Its Just a Cold

Feb. 20, 2017

As with everything else about a marriage, how things go when someone gets sick evolves over time.  I liked to baby Butch when he was sick.  But he seemed to expect me to baby myself.  He just didn’t engage.  I had a bad case of the flu when Jeremy was a toddler.  I knew that a relative would be visiting in a couple of days, so before I tucked myself in to ride out the symptoms, I hired the teen down the street to spiff up the kitchen, living room and bathroom.  I let him know that if he and the kid could just hold it together until the company came and went, I would appreciate it.  I came out two days later to find a disaster.  I was not a happy camper.  

I didn’t often get sick, but once the cold or flu set in, it was regularly followed by pneumonia (thank God for pneumonia vaccinations), bronchitis, or some other nasty infection.  This was primarily caused by my ignoring my symptoms and taking care of everyone and everything but myself. I would continue to say, “It’s just a cold.” until I dropped.  It was Butch who would finally force me to seek medical care. 

 It took a little coaching, but he was eventually a great caretaker.  He even pitched in with the kids in the middle of the night.  In fact, I’m sure he could get up, tend to a sick kid, and go back to bed without waking up.  The last time I had the flu, he had to work.  Before leaving, he stocked me up with medicine, water bottles, hot lemonade, (a traditiond started by my paternal grandmother) and tucked me in bed.  At some point, I received a text message with a picture of a bowl of chicken soup and a reminder to eat. He checked on me when he had a break, when he got home and when he got up during the night.

I hadn’t thought about any of that until I got sick after he died.  In November, shortly after I began packing to move from the home we shared for 30 years, I came down with a terrible cold.  Without him here to worry about me, I picked up my old mantra, “It’s just a cold.” But only for one day.  Realizing it really was up to me to baby myself now, I went to bed and stayed there until I was genuinely well enough to get up. My son and daughter-in-law checked on me via text and invited me to come and eat when I was well.  But the sadness was almost worse than the symptoms.

Tending to ourselves won’t ever be the same as being spoiled by them but it will be important that we learn to do just that. This is another opportunity to allow others to lighten our burden.  Checking in with our support people can make it feel a little less lonely.  It gives them a tangible way to help us.  More importantly, it helps us fight against the sense of being utterly alone when the people who love us step in to fill the gap if we let them know what we need.   

Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive.” Give it a try………………. 

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Folding Sheets

Feb. 19, 2017

When Butch and I first married, in January 1972, he was in the army at Fort Hood Texas.  We lived just outside the base, in Copperas Cove, Texas.  Copperas Cove was what my Louisiana born mother called a poke and plumb town.  “If you poke your head around the corner, you are plumb out of town.”  The entertainment options consisted of a bowling alley, Dairy Queen, and The Joy Drive In, which offered three movies that had already been on TV for $2 per car. Butch was an E-3, bringing home a whopping $349 per month, and I worked in an insurance agency in Killeen, Texas at the opposite end of the Army Base. 

The very first Saturday we went on a date to the laundromat.  At 11 am, with three loads in mid-cycle, the water supply to the washers slowed to barely a trickle.  Looking back, I realized I should have been suspicious that we could walk right in to the only laundromat in a town full of renters, with no washers and dryers of their own, and find it empty.  A woman came in about then to check on her clothes in the dryer.  She explained that on Saturday mornings at 11 am, the fire department opened all the fire hydrants to clear the lines and ensure proper water supply in the event of a fire.  This dropped the water pressure to nearly nothing, cutting off everything else.  Worse, when the water came back on, it would be nasty.  The sudden surge of water would force rust and sludge that had accumulated in the pipes out with it.  She helped us quickly pull our clothes out of the washers so they would not be stained.  We lost our quarters and had to let that cycle complete to flush the nasty water out of the pipes.  This applied to hoses, sinks and bathtubs at home as well.  In the future, we were careful to avoid the 11 am window on Saturdays.  Welcome to small town Texas.

We would always fold the clothes together.  Without realizing it, I was learning to fold sheets left handed.  Because Butch was left-handed, this was just one of many things that I adapted over the years.  I notice that when I hug people I hesitate to see which way they will veer, as I seem to hug left-handed as well.  When my boys were around 5 and 9 years old, we were in Louisiana for a family reunion.  The boy cousins were outside, establishing the pecking order, by sparring with one another.  My aunt, watching them out the window, ask how my children learned to box left-handed.  Asking her what that meant, she pointed out that they lead with the opposite hand from the others, catching them off-guard.  I asked if their advantage might be the nightly sparring matches with their left-handed father rather than their stance.  They were both more ambidextrous as they played soccer after learning in the back yard with a left-handed opponent who built them a full-sized goal to improve their skills. 

Now I am folding sheets alone. How many parts of us are really parts of them?  And each time one of these tiny pieces of them shows up in our daily routine, there is the bitter sweet reminder that they are gone.  Too late we realize that those moments carried such meaning for us.  It is like untangling a ball of yarn.  If you’ve ever done that, you know it would probably be easier to throw away the whole mess and buy new.  But we have no choice but to unweave our old life, taking care not to break the threads.  Starting with the end, we follow the tangle back through its twists and turns, rolling the yarn into a new ball.  There is no way to predict where the tangles will lead and no way to avoid following it where it goes.  We just keep going because we know that as the ball we are creating is getting bigger and more prominent, the tangle we are working through is growing smaller and less daunting.  Eventually the unpredictable twists and turns have all been conquered and we are well on our way to creating something beautiful in the future.  As the new creation takes shape, the textures and colors of the old yarn add depth and character to our design. 

It is just hard to believe that this tangle of us and them can really be something beautiful as we become us without them……………….

Packing the Car

Feb. 18, 2017

Living in Sacramento, with family in Nevada, guarantees mountain travel for visits.  Because you can’t just hop off the freeway and use alternate roads to get where you are going, you can find yourself trapped on the road for hours waiting for an accident to be cleared.  A massive mudslide and the road can be closed for days.  The only way around is often backward to a two-lane road that connects the only two major highways that go over the mountains and a circular route to your destination. Holiday travel is guaranteed to be even more complicated.  It once took me seven hours to get from Carson City to Sacramento—a trip that should take less than three. 

Butch was a master packer.  No matter where we were going, you could be sure that everything you might need would be available.  Due to conflicting work schedules, I often made the trip through the mountains alone.  His concern for my well-being and his outdoorsman hobbies enabled him to strategically pack the truck.  By the time he was finished, I could comfortably survive even if it took three days instead of three hours. I had a sleeping bag, lights, tons of food, batteries, you name it.  I felt so well tended.

Yesterday, I made the trip in the face of a formidable storm to babysit my niece and nephew so their parents could attend a conference.  I reminded myself several times to think like Butch­ and be more mindful in my packing.  Last week’s travelers faced mudslides, road closures, and long detours.  I especially wanted to grab a sleeping bag just in case.  Years of being spoiled by him, combined with my laissez faire and overly optimistic attitude in general, resulted in my hitting the road with very little to show in terms of preparation.  As I cleared Sacramento and started up into the foothills I realized I had my suitcase, a few protein bars and shakes, three fig bars, three large water bottles, a comforter that was in the car before I packed, and the ingredients for rice crispy treats to make with my niece and nephew.  Given the pouring down rain, the snow falling in the mountains, and the potential for heavy traffic on this three-day weekend, I was not impressed with my ability to take good care of myself.

I have been amazed by how much I absorbed living with him over the years.  I’ve figured out how to do things that seemed outside my reach when he was alive by asking myself what he would have done.  I’ve also succeeded in doing things that would have gone much better with help, just to prove that I could--which I also learned from him.

Part of successfully becoming us without them will be selfcare. Did we only deserve to be pampered because they thought we were worth the trouble? What does it say about our awareness of and appreciation for their love and care if we drop the ball as soon as they are gone?  Has our value really diminished because they are no longer here?  Yet where is the line between passive victimhood and destructive self-reliance?    

An important part of selfcare is accepting our limitations and asking for help. We will be most proud of having learned to allow others to love us through service.  Family and friends were our lifeline the first year.  In this second year, they will be the vitamins and minerals that will keep our lives emotionally healthy and balanced.  Almost more as a commitment to them, we can try to be at least mindful of what they would have done to take care of us in various situations and do as well on our own. 

And all this while fighting the sadness that comes each time we find ourselves on the threshold of a new adventure merely because they are gone……………

You're a Good Wife, Edna

Feb. 17, 2017

Butch was all about nicknames and numeric codes.

His license plate said Chtub, which he would say was his tribal name as a Potawatomi Indian. It took people a long time to realize it was a mutation of Butch backwards.  I loved it when the light dawned and people realized they had been snookered.  

While away in the Army in the early seventies, he began adding 1434 to his signature.  (Text equivalent would be I Love You More).  It became a permanent fixture for us both, added to greeting cards, text messages and written in incidental places like the dirt on the back of the car or the steam on the bathroom mirror.

Butch's given name was Austin, after his father.  Typical of the 1950's, his family called him Butch. Since I met him in school, he was Austin to me, our friends, and my family.  He was also Austin at work.  At some point in the 1980's or so, he announced that Austin was his father and he preferred to be called Butch.  I randomly began calling him George.  

He launched a search for just the right nickname for me.  We had just seen the movie "The Out of Towners" about an ill-fated couple named George and Edna who were visiting New York City from some small town in mid America.  Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was hysterical to watch but would not have been funny to experience. The very next day, we watched a NyQuil commercial in which the husband was bedridden with a terrible cold and his wife nurtured him by giving him NyQuil to soothe his symptoms.  Sounding like a little boy whose mommy had just given back his long lost Teddy Bear, the husband announced, "You're a Good Wife, Edna."  That sealed it.  My nickname became Edna.  

He loved to call places where I was (like a shower or other event he was not attending) and ask for Edna Mae Schwartz.  I would hear the hostess saying there was no one there named Edna and everyone would snicker as I announced that I was Edna Mae Schwartz.  Not having enough names, he often signed greeting cards as Elmer P. Schwartz.

It has been over a year now since anyone called me Edna.  It wasn't that I preferred Edna to Barbara.  It was just a tiny piece of our history as us.  A tiny memorial on our journey together. One more piece of me that doesn't exist anymore without him.  I know I should change my various email addresses and usernames that incorporated Edna or 1434 or both.  It seems so silly that it should matter. But I think I will keep that piece of him and of me for awhile longer. 

The work of becoming us without them means we need to learn our new name, the name God gave us.  We will need to look for the love notes that God leaves us.

I think I need more time before I can let go of my identity as the recipient of 1434 and all that was embedded in its use.  

Maybe next year.............

Where are the Scissors?

Feb. 16, 2017

Have you ever gone looking for the scissors and said, “I’d give anything if just once, I found the scissors where they actually belong!” I used to say that all the time.

When my youngest son was in preschool, one of the moms gave me a great idea.   Every year for Christmas, she gave each member of her family a new pair of scissors in their stocking.  This increased the likelihood that she would be able to find her own sometimes.  ­­­­­­She expected that when they move out she would find fifteen pairs of scissors hidden in all the nooks and crannies of their rooms.  Sadly, she sa­­­­id, that never happened.  Scissors seem to disappear with the mismatched socks.  I adopted that idea with my family.  As predicted, when my sons moved out, there were no scissors to be found. 

That was not true in the case of my husband.  After he died, I found potentially every pair of his Christmas scissors hidden everywhere.  I found a pair in his top drawer on top of a pile of mushy greeting cards I had given him that he was saving.  They were everywhere in his shop, along with the gadgets I had given him over the years.  I remembered him opening them and using them, and loving them, or not.  I found them in the glove compartment and console of his truck, which I still can’t bring myself to sell because it’s the last piece of him I have left. Every pair of scissors invited more tears.

I am now the proud owner of 20 pairs of his scissors in addition to my own.  They are always exactly where I left them.  They never move even one single inch, even mine.  I would give anything if my scissors were missing.  Because that would mean he was here using mine instead of his. I would have my best friend back and I would never complain about the scissors, the wet towels, or the household items disappearing into the shop or the tent. 

Be careful what you wish for…