget.

Fortunately she turned the corner the next day and has continued to improve. She is supposed to be discharged back to the SNF today. I'm hoping that she is able to return home, and that when the end does come, it will be sudden...no lingering, no hospitals. But this time, I won't be left with the regret of things unsaid.