Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas at the State Capitol

Last week, the boys and I accompanied Jude to the annual Christmas tree lighting by Governor Hallam at the State Capitol.  I think this was the 5th or 6th consecutive year we have attended and, as always, it was fun.  

The boys listened to Governor Haslam welcome everyone and introduce a few distinguished guests, including Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Next, they watched the Governor and the First Lady press the button that lighted the Christmas tree for the holiday season.  Then, it was off to listen to the Governor, First Lady, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus take turns reading "The Night Before Christmas."  And, finally, the boys got to visit with the man himself, Santa Claus, and tell them what they wanted for Christmas.

Governor Haslam

Joe and J.P.

J.P., Santa, Joe and Mrs. Claus

Jude, Joe, J.P. and me

It rained, as it has the last 4 State Capitol Christmas tree lightings we have attended.  We slogged back to Jude's work parking garage, fighting the wind and a driving rain, and got in Jude's Honda Pilot, wet and hungry.  Here's where the night took a turn, for sure.

As we were driving down Charlotte Avenue, J.P., sitting directly behind me on the passenger side, suddenly blurts out, "Is that Santa?!?"  

I looked to my right and sure enough, there is Santa Claus driving down Charlotte Avenue in a bright red Honda Pilot with Mrs. Claus riding shotgun.  How did I know it was Santa Claus?  Well, for starters, he was still in his "uniform."  Also, as he pulled ahead of us, I noticed the personalized license plate - "Mrs. Claus."  

Jude and I looked at each other and wined silently.  J.P. was quiet and I almost could hear his 8 1/2 year old mind working, trying to process what he had just seen.  Finally, he said, "I bet Santa couldn't get he sleigh (and the reindeer) out tonight because it's raining and not snowing."  

I breathed a sigh of relief, as Jude and I nodded and agreed with him.  "I think that's right."  Jude said.

In the meantime, I thought to myself, "Damn, Santa!  WTH?  Couldn't you at least have changed clothes before you left for home?"

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Joe and Bruiser

Joe and Bruiser, Belmont University's mascot, during the Belmont-Western Kentucky game.

Sidewalk Alumni

As I've mentioned before, I love living so close to Belmont University.  Our house is 3 blocks from campus.  Bongo Java, where I spend so much time (and where I'm sitting as I write this), is directly across the street from campus.  I'm constantly running into Belmont students, whether it's at Bongo Java, in the neighborhood or on campus.  

I think there's an energy, a vibe, that comes from spending so much time in and amongst college students.  I've never been able to put my finger on it but it seems like there's an underlying sense of optimism and possibility that permeates a college campus and the surrounding neighborhood.  The students are young, obviously, getting their first taste of life as adults, away from home.  They're generally happy and that's contagious in a way.

Last Saturday night, J.P. and his basketball teammates got to serve on the "paint patrol" for the Belmont basketball team's home opener vs. Western Kentucky University.  We met for dinner at Martin's BBQ on Belmont Boulevard beforehand.  Then, several of us parked at our house, had a quick beer, and walked to the Curb Center for the game.  I have 4 basketball season tickets and we had additional tickets through our group.

Before the game, I ran into my friend, Scott Corley, who was fairly recently named Belmont's athletic director.  Some of the boys, including J.P., got their picture taken (by me) with Belmont's legendary coach, Rick Byrd.  Most of the boys attended Coach Byrd's basketball camp last summer, so it was a special moment for them to see him. 


The boys worked in shifts, with 4 working the first half and 4 working the second half.  2 of the boys were under each basketball goal, mopping and sweeping in the foul lane at each dead ball.  The families, including siblings, were seated together in the stands to the left of Belmont's bench.  It's such a special group of people, as I've said many times.  It was such a great night and everyone was having such a great time, I hated for it to end.  

On the walk home, I hid from J.P., Braden and Benton, leaping out to scare them at various places as their parents laughed.  The perfect end to a perfect night of basketball and friendship.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Morning After

After returning from Maristone late Friday night, I got up early Saturday morning and drove back down to Franklin to make sure my mom got up for breakfast.  I was hoping that her first night sleeping alone went well, and it did for the most part, which was a relief.  When I arrived about 7:30 a.m., she was up and dressed, which I thought was a good sign.  We sat down, talked for a few minutes and played a game of Trouble, believe it or not.

Trouble is a game of significance for me, as one of my early and fond memories from childhood is my mom playing Trouble with me at our house in La Mirada, California, every morning before I walked across the street to go to kindergarten at Cling Elementary School.  We laughed as we played then, when I was 5 years old, and we laughed as we played Saturday morning before breakfast, when I was 50 years old.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We had breakfast together in the dining room, which was nice.  There is a hierarchy among residents that impacts who sits where and with whom, strangely enough.  More on that later, though.  Patti Sparks stopped by and relieved me at 10 a.m., so I could go to J.P.'s basketball team and accompany he and his teammates to the Belmont-Western Kentucky game Saturday evening.  I left with a heavy heart and a few pangs of guilt, as I felt, in a way, like I was getting time off for good behavior.

I need to say a word about Patti Sparks and Jan Baker, two of my mom's closest friends.  Friendship, true friendship, is difficult to define.  But I know it when I see it, and I see it in the relationship between my mom, Patti and Jan.  The selfless way they treat her, care for her, talk to her and simply love her renews my faith in man and, really, in God.  Patti and Jan have been a sounding board for me and have given me invaluable insight and advice.

When my mom was still living at home the last few months - and really struggling - Patti and Jan were a constant presence in her life (along with their husbands, Ben Sparks and Don Baker).  They were at her house almost every day, checking on her, taking her to the grocery store or out to dinner.  What means the most to me, I think, is Patti and Jan didn't forget about my mom when she began to fade away.  In fact, they did the opposite.  They took time away from their families (husbands, children and grandchildren), and continue to do so, to spend time with my mom when she needed t them the most.  That's true friendship and I can never thank them enough for that.  

I get emotional thinking about the two of them and writing about them because of how special they are to my mom, and to Tracy, Alice and me.

My mom is adjusting to her new circumstances, to her new life, and I am, too.  I have needed to write the past few blog posts - to vent, if you will - to help me try to put what has happened to her in perspective.  There will be more venting, but there will more posts about my boys in happier times.  My mom would want that.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Settling In

Okay.  I need to get the rest of this out of me.  Things will get better.  They have to.

I arrived at Maristone to relieve Alice at 4 p.m. on Friday, my mom's second day there.  She immediately greeted me with pleas to take her home.  She was confused and upset, as has been the case more and more at sundown since the end of daylight savings time.  I've learned that's pretty normal with people in her condition.

The plan was for me to spend the afternoon and evening with my mom, eating dinner with her in the dining room, then to leave shortly before bedtime.  I insisted, and Tracy and Alice agreed, it was imperative to get her used to staying by herself overnight.  Plans in theory almost always work to perfection.  In reality, though, it's often an entirely different story.

Almost immediately, my mom asked me if I was staying the night.  When I told her no, she got agitated.  Truthfully, I can't describe it any other way than to say that she pleaded for me stay the night and not leave her alone.  I was heartbroken.

I began crying as I told my mom how hard this was for me, for all of us.  I told her I knew that she didn't really want Tracy, Alice and me to be away from our families every third night to stay with her.  I told her my boys needed me at home at night.  Kaitlyn and Matthew needed Tracy home at night, too.

Somehow, when she saw how emotional I was, she became my mom again.  "I know," she said.  "The boys need you.  I know they do."  Suddenly, just for a brief moment, my mom was comforting me, like she always has done.  I don't know if it was a breakthrough or God's grace, or maybe a little of both.

So, we just hung out together the entire night.

We played checkers. (I picked up some games earlier that day.)  It's hard to explain but playing checkers with her was like a summer rain shower, where it rains but he sun peaks in and out of clouds.  In other words, I laughed with her as we played but I cried inside as she struggled with the rules and couldn't remember whether she was red or black.  I think that checkers game is a metaphor for my life with her moving forward.  Laughter and tears, mixed together.

We at dinner in the dining room downstairs.  After dinner, we settled in to watch Independence HS vs. Cane Ridge HS in the quarterfinals of the high school football playoffs.  Sadly, my mom couldn't keep track of which team was which until I wrote down that Independence HS was wearing white.  That was the only way she knew which team to cheer for.  Again, laughter and tears.

My mom insisted there was ice cream in the freezer compartment of her small refrigerator, although I told her that simply wasn't the case.  Then, she thought there was ice cream in her freezer outside, undoubtedly referring the deep freezer at home or the extra refrigerator in the storeroom at home.  Finally, I opened up the door to her apartment to show her that there was only a hallway outside, not the carport and the storeroom.  In the end, I drover over to Publix and bought her some Klondike bars.

We sat not on the couch together, still watching the football game, and looked at old photographs of the boys on my computer.  Her head began to nod and I let her fall asleep.  When she woke up at 10 p.m., I suggested she go to bed, so I could leave and go home to my family.  We argued a bit about that but she gave in after a few minutes, and shuffled to the bathroom to brush her teeth.  

I helped her into bed, tucked her in and told her I loved her as I tried to fight back the tears.  I turned off the lights, closed the door behind me, took the elevator downstairs and walked to my truck, head down and lost in thought.  I felt so conflicted, relieved to be leaving but guilty at not being able to do more for her.  I planned on returning the next morning to eat breakfast with her and to see how the night went.

The symbolism of tucking my mom into bed was not lost on me.  In fact, the significance of the moment overpowered me.  The parent had become the child and the child had become the parent.  And so it goes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

No Going Back

I'm stealing an hour at noon at The Good Cup, an eclectic, hole in the wall of a coffee shop in the Grassland community, just outside Franklin.  I just want to take a deep breath, figuratively, and contemplate the two most painful days of my life.

We moved my mom into Maristone Thursday morning.  It was difficult, though not as bad as I thought it would be, probably because we all were so busy.  Because she was only taking a few pieces of furniture and the double bed from the guest room, along with some clothes and frames photographs, the movers were loaded and gone in less than three hours.  I ran a couple of errands for her, then met Tracy and Alice at Maristone with the move in well underway.  

When I walked into Maristone for the first time, I was overwhelmed with, I guess, sadness.  I saw several elderly people quietly eating lunch in the dining room, some of them hunched over with the ravages of old age.  It suddenly hit me - they're just like my mom.  In fact, she's in worse physical shape than many of them.  My second thought him me even harder - they're not leaving here and neither is my mom.  

Damn, it's hard to write that last sentence.  It's hard to write any of this, but I have to get it out, once and for all, although I'm not sure why.  The last 2 days are a jumble of emotions and thoughts.

Jan Baker arrived shortly after noon with my mom and she seemed okay, though confused.  She started to settle in and I felt good enough about things that I left and went to the office about 3 p.m., planning to spend a couple of hours there.  Just before 5 p.m., Alice texted me and asked me to come back to Maristone right away.  As often seems to happen at sundown, my mom had gotten confused and was becoming more and more agitated with Tracy.

I packed up my gear and left the office and got Maristone a little after 5 p.m.  When I walked in her apartment, my mom looked up at me from her chair and asked, "Will you take me home?"  "No," I answered, and I could feel my heart breaking.  "This is where you're going to stay."  She gave me a blank stare, totally confused, and asked, "Why would I do that?"  She got more and more agitated as I tried to explain to her why she was there.  

I suggested Tracy take some things to her car to give her a break because I could see that she was close to despair.  Sadly, Tracy bears the brunt of my mom's resentment, much as my mom did when she was taking care of my grandmother in her later years.  I quickly realized there was no reasoning with her because she wasn't capable of remembering why she was Maristone or understanding that it was the best thing for her.  

Eventually, she settled down and I left Tracy with her for the night.  Tracy slept there to keep her company.

Friday morning, I worked from home for a bit then ran some errands for my mom.  Her remote was missing and I stopped by her house, our house, to look for it.  As I walked inside, the stillness enveloped me and I fell apart.  It's hard to explain, but it was like the mostly happy spirit that had inhabited the house for the last 44 years had died.  I sobbed to myself as I walked from room to room,  memories flooding my mind like images on a movie screen.  It was so sad.  So much of that house was my mom and suddenly, in less than three hours, she had vanished, gone forever.  The spirit in the house died when she left.  It was just a house, like any other house, because it was no longer her house.

No more Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings with family.  No more gatherings of family and friends to watch a big football or basketball game.  No more anything.  Just a house full of junk to be thrown out, cleaned and eventually sold.  

I wish I could say I felt better when I left, that perhaps all I need was to let my emotions take control been for a few minutes.  No, I felt just as sad, if not more so, when I left the house and drove to Maristone Friday afternoon to stand vigil, so to speak, as mom in her altered state tried to acclimate herself in what she really has no idea is her new, and last, home.  



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Moving Out

This is the post I never thought I would write.

Tomorrow morning, we're moving my mom to an assisted living facility in Franklin.  As someone who never has been adept at handling change, I'm paralyzed by my emotions and memories of our lives, and my mom's life, in the house on Brenthaven Drive she has lived in for 44 years.  How did we get here so fast?

I know, in my heart, it's time.  For my mom, it's gotten to the point that we have caregivers there for 8 hours each day and Tracy or Alice has been staying with her at night.  When someone is not there with her, she's lonely, confused and scared, and that wrecks me.  She has such a difficult time navigating her way through the house that if she stays there, it's only a matter of time before she falls and injures herself.  Saddest of all, perhaps, is that in the mornings, Trace and Alice have had a hard time rousing her from the chair she sleeps in at night.

I am so angry, I guess, with God at giving her this burden to bear.  After all she has been through in her life and all that she has given to Tracy, Alice and me - and to many others - why would God take her mind and memories away from her, bit by bit, day by day?  Why couldn't she be allowed to enjoy her golden years like so many of her friends, driving herself to her grandchildren's sporting events and hosting holiday gatherings at her home.  My faith, always so strong and such an important part of my life, has been shaken.  I'm searching for a sense of perspective, now, and unable to find it.

It's so difficult for me to organize and process my thoughts about my mom's move.  So many memories in that house, in that back yard and in that neighborhood.  It occurred to me as I left the house the other day that virtually all of the stuff she accumulated over the years that is so special to her - photographs, trophies, the latch hook rug of Snoopy I made for Debbie Billings one summer in high school, framed newspaper articles about the Titans' Super Bowl Run - is just stuff that's going to end up in a landfill somewhere, sooner rather than later.  Depressing, but true.

This isn't about me.  I realize that, for sure.  But my mom has been such a vital and important part of my life for so long, it devastates me to see her going through this.  I want her to laugh again, to feel safe again, to not be lonely and to enjoy the life she has left to live.  Is that too much to ask?  I hope not.