Sunday, March 29, 2009

I felt like I had stepped onto a movie set when we landed in Venice today. It looked so much like all the pictures you ever see of the city.

We had unexpected adventures today, though, because itwas the highest tide of the year, and we had unseasonable rains.

The picture is in front of Saint Mark's Basilica where the gospel writer is buried. The benches you see are crowded and dangerous, but the only way to walk around the city without getting drenched. As it was I arrived back at the hotel frozen, and soaked. Even the items in my purse were soggy-money in my money holder, kleenex, and my Splenda. It was very fun, however. We watched them blowing Venetian glass, and making lace (an old tradition that had died out, but is being revived--quite beautiful and painstaking.) Reid was the only one from our group who went on the gondola ride, and he really had fun. I opted for the coffee shop instead of 35 minutes sitting in the open boats in the cold rain. The temperature was in the low 40s. Besides, I'd rather do a gondola for the first time with Jim. I'm really missing my travel partner here. I hope we can return here together.

I've had the most delicious food. The difference in lasagna here is like the difference between black and white TV and color. It's similar, but so much richer and complex.

Last night when we finished our acitivities at 10:30 p.m. I had to tell the group: "Tomorrow we leave for Venice at 7:30 am. This means that you must be at breakfast at 6:45. This means you will be getting a wake-up call at 6 am. And, by the way, the Italians go on Daylight Savings time today, so you will lose an hour." Guess how well that went over?

Saturday, March 28, 2009


We're in Italy! I am here as a chaperone to three students and three adults related to them. We are in a small beach resort near Venice. We had two very  long flights with tehnical problems and delays, but we made it. We had the best spaghetti at this restaurant that I've ever had in my life! You know how when you eat American food in a foreign country it doesn't taste right? Seems as though this is true for Italian food in America, too. The noodles were handmade and the sauce was amazing. 

This beach is a block from our hotel. I needed the peace that all this sand and the waves brought me today. The town is darling. 

Written on the flight to Italy

I feel so out of control of my life. There have been so many horrible events that have blindsided me in the past six months (nephew dying, 10 trips to the ER, my dad’s final passing, court stuff) that I am waiting for the next thing. I live protectively cowered, half-expecting the next blow. My refrigerator is very clean and my Tupperware drawers and dishes cabinets are tidy. These are things I can control.

The graveside service is over, and the last phone call is made. There’s no more defending myself from the woman who wanted to sell me the more expensive vault with the “better seal” (seal? Huh?), or the mortician who implied Dad needed a cosmetologist even if there wasn’t viewing. There are no more errands or huge crowds to feed three times a day. I’m on a plane to Italy and finally have nothing to do next.  This is good, but has made the emotions surface. I can’t control where grief hits me, and often it’s a very public place, like this plane. I just can’t stop crying.

The service was beautiful. I loved the military honors with the flag-folding ceremony and the 21-gun salute. I memorized Hebrews this year, and Pastor Paul used verses from that book in the message of encouragement. Since the verses were so very familiar to me, they were powerfully comforting. I wondered at the time if people who don’t share my faith were bored, but then I figured, I wasn’t going to think about that. This is a time to be a little selfish. I was so happy that my dear friends KW, KA, RP, and KD, who have been such a comfort and support to me this year, came.  I have a cousin who is mentally ill, and I hadn’t seen her for awhile. She’s my age and I always loved seeing her. Once she made my girls pancakes after a swimming lesson, and they must have eaten thirty pancakes each. But yesterday I realized those times are over. She couldn’t string a coherent sentence together. The long family history of mental illness has made its evil mark again. This was sad to me.  No wonder she’s being such a pain in the neck as a ranch partner.  It was fun to see my other cousins and to walk through the avocado groves at our family ranch after the service.


Monday, March 23, 2009

The Tenth and Final 911 Call

This has been a week of intense emotions. My heart has been wracked with sadness as I watched my dad lose more and more of his abilities. On Saturday he wanted me to take a picture of him with his new haircut (given at the skilled facility.) When I showed him the picture, he said "I look sort of grim. Take another and I'll smile." I did and it looked identical to the first.  He had tried hard to smile, and wasn't able to. When you can't  smile any more, is life worth living? Although everything was an effort, he was determined to try to do it himself. To the end he was kidding around and making me smile even when he couldn't. 

On Sunday we brought him home from the skilled nursing facility, and he was happy to be home. In the night he called for me, and I came to his side He started breathing  hard, and I realized he was dying. Throughout this whole time with my dad, I've felt like I didn't know what I was doing. I learned and tried my hardest to give him the very best care. I have no regrets. Even at the end I didn't know what to do. If he's asked not to be resuscitated do you call 911 when he stops breathing? If we called, would they be obligated to resusitate? We did call, and the same firemen who had come some of the previous nine times arrived and helped us through. 

My dad has gone to a better place, where his body is healed and thousands upon thousands of angels are gathered in joyful assembly. (Hebrews 12:22) I'm thankful that he died at home with us. Jim was here with me. I'm thankful for his faithful partnership through 29 years of marriage. (Dad died the day after our anniversary.) I'm thankful that Matt is with Brenna in El Salvador, and that she's not grieving alone in a foreign land. I'm thankful for dear friends Rick and Diane, who "happened" to be spending the night. (I don't think this was an accident, but rather a divine appointment.) They were with us when he died at 3:30 am, and stayed awake with us offering comfort and help. And tea. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Welcome to the Middle

Sometimes I feel squeezed from both ends. Today was especially difficult with my dad. He seemed confused and it was hard to communicate with him. This is new. I'm realizing how this last episode has been  a huge setback for him. I am still grieving his loss of independence from last October. Now I realize his October abilities look like the American colonies in 1776 compared to now. New grief. 

My heart aches for one of my girls going through a difficult situation. Young people don't especially like to be written about  in their mother's blogs, so I won't. Except to talk about my part, which is how sad my heart is when something sad happens to one of my children when she is living far away. There's so little I can do, and it makes me sad that I can't fix it, or help her, or even give her a hug. I just want to make her a cup of tea or buy her chocolate or cover her with a warm quilt. Instead I can only pray for her, and hope things turn around for her soon. 

Kelly is working as a nanny. This means that someone pays her to go to wherever she wants, do whatever she wants, and work in her jammies if she wants, as long as she takes the baby with her. She can go to Starbucks, run errands, surf the Internet at naptime, and be completely free with no responsibilities after 5 p.m.  Today she wrote " I felt like a grown up this morning when I got ready for work, dropped the baby at day care, and then listened to NPR on the way to volunteer at [the older sibling's] school." Kelly has not asked for money since last July. Molly and Brenna have not only asked for money, but also my car  and my frequent flier miles. Welcome to the middle. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Set off the Fireworks

It's no fun having a child overseas. I've had children in Thailand, Spain, Honduras, and even Hanoi (only now it's  called "Ho Chi Min City.") It's sort of an unsettling feeling to realize someone so precious to you is far away and probably facing some sort of danger. Brenna was in Thailand during a coup. And I worried for days when she went to Vietnam, especially when she told me "Mom, I think the war is over now." Doesn't she realize the danger she's in??? Sure enough, she fell down an enemy tunnel and hurt her ribs. Now THAT wouldn't have happened if she was safe and sound in SLO. Now she's in El Salvador. And she's perfectly safe. The reason that she is safe is that she is surrounded by men carrying machine guns. There's one at the coffee shop she goes to, the mall,  the ice cream store, campus, her house, etc. See? Safe. Then this weekend El Salvador held elections. A far left leader was expected to be elected and her team was warned of possible violence. So, the city is filled with machine guns and there might be VIOLENCE??? Great. What happens when one act sets off the next? Do the guards all just start firing? Of course, the elections went well, and there was no rioting, and all that food that they stocked up on in case they had to stay inside for a week, will have to be eaten in peace. I magnified the danger in my mind because I am upset about so many things lately. Horrible things happen to me out of the blue these days, and I am a little edgy about anything happening to the precious loved ones I have left. She's safe and sound. But it's still unnerving to talk to her with fireworks going off in the background. "How do you know they are fireworks and not gunshots?" I asked. She said "Mom, I've been here long enough to know what gunshots sound like." That's REALLY comforting. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Is it Possible to be TOO Nice?

When I got to the hospital yesterday, Dad's face was screwed up in pain. "What's wrong?" I asked. "I have a pain like a knife in  my side." So I called the nurse. She asked him what the pain felt like. "It's like a little stitch in my side." He gave the impression that it was like a minor cramp that you get sometimes when you run. The nurse went to get pain medicine. "Why didn't you tell them how much it really hurt?" I asked him. "Oh, I hate to be a burden to them." He wants to win the award for best patient, but doesn't realize there's no one even competing with him!! I went home and cried for an hour because he looked so terrible. When I went back the medicine had worked its magic, and he was in great spirits and had all but forgotten the pain. Today when I visited, he was obviously in pain again. "Is it your side again?" "Yes." "Did you ask for something for the pain?" "No." "Why not?" "Well, it really only hurts when I breathe." 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Honor One Another Above Yourself

I did not picture my life this way. I thought I'd have plenty of time with the girls gone to pursue my own passions. I'd have time after school to quilt or read or have coffee with a friend. My life changed so suddenly and so severely in an instant last October that I have been reeling ever since. My therapist asked "How are you?" and I replied "Thrashed." Then she said "It must be like having a toddler again." With this statement she earned my undying love because I knew she she understood EXACTLY. In caring for someone who can't care for himself, my mind is always preoccupied with what he is doing, and how he is feeling. Is he fed? Sleeping OK? Sick? Happy? In trouble? My mind is consumed by this other person. He occupies every thought. I can't leave him alone, andI  need to make complex arrangements to do simple things like have dinner out. It takes a  long time when I go anywhere because he has so much stuff with him, and he walks so slowly. As I unhooked Dad's seatbelt for him, and helped him out, I had flashbacks to getting the girls out of their carseats. Both my dad and a toddler want to be independent. They say "I can do it!" when they really can't. They make messes they can't clean up themselves. All of this would be completely unbearable if not for the precious moments. My heart melted when the girls would say "I love you, Mommy." And it does the same when Dad says "You are my one joy in life." There's something wonderful about being pulled kicking and screaming out of my own self-centeredness to care for another person and live my life for him. I know it's taking the sharp edges off me, and making me kinder and more loving. It's no fun most of the time. I want him  to be well and independent and out of pain. I want to lay on my bed and drink tea and surf the Internet. But this has made me realize that life is short, and is to be lived for others, not for ourselves. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

There are Good Days, Too

Just when I think I can't make it through and am ready to dissolve into a puddle on the floor, God will send me an amazing sign of His love. After the two ER visits last week, I was really struggling. My friend PD, who is a pastor, gave me huge encouragement and hope as we talked about his struggles that are every bit as hard as mine. KA came and pruned all my roses with me. Half the time she spoke another language with phrases like like ratchet pruners, swelling at the leaf scar, and air circulation. The yard looked beautiful when we were done, and my spirits were lifted, too.

On Sunday we got together with our amazing friends from France whom we met in college almost thirty years ago. The husband is the funniest person I've ever met. He's made up this whole scenario where we are the "Venucci family". We have Italian names, and eat at Italian restaurants, and try not to murder anyone. Jim is appropriately "Cappecino Venucci". I wonder why? The laughter through my tears was very healing. They are both hold doctorates in Psychology and their caring, and listening and prayers were all very healing for me. We met other treasured mutual friends in Valencia and really had a blast together. At one point we were walking and K. said "QUICK! Everyone switch watches!" That's just the kind of guy he is. That night a friend, NB, made me the most amazing stew from a cow she had bought at the fair. The delicious meal fed my soul. On Monday I got a heartfelt unsolicited letter from a student telling me specifically how I had changed her life forever. I almost felt like giving back my paycheck this month--that letter was worth more than it's weight in gold. There are also phone messages, cards, and kind words from my many dear friends. I feel so lucky and blessed to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.
Treasured Friends.

The Venucci men are always kidding around.

The Beautiful Venucci Women

No playing is complete without treats and I learned about Pinkberry Yogurt. Yum!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hopefully the Last Shoe Dropped: ER Visit # 9

I woke up to what looked like the scene of a murder: blood everywhere. I called 911 for the ninth time in five months. My dad has some kind of internal bleeding. After the ambulance left I was crying so hard it wouldn't have been safe for me to follow it as I usually do. A friend wrote me (before she knew about this): "I keep thinking when another shoe drops that there should only be two!" Yes, I feel like Imelda Marcos: the other shoe keeps dropping. He's in ICU tonight, still bleeding, but getting excellent care. The nurses and doctors at SJRMC are amazing, and treat him as if he were their father. They know him well there, which is sort of scary. The doctor who stapled his head three days age was thrilled to get to see his work. "I never get to see how it turns out!" he said. 

Our family has a four-generation whistle. My grandfather taught it to my dad, and my dad to me, and at least one of my girls does it. Today I went into the corridor when he needed some privacy, and instead of calling "It's OK to come back" he gave me the whistle. It reminded me how we have this special bond. I love my dad so much. We are so close and grow even closer after each trauma. He's such a good guy--kind, compassionate, funny and smart. I'm thankful that I get to be there for him, but I'm just sad that he has to keep going through all this. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I am Not in Control of My Life

Last October when my troubles had just begun a dear friend gave me a card that said "Success is getting up one more time than you fall down." So far I've been able to keep getting up. But I keep getting knocked down and what I want to shout is "HEY, LIFE! GIVE ME A BREAK! QUIT KNOCKING ME DOWN!!" I'm getting tired of these unfortunate events happening to me. I was awakened out of a sound sleep at 5 a.m.  My dad had phoned us on his cell from the dining room saying that he had fallen. We raced out of bed to find him in a huge pool of blood, with more blood flowing out of his head. We called 911, and they took him to ER where they stapled his 6 inch gash closed. It took seven hours in ER hell. This is my eighth visit  to the ER in less than five months. The ER is misery. You wait and wait. Waiting in line at the DMV is exciting compared to this. Waiting on hold for Verizon is more entertaining than this. I think of all the things that I need to do, but can't do them. There are all these terrible sounds: doctors using words like blood, rectum, vomit, and urine. Screams, moans, crying. There's no privacy. Did the inventor of the ER really think that those little rooms divided by a flimsy curtain would offer privacy? The machines ding and alarms go off interrupting my train of thought or my ability to read. I'm always with someone in pain, and I'm filled with worry. Shots, painful tests, blood draws, police, uncomfortable beds, and nothing to eat or drink. I came home even more thrashed than I normally do after working all day. I'm bound and determined to keep standing up, but I'm getting a little fed up. 

Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Escrow closes on my dad's house on Wednesday. Yesterday morning I felt like a student with a huge term paper to finish. I had a day ahead of me of cleaning out, piling up, sorting through and doing backbreaking work. I tell my students that the last 5% of anything is the hardest, and it certainly is with this project. Too much to be done, and it's so emotional! There's the painful interaction between my brother and me. There's the division of property between us, and the ensuing hard feelings. Additionally Jim and I attack things from different angles, and that becomes difficult. My brother's ten-year-old step-daughter wanted everything and couldn't have it. Nothing made her happy. She was hungry but didn't want to eat the 98 things I suggested. There was chaos and disorder and hard work. And I hate all those things! Yesterday we cleaned out the attic, emptied the garage, moved the fireproof safe, moved Brenna's and Dad's cars, made a huge pile of trash, and sponged out the kitchen drawers. Today I sold Mom's baby-grand piano to a woman who teaches in my school district. One more thing off the list. What's remaining? The trash  hauled away, the papers notarized, the house cleaned and the utilities turned off. Thank God the end is in sight!

As bad as it is for me, it's even more difficult for my dad. He knows it's the end of an era. He and Mom built that house, and lived in it for 20 years. He says "It's like closing a door."