Best Laid Plans

Just on the off chance that you are tone deaf to emotion and didn’t pick up on it in the last two posts, I’ve been kinda down of late. Monday was particularly bad. Tuesday wasn’t shaping up to be much better until I decided to throw caution (and responsibility) to the wind and leave work early to go run.

I was giddy with excitement as I walked to my car. I had great plans. I’d run outdoors for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day! And then I’d take a nice long shower before picking up the boys. Hal, from his friend’s house and Daryl, from basketball practice.

But plans – especially happy plans – almost never work out. Especially if you have kids. You never get to do what you want when you have kids.

Jane had left school early for a doctor’s appointment, which was not likely to interfere, I thought. How naive…

I finished my run to find Jane baking a cake (from scratch). The darling had decided to make a cake for the Angel Mom picking up Hal from school as a thank you. There was just one problem. She had forgotten to preheat the oven and now needed to leave before it was done.

“It’s just another 12 minutes, mom. Can you finish it? You just need to add cocoa and melt it all for the icing,” she said, gesturing to a saucepan already holding milk and butter. “Then once it’s all liquid, add the vanilla and half that bag of sugar.”

I was standing there bathed in sweat, looking forward to my shower, and was now, instead, going to stand in a hot kitchen.

“Ok,” I said.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

While I waited for the butter to melt, I checked my voicemail. Someone had called during my run. Turns out it was Daryl, who had had to borrow someone’s phone since his was sitting in a bag of rice at home.

“Mom. There’s no basketball practice.”

That was the entire message. And no way to call him back.

Now what?

I tried to hurry outside and wave Jane down but she didn’t see me. I called a friend but she had already picked up her son and was home.

Now what?

The cake still had 10 minutes to go. His message was a solid 15 minutes earlier. Nothing to it. He’d just have to wait until I was done icing the cake.

And I’d just have to wait on that shower too.

The best laid plans of mice and men, folks. Best laid plans.

This is our life. For now.

To say it’s been rough the last few weeks would be a major understatement. I just looked at the calendar and saw that it’s really only been 22 days since the chaos truly started. It feels like a lifetime.

We traveled back home 3 1/2 weeks ago for three reasons: participate in my husband’s grandfather’s memorial service, celebrate our children’s birthdays with my family, and visit my father-in-law. At that point, my father-in-law was living at home by himself.

The first blip of trouble came Saturday night when we were visiting with my husband’s family on his mom’s side after the service. His dad called. He was in severe pain. Off my husband went to help his dad. The level of medication hospice administered to get him back on track left him pretty out of it.

Really out of it.

As we built a ramp for his front porch on Monday, we came to a grim conclusion: he shouldn’t be left home alone to fend for himself. There was no chance that he could keep his mountain of medications straight. And so… my husband stayed and I drove the kids home, getting in after midnight.

That week was a blur of shifting responsibilities. My husband is a stay-at-home dad. To have him suddenly not around was more than just an inconvenience.  Jane had thankfully passed her driving test the previous week. Hal’s best friend’s mom agreed to pick him up from school as long as needed. Jane and her boyfriend, between the two of them, made sure Daryl made it home too.

And we just worked on surviving.

We returned to Oklahoma the next weekend, but had to wait until after halftime Friday night to leave, meaning once again I was driving hours after I would normally be asleep. But there was hope when we arrived. Poppy, as the children call him, was doing much better. Maybe Daddy could come home.

He gained some concessions from his dad – the most critical being that he would not drive. The truck was removed from the premises. Arrangements were made for a friend to come during the day. My husband would return on the weekends. We had a plan. My husband came home.

The plan lasted two days. Just enough time for him to keep his doctor’s appointment and vote early. By Wednesday afternoon, the friend was calling to say his dad was “not snapping out of it.” He shouldn’t spend the night without someone there.

My husband started packing. I left work to see him off. We hugged and hoped and wished each other well. And he was off. Again.

Circumstances changed for the weekend, making it possible for me to visit him. The kids, on the other hand, had plans – and were wearing down from all the traveling. Next thing I knew, I was making intricate plans to get each kid from place to place in my absence. The Angel Mom who was picking Hal up from school each day said he could spend the weekend with them. Daryl had a slumber party to go to. Jane had a parade to march in.

I drove back to Oklahoma, not as late on the road as other trips, but still… I was making the trip. Again. It was a lifesaver for my husband, who was having trouble keeping his days straight. His dad basically slept the entire time I was there. He was extremely unstable, falling repeatedly, and he wasn’t very coherent when awake. He was in terrible shape and the hospice nurse was predicting not much time left.

But then they put him on all liquid medications the next week, due to his difficulty swallowing, increased some dosages, reduced others, and suddenly, he was stable again. He could walk without his walker. Walk without falling. Spend a decent amount of time awake. Be a little more understandable when he spoke.

Was this the “last hurrah” before the end? Or was this the start of something more long term? We didn’t know. And this – this is probably the hardest part. The not knowing. If you know, you can plan. If you don’t know, you just wait. And react. Everything is on hold. You can commit to nothing.

And so, even though it would make four weekends in a row for me, and the kids all wilted a bit when I told them, we decided to return the following weekend. What if it was the last opportunity?

This time, we had to attend a Destination Imagination training event Saturday morning first, so we didn’t make it in until Saturday evening. The change from the previous weekend was remarkable! He seemed to be doing so much better!

Sort of.

It’s like he’s nesting or something. He keeps wanting to rearrange things in the house. He wants me to look at stuff and decide what I want. But he gets distracted in a heartbeat. So he might run dishwater and then decide he wants to move a dresser and then as you unload things from the dresser, start going through a cabinet and then leave the cabinet open and announce that he’s going to lay down. The nap might last 10 minutes before he’s up again and starting a new task.

I began to understand why my husband was exhausted. It’s hard to keep up when someone isn’t making sense. We left less than 24 hours after we arrived and my worry over my husband skyrocketed.

There are good moments. They might occur at 3:00 in the morning, but there are moments that my husband will cherish. Time spent in conversation or just in the pleasant company of his father. The full and sincere hugs. The beatific smiles.

But there are bad moments too. Moments when his dad chafes under his loss of independence and dignity. When he decides he’ll drive and his son will have to call the police to stop him. When he decides he wants to cancel hospice because he doesn’t trust them. When his mind is messing with him.

All of this wears on my husband, who is now a full time caretaker and away from the people who give him strength and stability. And it wears on me, as I worry about him. I’ve been walking in a haze for awhile now. I haven’t been feeling much at all. Emotion, that is. The stress I’m feeling stronger than ever.

This is our life. For now.

A Tale to Remember

As we sat around the breakfast table, Poppy motioned to Hal to come sit in his lap.

“Tell me a story,” he said softly as the liquid Morphine began to kick in.

“I don’t know a story,” Hal attempted to demur.

After his initial attempts to not participate with “Once upon a time, the end” and his father’s admonitions that a story has a beginning, MIDDLE, and end, he offered up the following.

“Once upon a time, there was a booger and his mother died and he was very sad.”

I adopted a sad face while everyone around the table giggled nervously and Jane commented, “Well, that escalated quickly.”

“Ok, Jane. Now it’s your turn,” said Poppy.

“What?” she asked, confused by this break from how breakfast at Poppy’s would usually go. But these are not usual times for us. They are special and sad and stressful and precious end times.

“You take the story from here,” he said.

“Um, ok. So the booger lives in a nose and that’s organic so a new mother was grown out of the walls around it and they lived happily ever after.”

“Did you actually take Biology last year?” asked her dad.

“David,” said Poppy, impervious to the extraneous commentary surrounding the storytelling, “you pick it up now. It’s your turn.”

“Well, so Bob – that’s the booger’s name…”

“No!” cried Hal, now regretting that he hadn’t provided more details in his tale. “His name is Joe!”

“You didn’t name him,” admonished his dad. “You didn’t name him on your turn so David did.”

“Ok, so Bob,” continued David, “went on a journey to find a new nose to live in.”

“Was he a on a ship? Is he a Nasal Officer?” asked my husband.

“His name should be Casileous!” said Daryl.

“So he’s a Roman Nasal Officer?”

Everyone laughed until Poppy told us it wasn’t our turn and to let David continue. Jane’s boyfriend of a year, gamely continued.

“He went looking for the biggest nose he could find…”

“And then he found Mount Rushmore!” said Jane.

“Yes, he got to Mount Rushmore and crawled inside and was so happy.”

“Crazy Horse would be better. I think his nose is bigger,” said my husband. “You know, he came across an Italian booger named Luigi – he was a loogie…”

“Ok, it’s not your turn son. Daryl, take over the story.”

“Well, Bob shot out of the nose on a big sneeze and landed in a trashcan in an alley. And this guy came by and his name was Barry.”

Everyone groaned as Daryl’s obsession with the Flash was woven into the story.

“But he’s a life-size booger!” complained Hal, increasingly agitated yet fascinated at the deviations from his original idea.

“It was a Titan’s nose that he blew out of and it was a really big trashcan,” clarified Daryl. “He began to crawl out of the trashcan…”

My husband began contributing to the point that his dad told him to pick up the story.

“Well, Robert Casileous Luigi the Third, a Roman Nasal Officer did not crawl out of the trash can. He ate it. In one big bite. And he took on all the qualities of the trash and he was big and strong and impervious to Barry’s powers so it didn’t matter how fast the man was.”

“I’m going to make an injection here,” Poppy said. “Tell us about the knife.”

I was confused because I had no recollection of a knife being mentioned at all. But my husband, having spent all week with his sometimes very loopy father, didn’t miss a beat.

“It was large and green with a wide handle…”

“And it was made of porcelain,” I added.

“Yes! So it could pass through security and you could take it wherever you wanted. He used the knife to begin peeling an apple.”

He tried to pass the story off but was reprimanded by his dad who sternly informed him that he didn’t get to choose the transitions and he should continue.

“Well, he peeled the apple and shared it with all the creatures in the alley. The Daryls and the Hals and everyone else were happy.”

“Ok, your turn,” my ailing father-in-law said to me.

“Bob left the dark shade of the alley and entered the bright sunshine. His gelatinous skin began to sparkle.”

“Because he’s a vampire?” everyone asked.

“Yes, Bob is a vampire booger. And as he traveled along in the sunshine, it was very, very hot and he began to melt.”

Suddenly, I was hit by spraying liquid. My father-in-law, sitting next to me and listening intently to the story, had found a melting booger vampire extremely funny. Caught off-guard, he had just sprayed his coffee across the table – just like you see in the movies. Everyone began laughing as we cleaned up the mess.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just in all the different ways I’ve heard of vampires dying, melting has never been one of them. I wasn’t expecting that. Go on.”

“As Bob melted, he began to run down the street.”

“You mean run? Like with legs?” asked my husband.

“Ok, he oozed. As Bob melted, he oozed down the street and as streets curve down toward the curbs, he oozed to the curb and…”

“Not all streets do that,” he said.

“Well this one does. He oozed to the curb and then dripped down into the sewer where…”

“He met Donatello!” said Daryl.

“Or Splinter and he began to learn,” someone added.

“He dripped down into the sewer,” I repeated. “and plopped onto a wise rat. And as the effects of the sun wore off. Bob solidified on the rat and became a rat-shaped booger…”

“Who knew Kung Fu,” finished my husband.

“But what happened to Splinter?” asked Jane.

“He became part of Bob the super booger,” I said.

“He was assimilated,” added my husband.

The story ended as my father-in-law stood and thanked us. Later, he told my husband how much he loves “your family” before telling me he needed his oxygen and we worked to get him into his hospital bed.

He’s sleeping now. I can see him from where I sit. The rest of the family is outside, sanding and painting the handrails for the ramp we built last week, while I try to capture the details of our morning before I lose them in my tired, stressed-out, only half-functioning brain. Then I’ll fold his laundry and dispose of the rice grits he prepared but then decided not to eat.

You see, Poppy is dying. His cancer has won the battle on how long he gets to live. Now we are fighting instead to spend as much time with him as we can. We are fighting the cancer and the pain it causes him. We are fighting the pain medications and the mental confusion they cause. We are fighting against our physical and emotional limitations. We are fighting to make what time we have left matter.

Life has become simple. Yet harder than any period we’ve gone through so far. What is important and what is not is obvious. New pastor at church? There will be time enough to get to know him later. The tiles falling apart in our hall bathroom? Everyone can shower in the master bath. A fence for the dog? She’ll just have to spend time in the crate when we aren’t home, which is increasingly often. Our flailing budget? My responsibilities at church? Bell choir? Destination Imagination? Even work?

Those things are all important. But they can all wait. We are dealing with bigger and harder things. Can Poppy be by himself or does my husband need to stay again – like he did last week? Can we keep him safe and comfortable if we are in the next state over? How long will we spend in this state of being? How long can we hold up?

{Note: I wrote this on Sunday, October 30th but didn’t get to finish it and was always too tired to revisit it until now. The kind of tired that sleep doesn’t seem to erase. Of course, much has happened since then. Two weeks is a long time in the situation we find ourselves. Some of the questions I posed at the end of this post have been answered. Some still hang in the air. Maybe I’ll write more soon. Or maybe I’ll keep floating in an exhausted, tense haze.}