Getting a van

SeasonsLinda pushed her husband’s wheelchair to a slot right beside my mothers wheelchair.

“I don’t mean to interrupt. But could I ask you about your mother’s van?”

Linda wanted to take her husband to church. But transferring him into a car was impossible.

“We just moved here last month,” she explained. “When I almost dropped him at home of times, I knew I needed help. ”

We had encountered the same problem and had gone in search of a wheelchair van.

To buy and convert a full size van can cost in the $50,000 range. We hunted for used.

We found a heavy duty van with a wheelchair lift already installed. There more available with a rear end lift but I had wanted one that let Mom sit near the driver. That made the search harder but we finally found one.

Selling Mom’s car had almost covered the cost

I showed our van to Linda. There was a process to the lift. You had to push the left button in set sequences to open the sliding door and get the lift to unfold and lower to the ground. Push the wrong button and the process was reversed. We had to learn the sequence.

“I think I do that,” she said as I pushed buttons to activate the lift cycle.

“You can,” I assured her.

That is, after all, the nature of caretakers. We identify our loved one’s needs and learn to do what it takes.



Grass jelly

Story_squareBecause my nephew was a tall strapping young man with a healthy appetite, we got to pop open the can of grass jelly.

I had prepared the meal for our family plus my nephew but decided we might be a tad bit short of food. I knew he ate like a linebacker.

So I scoured the pantry for a can of something to add to the meal at the last minute.

I spied the can of grass jelly.

This can had come from  an oriental specialty market in Denver as part of a class project. We had been assigned to purchase items and peruse different foods.

We got to see live squid and aquariums where goldfish (well, they looked like goldfish) could be netted and bagged for the next meal.

We saw cans of exotic peppers and bags of noodles.

And cans of grass jelly.

My can ended up in the pantry for a time like this.

I pried off the lid to find a dark gelatinous mass. It reminded me of cranberry sauce in the can at Thanksgiving.

So I tipped the can and let the cylinder of jelly slide into the plate. I sliced it like cranberry sauce and served it with the rest of the meal.

There were questions. Lots of questions.

But I encouraged them all to be daring and taste it. My nephew twisted his mouth to one side.

“What is grass jelly?” he said.

“I don’t know. But it is food,” I assured him.

He nibbled the chunk on his fork. “Food? This tastes like it was made out of motor oil.”800px-GrassJellyBlocks

Everyone dumped their helping back on the serving plate. And that was the end of the grass jelly experiment.

Except my nephew won’t come to a meal at my house without checking my pantry.

Tweetie, tweetie

SeasonsI sat at the table in the lobby just to wait until my mother was dressed and ready to leave her room.

But Doris clicked her tongue at me and grinned widely. “Sweetie,” she said. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I said. “How are you?” It’s hard to know what to say to the residents of the nursing home.

“I’m all right. Could you tell me what day it is?”

“It’s Saturday. A beautiful day today. The storm has moved on and it’s lovely out there. Have you been outside today?”

She shook her head. “No. I don’t go outside.” She smiled at me again. “But I like robins. Tweetie, tweetie.”

Well, yes. What to say now?

“I like robins, too. When I see a robin, I know it’s spring.” Couldn’t I come up with better than this? I glanced at the clock on the wall. Mom wasn’t ready yet.

“Yes,” Doris nodded. “Tick tock.” She’d seen me look at the clock. “Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, the mouse ran down.”

She winked at me then. “Hickory, dickory, dock.”

“Oh, I haven’t heard that song in a long time. I used to sing that with my kids.”

“Excuse me,” she said, “but could you tell me what day it is?”

“Saturday.” How did I talk to a resident? What could I say to brighten her day?

“Thank you.” She looked down the hallway. “Do you live here?”elder hands


She nodded again and studied the hallway. A big smile crept across her face. “Could you tell me what day it is?”

“Saturday.” I heard the door to my mother’s room open and I got to my feet. “I’ll go now. I think my mother’s ready.”

Doris gave me another wide grin. “Thank you so much for visiting with me this morning. So special, sweetie.”

And that’s how you talk to residents at a nursing home. With patience, kindness, and presence.


The overconfident milk truck

Story_squareAll four of us kids were huddled around our old propane heater holding mugs of hot chocolate and surveying the snow outside. Yesterday’s blizzard had dumped a thick mat of snow that filled ditches and hid sidewalks.

It had also forced the school buses to stay in the garage and so we were enjoying this white wonderland.

Our farm house sat at the top of a hill and we could see into the valley. The county road that ran past our house dipped into the valley and then rose to the top of the next hill.

The storm had filled the valley with heavy snow so that the road wasn’t visible for a quarter mile.

While we sipped our hot chocolate, we saw a milk truck lumber to a stop at the top of the next hill. This was a large semi tractor-trailer considering his options.

“Don’t do it,” my mother said.

“Go for it!” said one brother.

“He won’t go,” said the other.

The truck rocked forward and back for a bit with indecision and then took a step back before barreling down the hill.

An explosion of white filled the air.

“He won’t make it,” said  my mother.

As the snow filtered back into the valley, we could see the truck. Snow covered the hood and packed tight against the doors.  The truck hadn’t gotten a quarter of the way through the valley’s snowpack.SCN_0042f

Dad trekked down in his tractor. Unlike over-confident milk trucks, tractors can go about anywhere. They managed to tow the truck backwards and Dad reported that the snow was like concrete around the engine.

On the farm, you learn many things in childhood. One of the bigger ones was one of the simpler: when in doubt, listen to Mom.

And don’t plow into snowfields.

Those “after” details

Rosalie pushed her fork into a chunk of chicken and raised it as a pointer. Or a weapon.

“I like it here,” she told me as she popped the chicken in her mouth. “I kept falling and I knew I needed help. So I checked myself in. I like it fine.”

She sliced more chicken.

Seasons“It’s not fair to my family,” she said. “I’ve always been single so I don’t have a husband or kids. My sister and brother don’t need to worry about me.”

She surveyed the nursing home dining room. “Some of these people don’t have a choice. Well, maybe I didn’t either. But I thought I needed to make these decisions while I could.”

I sipped the glass of water before me and waited. Rosalie liked company and the conversation seldom lagged.

“I bought my burial plot already,” she said, sliding her fork under the mound of mashed potatoes. “And I picked out the headstone, too. Those are all paid for. I didn’t want my family to worry about that stuff.”

I wondered if she’d planned her own funeral service.

“No, not really. That’s not a big deal to me. I won’t be there so I don’t care what they decide to do.” Rosalie dipped her spoon into the cup of pudding at side of her plate.

Rosalie might have been the only resident in the room without children but other residents had absent children for one reason or another.

Sometimes children lived in another state and visited when they could. Sometimes they lived across town and visited when they had to.

Either way, some residents weren’t so different from Rosalie.  They might not have someone prepared to take care of after-death details.

But they should.

I’m not sure how to help that situation but I’m  thinking about solutions. Suggestions?