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Saying “Farewell” — Part One September 5, 2009

Posted by Michelle Knoll in Journeys.
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This is one of three posts that I don’t want to write.

But I feel I must.

mom's house

This is the house that once was.  But it was more than just a house.  It was… basketball games at the bottom of the driveway all Saturday long, with tournaments that went long into the night.  It was… ham radio antennas being strung through all the trees, by tying one of Dad’s tools to the end of the antenna wire and throwing it as hard as possible up into the tree, hoping it would find a branch to hang on to (and many times the tool was lost in the process).  It was… Monopoly competitions using three boards together, in the living room floor.  It was… heights being marked on the edge of the bathroom door, all the way up to age 16.  It was… batches of cookies being baked through the years, black forest cake sliding apart in the fridge, mashed potatoes landing on the ceiling because Mom tripped on the way to the table, tons of canning vegetables in the hot, summer months, kitchen hose water fights while Mom and Dad were at work, coke being sprayed on the kitchen ceiling, big brother trying to “help” Mom do the laundry by putting bleach in the washing machine with the colored sheets — before they had gotten wet.

It was a flashing Jack O’Lantern on Halloween night, and a flashing Snowman face during the Christmas season, all because we liked “blinky bulbs” the best.  It was humid summer nights, with the metal window fan going at full speed, and the metal window screen flapping in the breeze.  It was golf tournaments played by high school boys, using our back yard as the beginning of the course, but winding all through the neighborhood, so no neighbor was safe from renegade golf balls flying through the air.  It was tuba parts being cleaned and scrubbed and polished to perfection in the one bathtub we had, which meant the bathtub also had to be cleaned and scrubbed.

It was hours of piano practice, and some late night sing-alongs, with the front door open so the whole world could hear.  It was the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing on Sunday mornings on the radio, while three sleepy-headed children ate muffins and eggs for breakfast before going to church.  It was dark, cold mornings, eating oatmeal in front of the wall heater next to the kitchen table, before setting out for the schoolbus stop more than a block away to wait on the bus in the dark.

It was… a backyard carnvial that two boys roped their dad into agreement about, so the entire neighborhood, plus many others, could come and have fun, dunking the older boy in a homemade dunking booth, while the younger boy led the attendees through a makeshift haunted house in the basement, complete with “eyes” made of wet dryer lint, while their mom boiled hotdogs in the kitchen for four hours to sell.  A full-blown carnival, complete with tons of games, plus a gypsy to “read” palms and give people goofy ideas about their future.

It was slumber party after slumber party after slumber party…

It was a little girl, listening to “The Nutcracker Suite,” mesmerized while watching the random patterns made on the walls and ceiling by the flashing lights on the Christmas tree.  It was pristine snowfalls that glistened in the light of the streetlight, late at night when no one could disturb their magical appearance.  It was carefully planned and calculated sledding runs complete with jumps.

It was hot afternoon baseball games on a multi-level baseball field that took up three back yards.  It was muddy games of “Pick Up and Smear” football where someone usually got upset over getting “smeared.”  It was grilling steaks, with Dad watching faithfully with his squirt gun, ready to shoot the offending flames so the steaks wouldn’t get burned.

It was the remodel of the century, as an old cinderblock basement was transformed into a wonderful family room, complete with woodburning stove, and a deck being added off the dining room where the old window fan had been, and the wall heater disappearing from the kitchen because the wall was taken out so the kitchen and dining room could be connected.

It was three dogs, and four cats, and loads of goldfish throughout the years…

It was tuba playing, and clarinet playing, and piano playing, and guitar playing, and most of all, “drum” playing on every available surface in the house…

It was carefully mastered rim “playing,” as two brothers calculated the amount of water needed in crystal goblets to create beautiful major seventh chords, much to their mother’s dismay.  It was Mom sitting on the edge of her seat during the blessing, ready to jump and run for the kitchen, to pull the rolls out of the oven so they wouldn’t burn.

It was so many things… mostly good and fun and memorable, but it was a typical family, with typical family dysfunction, and typical family squabbles, and typical family tears.  So it was also hugs, and apologies, and struggles.  Good and bad, all together.

And now, it is no more.  For a 90-foot oak tree, caught in a downburst of wind, fell on the house on July 29.

pics from Teds camera of moms house 004

In the aftermath of this disaster, I am having to deal with so many things, mainly… where is Mom going to be now? And should she live alone? No, of course not.  Her memory is failing faster and faster every day.

So, I must say farewell to the only home I had growing up.  And I must say farewell to the house that held so many memories.

Thankfully, these things about the house are in my memory.  But they don’t reside solidly in someone else’s memory, any more.  And that brings me to the saddest farewell in this entire situation.

Mom.

When Dad died in 2000, it was quick, and almost shocking.  He hadn’t been sick, but trouble had been brewing and we’d not known it was there.  An abdominal aortic aneurism took his life, in the middle of the night.  In 30 seconds or less, he was gone.  It is the one truly painful memory of the house, for Mom found him the next morning.

Mom’s situation has not been quick, even though in some ways it has been shocking.  Mom was the one to always be on top of things.  She always knew where everything was.  She always had an answer for everything.  She handled life with grace and ease.  She has always been… amazing. 

Mom became very ill in 2007 with a serious infection in her lungs, and almost suffocated from it.  When my brother got her to the doctor, the lack of oxygen to her brain caused her to not know who she was, where she was, or anything.   She recovered from the infection, but her memory has never come back in full force.   So yes, we are dealing with the “A” word:  Alzheimers.

Mom has an apartment in an assisted living center now, close to my older brother and his wife, so they can check on her and be there if something serious arises.  She has others who check on her on a regular basis, too.  So she is not alone anymore, and she is well taken care of.  I came to visit Mom this past week to see how she was getting adjusted, and to take care of some financial matters and other things.  It’s been good to be with her, but I can tell that her memory is slipping farther, and faster.  She doesn’t remember the house or the tree falling on it, unless you bring it up.  She constantly asks the same questions over and over again.

I had been preparing myself since she was in the hospital in 2007, knowing that one day, she would not know who I was.  Well…

it happened last night.

She had asked me the night before, “Who is that boy over there?” (pointing to my son)  I would answer simply, “that’s my son.”  Then she would say, “oh” and nod in acceptance of what I said.  Last night, instead of that being the last question, she then looked at ME and said…

Who ARE you???”

I just sat there, staring into eyes that did not recognize me.  Then she said, “Where did I meet you? Knoxville? Marion? Nashville?  I don’t know how you know me, or I know you, or…”

I still just sat there, before responding, wondering if she would be able to recapture what she had lost.  When it didn’t appear she was going to be able to bring up the knowledge of who I am in her life, I quietly said:

“I’m your daughter.”

The look on her face was crushing to me, because I knew how much my words had shocked her.  She was devastated.  Yet, I had to say the truth, you know?

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

For some, Alzheimer’s can be a rough trial, because they become combative, and emotional, and they don’t understand why.  Some Alzheimer’s sufferers become violent, hitting people for no reason, and doing other things.  But for most, Alzheimer’s is a slow… painless… death… for the one suffering from it.  They don’t know how much they are losing, and a lot of times, they never know that it’s gone. They just… slip… into nonexistence, even though they are still alive.

It’s the rest of the family, and their friends, who suffer.  For all those people suffer the pain of farewell, long before the casket is closed.

I’m going back over to see my mom again today, like I have for the past four days, and spend time with her, while I still have time.  And she may not know who I am, at all.  But we will spend time together, and have fun, and talk, and share, and hopefully, she will smile.

There’s only one thing I can hang onto at this point, and I clutch this knowledge tightly in my heart:

God knows my mom, whether or not she knows anyone else, or herself.

Hug your family members today, tell your friends how much they matter, share those things that you’ve been meaning to share, take the time to record all those stupid family stories while you still have the time and opportunity to remember them, and make sure that you know your God, and that you spend enough time with Him so you are confident He knows you.

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Comments»

1. Bruce Maples - September 5, 2009

Well, now you’ve done it: I’d been able to ignore the pain, and hold back the tears, and just DEAL with the things that had to be done — like I’ve done so many times before. But this just brings it all out.

Well done, Michelle, very well done. Bookmarked and shared. Dad is proud, and Mom will be touched when she finally knows about it. 🙂

I love you. I’m proud you’re my sister.

2. syinly - September 5, 2009

Thank You Cookie lady, My grandmother is suffering from the A word and it’s difficult. My prayers are with you and your family.

3. Joe - September 5, 2009

Eloquent, beautiful writing from the heart. Thank you. Just a few hours ago I left my 90 year old mother, living alone three hours away in the home I grew up in. I brought home several bags of things, as I do each visit– family papers, trinkets, junk really– but things she knows she no longer needs and wants to pass on to someone who might care. We find a place for them and await the inevitable, eventual, and in some ways, the beautiful.

4. The Cookie Lady - September 5, 2009

Oh, wow, syinly, I had no idea. I’m sorry that you all are dealing with this, too. My thoughts and prayers are with you, too.

It is painful, but God meets us in our pain, and He touches that pain in ways that only He can. Sometimes He does it Himself, when we are alone with him, and sometimes He does it through others, and sometimes He does it through a song we hear on the radio or internet or TV, and sometimes… you get the idea. Look for God to speak to you about this, in lots of big and small ways. He will.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this, it’s that God does indeed care about the smallest part of our lives. Ever little thing. You know the old saying, “can’t see the forest for the trees”? Meaning, can’t see the big picture because you’re focusing too much on the details? Well, God’s not a “forest” kind of God; He’s very much a “tree” kind of God. He’s very much into the details of our lives, every single one.

Oh… wow… I just realized what I said. God is a “TREE” kind of God… oh that is TOO funny…

5. The Cookie Lady - September 5, 2009

Bruce, didn’t see your post before I responded to syinly’s. Sorry!

Wow… didn’t mean to make you cry, really didn’t. But your words are such an honor. And the greatest honor is having you and David for brothers.

I thought of a ton of other things that the house represented in our family, but here’s one for you:

“It was… symphonies by Bach, Beethoven, Brahams, Haydn, and so many others, blaring from the RCA monophonic record player in the living room, being conducted by an aspiring musician who imagined the day when he would really hold that baton.” :0)

Love you too, big brother! And I’m proud of YOU, too.

6. The Cookie Lady - September 5, 2009

Hey Joe, thanks for commenting! I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.

Yes, the inevitable — in this case — will have its own beauty. For me, the beauty will be seeing my mom (at least in my mind’s eye) being free from the weight of confusion that she carries now.

She said something while in the hospital in 2007, recovering from the infection in her lungs. At one point she turned to me and said, “What is that, across the hall from my room?” The door wasn’t open much, but you could see a little of the hallway. Still, something inside me said, “She’s not seeing the hallway.” So I asked her, “Why? What do you see?” And she said, “There are people dancing, and there is a staircase, a spiral staircase, in the far corner.”

I just smiled. I think she had her first glimpse of Heaven, though I can’t guarantee that. But the look on her face…. that was priceless. She had eyes of wonder. And then she said, “They look like they’re having so much fun!”

Yes, Mom. There is a place where you will have fun again.

7. Chuck Balsamo - September 12, 2009

Michelle… thanks for articulating your pain. I am praying for you and your mom and the rest of your beautiful family this morning. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s, she lives in New York and does not know anyone, not even her own husband. I pray for God to pick you guys up and carry your through this… just like the footprints in the sand! Have a great day!

8. The Cookie Lady - September 12, 2009

Thanks, Pastor Chuck. I really appreciate your prayers and thoughts toward us, and yes, God IS picking us up and carrying us through this. He especially does that by His own precious Spirit who comforts us, but He also does that through all of our wonderful friends, like you, who pray for us and encourage us.


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