Peaceful

My dad has been residing in an assisted living for over two years, and it’s been an adjustment for both of us. For the first few months he was there, he was given a temporary unit for rent on the third floor while he waited for his permanent apartment to be repainted and freshly carpeted.

During that time, it was chaotic. I never knew what I was going to walk into when I went to visit. The place isn’t that big, but he never stayed stationary and traveled from floor to floor, making it difficult to locate him. One day, I needed his signature on a document. I am his power of attorney, so I go over everything with him and involve him as long as he can comprehend. This is a way for him not to feel that he has lost his independence entirely.

I was in a hurry, and it was approaching his evening meal. I asked the staff where he was, and I was told he was on the second floor, so I went there. No luck.

At that time of day, the line for the elevator is long, and I am able-bodied, so I always take the back stairwells for speed.

“I think I saw him on the third floor,” said another helper.

“Ok.”

Up a flight, I walked the halls that were like a ghost town.

How can one man who is slow as a snail be so elusive?

Another staff person said she saw him on second floor. Even though I had just been there, I tried it again. And got the same result.

Back to the stairs, I came down to first where I had started. I searched the lobby, both community rooms, and looked around the back of the building where he would sit to get fresh air.

Where’s Waldo had nothing on this guy.

I walked back to the elevator, where the crowd was thick with those waiting for assistance. It was wall to wall wheelchairs and walkers. I thought I would go back up to his apartment for one last glance, but in the meantime, I stood in the corner out of the way.

I also figured if I stopped looking, my moving target might eventually run into me.

The doors opened, and one of the aides pushed him out and right past me like I was invisible! He nodded and smiled at me on his way by like he was a king greeting one of the underlings.

He had a cookie in one hand and a styrofoam cup of milk in the other. He couldn’t hear me, and she didn’t speak English very well, so they kept on moving as I tried to fight my way past the throng.

I was on my tiptoes trying to get to him while dodging the masses. He was happily enjoying his ride. This person had just been driving a car on a revoked license two months prior, gripping on to his keys and driving privileges like a mad man and now was too busy with both hands full, slurping down snacks with an escort into the dining room.

My only advantage in apprehending him was that they got stuck in the hallway.

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He looked up at me.

“When did you get here?”

“A while ago. Where have you been? I went to every floor.”

“Oh, she took me floor to floor. I have been riding on the elevator.”

“Why are you letting someone else push your wheelchair? Why are you not using your walker?”

He took this moment to chomp a bite off of his cookie and said,

“I don’t know.”

“You need to walk, and you need to use your leg muscles every day.”

“I know. I know,” he said like a rebellious teen, sucking down milk. Role reversal had happened somewhere along the way.

“I realize I am interrupting your busy schedule and your worldwide tour, but I need you to sign something.”

Right as I said that, she started pushing him forward away from me like a programmed machine. I stopped her and said,

“He’s coming with me. I will get him in there in a minute.”

It wasn’t like he would starve as I saw him take another cookie out of his shirt pocket.

I have had calls from him at 1 am, asking me what I’m doing, so we talk like it’s the middle of the afternoon.

“Do you know it’s almost 2 in the morning?” I will ask.

“It is?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you up, Chris?”

“Because you called me?”

“Oh,” and then the laugh.

He has no idea some of the stress and poor communication that I have faced on his behalf. But I don’t want him to know. He has given up everything he knew as familiar to be in a safer place like he should be. I have had to straighten up wrong billing, confront staff who haven’t always been attentive, and run errands when I would rather not.

“Chris, I have no Kleenex left, and they just gave me my last Tylenol. I’m going to need more in the morning.”

This was at 9:30 pm, with all stores closing at 10 pm during the shutdown and limited hours. And it was pouring rain.

“I hate to bother you with this.”

I had just finally sat down for a second.

“I will get it. Don’t worry.”

I can never leave him stranded, no matter what.

For weeks he had been telling me that he wanted a new bed. The one he was using had formed a crater in the middle so deep that he would get stuck if he rolled into it.

I ordered a new mattress for him. It showed up unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, and I set it all up. With his apartment at a scorching 100 degrees, I was an absolute sweaty mess, ripping apart the old one. He was thrilled to get it so his back wouldn’t hurt anymore. As soon as it was put together with the new sheets and the comforter I had gotten, he laid on it and immediately drifted off while I continued to battle the old one.

Once the activities started back up again after the lockdown, he made an effort to go. Reading over the schedule, he said,

“I will not go to Bingo.”

“Why? You don’t like it?”

“The lady who does it runs a tight ship. She scares me, and one of her arms is bigger than my legs, so you don’t mess with her.”

This was the man who was in a street gang at the age of 12 with a lead filled baseball bat on a chain and served in the military as a sergeant, but one woman calling numbers put the fear of God in him.

“She is scary, Chris. I stay clear of her.”

When the activity director asked him one day if he wanted to attend a different event, he inquired,

“Does this include beer and women?”

I shook my head.

“Do you see me standing right here? Do you see your daughter? Do you see me?”

“I see you,” he said, looking at me. “What about it?”

“And you realize my hearing is the best ever, right?” I asked.

He looked back at the activity lady.

“So, is there going to be beer and women?”

I went with him to chaperone, and I got looked up and down like he had found me off of Eharmony. I announced that I was his child so they all could relax, and I wasn’t in the competition. After half of a can of beer, he said,

“Where do I live again?”

I had to help him back to his apartment.

“I shouldn’t drink during the day,” he said.

“Maybe you shouldn’t ever if you can’t get yourself down one hallway.”

I don’t know if he heard me because he was dozing off.

When I saw that it was on the schedule to decorate pumpkins, I told him he needed to go.

“What? No, I’m not going to that!”

“I think you are.”

“Why would I go do that?” He put his finger by the side of his head and swirled it in a circle. This is his universal sign that going there was for those who had lost their minds.

I’m not above using the tricks my mom used to employ to get him to comply.

“You need to go do this, and I will take it home with me. I want you to do it for me.”

I saw the switch go off. The old ways still worked.

“Will they give me a knife?”

“Do you really think they are going to give you a sharp object?” I pretended to stab myself in the side of the neck.

His eyes always get big behind his glasses when he is processing.

“I suppose not,” he said, laughing. “That might be a bad idea around this place.”

Not giving him a choice, I took him, and a pumpkin was set in front of him with a paintbrush and paint.

“I gave up a good nap for this?”

“Yes. You did. Get to work on it.”

For someone who didn’t want to be there, he put in all his effort. He used to draw all the time, but his hands shake now, so it was more difficult. He was concentrating.

The person next to him tried to ask him a question at one point, and he said,

“Don’t bother me. I am busy.”

When he was done with it, he commented,

“I think the teeth make the whole thing.”

“I am assuming this isn’t a self-portrait, right?” I asked with a smile.

He laughed.

“What am I going to do with that?”

“I’m taking it with me.”

“Good riddance. Get it out of here! But thank you for coming to see me.”

“Even if you missed a nap?”

“I don’t nap.”

From moment to moment, I don’t know what he will remember or try to comprehend, so I’m very patient and protective over him. At one point, I didn’t know if I would ever speak to him again, but now it’s as if it never happened. I realized that I have been living this from Exodus 20:12:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Without God, it wouldn’t have come back together in the way that it has. People who knew me a few years ago while I was on my anger induced year and a half sabbatical from my parents are astonished at the turnaround of where he and I are now.

It speaks to the mysterious ways we don’t always understand, working for the best on our behalf if we allow it. When you think everything is beyond hope, God can prove to you this from Matthew 19:26:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(NIV)

Adding to that is Psalm 23:2 that says:

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. (NIV)

Something that was once ripped to shreds and full of strife can be made peaceful.

Driving You Crazy


Teaching your child to drive isn’t mentally easy.  Images from days gone by have a tendency to flash across the mind while she clutches the steering wheel for the first time and you sit like a slug in the passenger seat.  For instance, you  quickly recall when she could barely stumble across the room while hanging onto the edge of the couch or used an end table to support her wobbly legs.  Other mental scenes emerge of her unable to use a spoon or suck liquid through a straw. How was I supposed to let her drive my vehicle up and down streets where potential hazards awaited us at every turn? I would have rather put myself on a roller coaster to be flipped upside down non-stop for an hour. Yet, I had to maintain my composure because all good parents want to see their children succeed and mature into independence.  I wanted to remain calm, I really did.  I didn’t want to repeat the experience I had with my dad when I was learning how to drive.

It would begin before we left the garage.  His discomfort was evident as I turned the key and a battery of instructions and inquiry would follow before we even budged.

“Did you check the mirror?”

“Yes.”

“All of them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have your permit?”

“Yes.”

“Is there gas in the car?”

“Yes.”

After satisfying all of his questions, I would barely move into reverse when he would say,

“Keep your foot on the brake! I don’t want to go flying down the driveway.”

I would go at snail speed and it was still too fast for him.

One day, before I got the key into the ignition, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I am not driving with you!” I said defiantly.

My mom and I had gone out that afternoon to practice, and I noticed a remarkable difference.  She let me start the car, back out, and barely said one word except,

“Oh, look at that beautiful bird in that tree!”

As we drove through the familiar streets of our town, she would say occasionally,

“I wonder what they are building over there.”

For her it was a chance to get out of the house away from cooking, cleaning and laundry.  Once in awhile she would say,

“Why don’t we turn left up at the stoplight?  I haven’t been down that road in a long time.”

It became a sightseeing tour for her, and I just drove the car without worrying over every maneuver I made.

If I took a right when she said to go left her response was,

“Oh, well, you will get it next time.”

My experience with him was a sharp contrast, and his nerves were getting on my nerves, so my outburst was to make the negativity stop.  He said quietly,

“Let’s go.  Just start the car.”

It wasn’t said in an angry tone but one of realization that he was not helping the situation with his worry.

I began our nightly trek to a place where we could practice parallel parking and how to park on a hill.  We tried to get it all in before the sun set on that pre-summer night.  There wasn’t much traffic as I made my way back toward our home.

“Turn left up here,” he instructed.

I was feeling so much better about our time together now that I was sensing he wasn’t so anxious.  I had relaxed and he seemed much more at ease as well.  Unless he was faking it, and I couldn’t tell the difference.

As usual, I turned right instead of turning left.

“This is right, Chris.  I said left.”

“Oh, well,” I said parroting what I had heard my mom say.  “I will figure out a way to turn around.”

It wasn’t as easy as that.  I had turned on a road that was leading us forward with no option of a U-turn. We found ourselves slowly creeping along what appeared to be a private road not meant for the usual drive through.  There were beautiful manicured lawns surrounding us on both sides.  I took notice of this and other details because the speed limit sign had clearly stated we could only go 10 miles per hour.   It became quite evident where we had landed when we both saw a large green sign with white lettering.

STATE HOSPITAL

“What?  We are at the state hospital?”  Now a whole new type of fear descended upon him.

“We are?”

“Yes.  You have driven us right into the looney bin!”

I had a hard time not controlling my laughter at his reaction.  He has a tendency to lose all decorum and ability to be politically correct when terror strikes.

The road slowly wound around to the front of the facility where a few people milled about the grounds while orderlies stood by in white outfits.

“Lock the doors!  Roll up the windows!” he ordered.

This was back during the time before our cars mechanically did all of these things for us.

I glanced over to see his eyes wide as he kept them trained on all the residents roaming.

As if on cue, a tall male began walking alongside the passenger side of the car which brought my dad’s mood to a full tilt panic. The car door seemed like a paper thin barrier between him and this stranger.

“Hurry up and get us out of here!!” he yelled.  “This guy is racing us!”

“I am driving what the speed limit says, ” I retorted.  After all, I didn’t want to break the law by speeding, for heaven’s sake. And, I wasn’t the least bit afraid.  I was not going to allow my speedometer to go one inch over the 10 mile per hour mark.

We came to a crosswalk where there was a stop sign.  All of my new training was kicking in. There was no way I was running through it, and a complete stop was what I was taught to abide by.

The guy walking near the car stopped with us and peered in the window at my dad.

“Get us out of here!” he said again.

“I am!”

“It is getting dark!  We need to get out of here!”

There was another man standing by the curb who appeared to want to cross in front of us.   I sat waiting for him to make a move.  But he remained frozen.  Just staring straight at us.  His eyes looked glassy and fatigued.

“Is he going to cross the road?” I asked more to myself than to my passenger.

“He looks like he wants to kill us!  JUST go!”

“What if he steps in front of me?  I might hit him!”

A few seconds went by with all four of us glancing at each other.  Through gritted teeth, my dad made his final plea,

“Go!  Right now!  Just go!”

I slowly edged forward as the two residents watched us glide by.  Neither moved a muscle.

“Keep going to the left!”

I did what he said and soon we found ourselves driving out the exit and back into his comfort zone.  He stayed quiet the entire ride home as I tried not to giggle.

When we walked in the door, my mom asked,

“So, how did she do?”

He opened the palm of his hand and said,

“She did just fine but I lost a tooth.”  He had been clutching on to it the whole way home.

“What?!”

“I bit down so hard while she was driving that I broke my tooth.”

My mother and I looked at each other and started to laugh uncontrollably.

“She drove me to the state hospital!” he said coming to his own defense.

“She should have left you there!” my mom said.  “Why do you worry so much?”

Now that I have had my time sitting in the seat of the car to be the instructor, I do understand his fear so much more.  Isn’t this true when we go through situations in life?  We become more understanding and compassionate when we have the experience for ourselves.  My dad had been taught how to worry somewhere along the way.  We aren’t born in that state, but it is a learned response. The bad news is that it is highly contagious.  The last thing I want is for my daughters to live life from a weakened mental place instead of a bold and courageous stance, so I am aware of it and try to correct myself immediately.

I decided recently to take a drive to where this event occurred. Most of the buildings stand empty with windows boarded up. Long gone are the men and women who walked the halls with whatever was afflicting them.  It struck me how something that once seemed so ominous had now become obsolete. A place that brought my dad such a nightmare moment no longer would illicit such a reaction.

So what bothers you today that may not even exist tomorrow?  What are you fretting over that may not even be a threat at all?  A famous passage tells us that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, can guard our hearts and minds if we allow it.  It’s really up to you whether you want to live a life of calm or one of torment.  Heaven isn’t withholding it from you.

In this day and age,with stress running at an all time high, it is imperative to know that God loves you and is always ready to help when life is driving you crazy.

 

 

(One of the original empty cottages at the state hospital)

anoka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Show Must Go On

By the way she slammed the car door and flopped into the backseat, I knew she wasn’t happy.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to wear this,” she said showing me a heavily sequined one piece black costume. “It scratches my skin and it’s ugly.”

In the rear view mirror, I could see the red marks on her neck.

“Our costumes haven’t come in yet and they are saying that we might not have them in time for the show, so they gave us these from a bin.  They were leftovers from other shows.”

The skating school where she attended put on an annual performance so that the students could show off their tricks and newly learned maneuvers for their families.

The recital included costumes, themed numbers, photographs for the program and hours of preparation. I had turned in my payment for her participation before December to ensure her outfit would arrive on time.  It was now March and the deadline was coming up quickly.

“If I have to wear this, I don’t want to be in the show.”

I sighed and did what I only knew to do. I closed my eyes and prayed in the parking lot. I didn’t care who saw me or what others would think of me. If this was important to my daughter, then it was urgent to me.

I didn’t recite a long drawn out request but stated the facts that we needed the costume as soon as possible. While praying with my eyes shut, I saw a cardboard box that was sealed on the top. It was a vivid image that came and went as soon as I opened my eyes.

I put the worn out costume away when we got home, and during the week when I encountered it, I would recall my plea to heaven and remind myself that I had asked for this to be made right.  My daughter, on the other hand, was not so sure about it being resolved.  She suddenly would get quiet and sullen as if imagining having to wear the uncomfortable material for the show.  I understood her disappointment and tried to reassure her that it would all work out.

The next time she went in for practice, we reluctantly took the unwanted outfit with us as she was told to do. I had called the school during the week to check on the order status.  The instructor informed me that the company that was to make and send the costumes claimed they had lost the order.

“They took our money and now are telling us that they probably won’t be ready in time for the recital.”

I chose not to tell my daughter this unhappy news.  I hung on to the fact that I had prayed for what we wanted to happen and shut off the idea of it not happening.

That night when she got into the car her irritation was evident.

“I am not going to be in the show if I have to wear this.”  I started the car, pulled out into the street and wondered,

 Why was there no resolution to this?

It wasn’t looking good, so that same week when she went in for another practice, I decided to stop in and speak with the school owner.

“Any news on the costumes?” I asked.

She smiled slightly.

“We only got one box this afternoon, and the company told us that this will be the only shipment they will be sending out in time for pictures and the show.”  There were a lot of kids in the school, so this was not the greatest of news.

She led me to her office where I saw a taped cardboard box.  It looked strangely familiar. She opened it and handed me a beautiful sparkling navy blue skating outfit.  While holding the item in my hands, I was overwhelmed not only that we had received it but that the box was the exact one I had seen for that brief moment while praying in the car.

“Your daughter’s class will be the only one who will be wearing the right costumes.  The rest will have to wear the older ones we have on hand.”

“I have to show her this,” I said.  I could hardly contain my excitement.

Looking through the observation window, I saw her out on the ice warming up.  I waved to get her attention while holding up the dress.  By the smile she gave me, she understood.

It’s these moments that I reflect on when faced with situations that seem to have no end in sight.  A request made is never gone unheeded by heaven, and the love that God has for us is beyond what we could ever imagine. Even the divine is very much aware that the show must go on.

(The actual costume)

dress