Visiting the Hospice

Posted in Caregiving, Grief and Grieving, Personal on January 16th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 4 Comments

© Jim Hughes 2010

We’re back in Florida to visit Eloise’s brother Steve who’s in hospice.

When we made the reservations over a week ago, we didn’t really know if he’d still be alive. And in fact, last Sunday night, the hospice folks really didn’t think he’d make it through the night. But he’s rallied, and we got to spend some good time with him today.

What I noticed most was how aware he was of our presence, and that he heard everything we said, even when we thought he was asleep. He’s having a hard time putting words to his thoughts, and it’s very difficult to understand him, but we managed to have some short conversations.

I was reminded how important presence is — whether there is a conversation or not. Steve mostly slept this afternoon, and Eloise and I would read or just sit. But every so often, Steve would open his eyes and look at us, and every once in a while he’d say something or try to answer a question.

I could tell he’s glad we’re here to spend some time with him. And I’m glad too.

We’re in Crisis Mode

Posted in Caregiving, Grief and Grieving on January 6th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment
foot bridge

© Jim Hughes 2009

Our family is in the midst of crisis. I really don’t know any other way of starting to write about all of this.

My wife’s brother Steve is dying. He has end-stage liver disease, the result of alcoholism.

The crisis began Monday a week ago at 9:00 am. We received a call from his friends who he had called to come pick him up so that he could move in with them. They quickly figured out that he was too sick for them to care for, put him in an ambulance to be taken to the local hospital, and in spite of his instructions not to call us, did.

Steve has been essentially estranged from the rest of the family for lots of years by his choice. We all last saw him three years ago when he came to his mother’s 80th birthday celebration. And we had seen him a couple of times in the ten years previous to that. In recent years, he has talked regularly with his mom by phone, and occasionally with us.

His estrangement has been to keep a number of things including his alcoholism hidden from the family, especially his mom. A couple of years ago his liver problems became so serious that he had a surgical procedure to improve his condition. Initially none of us knew about it except our daughter Sara, a nurse practitioner, who he discussed the medical things with. He swore her to secrecy, and he made her his health care power of attorney. After about a week of struggling, she told us and we were able to talk to and support him as he went through the procedure. But even so, he was adamant that his mom not know. The procedure was quite successful, and although we were aware that he was having financial difficulties, we were unaware that his physical condition had been deteriorating.

So the call last week was without warning. I can’t say, however, that it was unexpected.

What we learned from the call was simple. He was very sick, he had no money, no insurance, had abandoned his apartment, and had no one to take care of him. That’s pretty much a crisis.

There’s too much to try to put in one post, so consider this just an introduction to a number of posts that will follow. I will tell you that God has blessed us in countless ways during this time. Steve has received excellent care and is in a wonderful hospice as I write this tonight.

I need to write about this experience for me. Writing is one of the primary ways I know what I’m thinking.

But I know it’ll also be helpful to some other folks. As we’ve shared what’s going on with our friends and church, we’ve been surprised by the number of people who have or are going through similar situations. So I hope you’ll feel free to comment and journey with me through the posts that will follow.

Joy, Challenges, Hassle, and Work

Posted in Personal on December 25th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

It’s Christmas night, about 11:00, and I just sat down to do some thinking about the past few days.

They’ve been good.

But sometimes they’ve also been a little challenging.

We have a new puppy, and she doesn’t play well with others yet. I was stubborn, and refused to board her. I’ve paid for it. She’s now chewing on her toy Sara gave her. Actually, she’s chewing on the shell of the toy, as she has already gotten to the stuffing which I removed and threw away. But she doesn’t seem to care much.

Eloise and I have learned to answer the same question again and again as if it’s the first time it was asked. My mother-in-law is visiting for a few days, and her short-term memory problem is worsening. But she has had a great time playing with great grandchildren and being with family, and we’re thankful she’s here.

I think it adds so much to have four generations together for Christmas, as we did today with Reba and my dad being part of the celebration. Their traditions that they handed to us are a big part of how we celebrate the season.

Our daughter-in-law Kathy’s parents are also in town, and we’ve gotten to spend time with them last night as we had tamales and opened some gifts at our house and again today at lunch at Mark and Kathy’s as we opened more gifts.  It’s so good to share grandchildren with such fine people.

We’ve had wonderful food — some of it traditional in our family, and some new things which may become part of the our tradition. Sara made Alabama Fruit from her grandmother’s recipe, and Kathy made a corn casserole that’s become part of the tradition. Last night’s tamales was a first for us, but it’s a long-time Texas Christmas tradition, and likely one that will become a standard for us as well.

But with all of this good food has come lots of dishwashing and cleaning. Our last load just went in the dishwasher a little while ago. Good things come at a price.

I guess what I’ve been thinking about is that our Christmas this year is just a slice of life. It’s the joy of family being together sharing food and each other, but also the challenges that this life brings. Part of it’s fun, and part of it’s hassle, and part of it’s just plain work.

But as I think over the past few days, what I choose to dwell on are not the challenges, not the hassle, not the work. I choose to dwell on the smiles, the laughter, the joy seen on the faces. I’ve captured many of those digitally, even more through the camera of my mind. And I’ll replay them again and again in coming days.

I hope your memories of this Christmas are also ones of joy!

Mercy and Grace: The Greatest Gifts

Posted in Personal, Self Care on December 24th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

Ready for ChristmasAs I’ve gotten older, there are two gifts that mean more to me than all of the others: mercy and grace.

It’s not that I don’t dearly appreciate the gifts of having enough and good health and toys and meaningful things to do.

But having God, family, and friends love me in spite of me is truly the priceless gift. They know me for who I really am, and it’s still okay. That’s an amazing feeling.

I hope you know that kind of love this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas to you, and thanks for your gifts of mercy and grace!

Fudge, Divinity, and Mom

Posted in Grief and Grieving, Personal on December 22nd, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 3 Comments

As I walked out into the lobby, there on a table full of Christmas goodies was a big plate of fudge.

Suddenly I was flooded with memories of Christmases with similar plates filled with fudge and divinity.

Mom always fixed both. The fudge was relatively easy. The divinity was tricky. But for her, and I think for others of her generation, making candy was part of the extravagance of celebrating Christmas. My mother-in-law always seems to do the same. Maybe it came from growing up in the depression, where such things were luxuries, where meat was only part of a meal once a week. My wife and daughter-in-law from time to time continue the tradition.

I hadn’t realized that it’s been missing in recent years until I saw the plate. Mom’s been gone almost seven years, and Reba has been coming for Christmas at our house for the last several years, although she sometimes brings candy.

Maybe I need to see if I can whip up some fudge and/or divinity this year. Everyone will be here, and there are some new generations that need to experience having some homemade candy sitting around — and to hear stories about grandmothers and great grandmothers who showed extravagance through making homemade candy.