The Great Escape

“The horses are out.” I’d seen one of the guilty culprits passing by the window after he and his partner in crime had evidently found a weak spot in the fence.

“Well shoot!” My step-dad really did say ‘shoot’ as he jumped up, but I was thinking another word might work better. “See if you can grab Scamp and I’ll get in the car to go find King.” So off we went, headed out opposite doors leaving Mom by herself on Christmas morning.

All my life, my mother has been a very organized woman… everything in its place, house impeccably clean.. and she always made sure that Christmases were perfect. We had been in the living room in front of the fireplace opening gifts while the breakfast casserole she’d made hours earlier while everyone was still sleeping was baking in the oven, the glorious scent of cinnamon and fresh coffee in the air. It was an unusually cold day and we got to enjoy the fire without the air-conditioner running- Mom did this often; she always wanted a fire Christmas morning and we lived in the Deep South so we had to get creative. I was a senior in high school that year. Looking back now, I think she knew there wouldn’t be too many more holidays spent at home so each one became more precious than the last.

As I raced out the door, the rush of ice cold air bit into my lungs. The morning sky was a solid, heavy, dark gray and there was nowhere for the sun to peek through. The worn out fleece sweatshirt and pants were no match for the freezing wind and I was relieved my horse came to me when I called for him…

…I’m pausing the story for a second here. We had gotten Scamp a couple of years earlier and I fell in love with him. Mom told me a full decade later that she and my stepdad would watch me from the window with a mixture of amusement and genuine irritation as I called out from the bottom of the field. They’d hear “Scaaaa-yaaa-uump,” (because no word is really just one syllable when you’re from Alabama), and would start saying to themselves, “Why  is she calling to him like a dog? Listen to that. ‘Scaaa-yaaa-uump’ He’s never going to come to her.” Sure enough though, they were wrong, and I’d hear the thunder of the horse’s hooves as he’d gallop to me. Every. Single. Time!…

I stood holding onto Scamp’s halter, shivering and waiting for my step-dad to reappear with King. It wasn’t the ‘first rodeo’ for either one of them, so King was likely to be close-by.

My mother has done many wonderful and extraordinary things for me…never has my appreciation for her been greater before or since as suddenly feeling a heavy weight on my shoulders and instant warmth when she came outside and placed a thick hunting jacket around me. I think she had even put it in the dryer right before so it would be extra warm.

It wasn’t too long before I saw the prodigal son returning. Dad was driving his old big four-door Mercury very slowly, leading King along beside the car with a long rope holding it out the window. Fortunately our road saw hardly any traffic back then!

I don’t remember what happened next, but based on history presume that the fence was repaired quickly. My step-dad had lots of practice grabbing the roll of barbed wire and come-along and could repair a downed fence wire lickety-split. He was equally adept at jumping a car battery with almost no light available- he passed on that skill to me as we had lots of opportunities with the old Mercury!

I think I kept that jacket on for hours and we were really excited to have a story to tell when the rest of the family came over later.

Scamp
Scamp and me. I was 17 and he was 4.

 

 

 

 

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The Little Things- A Brother’s Love

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“Mom, what if my brother doesn’t know how much I love him?”

After I came home from work last night, my son was uncharacteristically quiet for a long time until he somberly posed that question. “I think he knows, honey…tell me what’s going on.”

A little backstory here: After we divorced, Austin’s dad had another son; he and Nathan are five years apart. The family has had unimaginable losses over the past several years, losing both of Austin’s uncles on his dad’s side a few years ago and then his grandfather last month. Nathan leaves for boot-camp tomorrow and Austin is scared of losing him too.

“We all three went bowling today, and when Dad and I were in the car, he started talking about his brothers.” His voice began to falter. “I’ve told Nathan I love him but what if he doesn’t know? I’ve been a shitty brother.” The tears were welling up so he couldn’t say any more… but he still needed to talk, even if talking meant just hearing another’s voice.

“I’ll bet Nathan would have a different take on that.” I got a shrug. “You drove in the middle of the night to go pick him up when PawPaw was dying so he could say goodbye.” A slight nod. “And you helped him through it after… You’ve told me over and over again how much fun you guys have smack-talking and kidding around. And picking on your Dad!”

A real chuckle here… “Yeah, we do. He is pretty easy to pick on!”

“You show Nathan you love him by having fun together and letting him know you like being around him. And you’re smart to tell him you love him.” It was my turn to have a breaking voice. “Remember when Uncle Hank – (my brother) –  was so sick a few years ago? We didn’t know if he’d make it and I kept thinking about all the times I could have said ‘I love you’ but didn’t. When I finally got the chance to say it again, I told him I loved him and guess what? He already knew.”

There have been many times in my life I’ve been so weighted down with regrets that I couldn’t move forward. Two years and twelve days ago in my sister’s backyard, Hank said the following words to me and they changed my life: “Learn from them and move on. You’ve already lived the story. Stop opening the book and re-reading it.” I was able to share them with Austin last night.

This morning, Austin said “I called Nathan last night. We had the best talk ever!”

Thank God for brothers.

 

We get by with a little help from our friends…

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One of my favorite scenes from The Full Monty is where Gaz and Dave find themselves stuck in the middle of a canal. They see a man approaching, walking his dog, and it may be an opportunity to get help. This is how the conversation goes:

Man: “All right?”

Gaz: “Aye. Not s’bad.”

Dave (after the man has walked by): “Not s’bad? Not s’bad?! That’s not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?”

Why is it so hard to ask for help? We often seek to be the helpers but don’t want to be the receivers. Maybe it’s pride, vanity, stubbornness… in my own case, it’s definitely all three along with my ego and not wanting to be a disappointment- it’s stupid, really.

My son and I moved into our neighborhood almost 15 years ago; our neighbors, Wendy and Mike, were among the first to welcome us. Through many joyous celebrations and some tragedies, the most heart-breaking being the loss of their daughter to cancer, they and their son Jeff have become family to us… a very real family. We know each other well (the good and the faults), speak the truth when needed with unconditional love and without fear of losing friendship, and always have each others’ backs.

A few months ago, I had roof damage. Making the decision to not make a decision (one of my worst faults) and thinking I would eventually make the right decision, I’d ignored the problem and it had become more extensive. My deductible is high and I was scared of the cost.

Jeff came over one morning and this was our conversation:

Him: “I saw your roof.”

Me: “Yeah. It’s not so bad.” (Channeling my inner ‘Gaz’)

Him: “It is bad. Don’t be stubborn. Do you need some help?”

Me: (screaming in my head ‘NOOOOOOO!’): “Yes.”

Jeff took the tape measure he’d brought over out of his pocket and we went outside to survey the damage. He made a list of what was needed, did a rough calculation of supply costs, asked me if I could afford it, and then we were off to the hardware store. On the way, I told him, “I’m glad you came over when you did. I was thinking about arson.” He replied, “No one in our family has gone to prison yet, and we’re not letting you be the first.”

Over the next several days, we worked to replace rotten wood and repair the structural damage so the roof didn’t leak any more. Actually I’m using the word “we” too liberally… Jeff and Mike repaired the damage. I handed them tools, held stuff, and gave them water.

It wasn’t long before the next difficult but inevitable conversation took place; I needed a new roof. Jeff broke the news, patiently explaining that if I delayed I could have a few good months before there was further damage but that it might get worse instead. He hugged me through all the very dramatic whining and tears that he’d known were coming, and when I finally said “Let’s do it,” told me he’d already contacted five different contractors for estimates and the first was on his way.

I have a new roof, the bank account has made a recovery, and I’m so grateful for my neighbors.

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” My prayer for Jeff, the friend who has become my little brother, is that very soon he knows his worth and sees himself through the eyes of all of us who love him. That will  be a glorious day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy Full

After all these years working as a transplant nurse, it is still really fun taking care of patients who have received a new kidney, especially those from a living donor. Some patients have been on dialysis for years, going to the same center three times a week for several hours.  I love listening to them call their dialysis units to share the good news and hearing the excited shouts of jubilation on the other end of the line! We’ve had parents donate a kidney to their child, child to parent, siblings, friends, in-laws, church members, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and co-workers.  It is the gift of life and is both incredible and humbling to witness.

After I received report from the recovery room nurse on my patient, a 71 year old lady who received a kidney from her daughter, I went to the daughter’s room to let her know her Mom was doing well and was on her way up. Even though she was in pain, her smile was beautiful when she heard the good news.

When my patient came to her room, I met her husband and another daughter while I got her settled and did an assessment. After telling her Mom she loved her, the daughter asked where her sister’s room was, and said, “I’ll be right back. There’s a whole bunch of us coming.”

Very soon the room was filled with one of the sweetest, kindest families I’ve ever met. The love in there was so palpable it was breath-taking. When we receive a patient with a new kidney, we are in their rooms almost continuously the first eight hours- taking vital signs, performing assessments and interventions, adjusting medicines and IV fluids; the family was so warm and welcoming, they made me feel like I was one of them.  Her sons were excited every time I emptied the urine from their Mom’s foley catheter and they saw how well the kidney was doing, asking “How much is it now?”

Later in the evening, the family went to get some food and make phone calls; only the husband remained, not wanting to leave his wife’s bedside. He spoke of how blessed he felt that each of their seven children was able to be with them for the surgery, and how although they had all been tested, it was only the one daughter that was the perfect donor candidate for her mother. He shared his faith in God with me, saying that his wife’s kidney function was only at 8% for months but she had been spared having to go through dialysis prior to transplant.

As I worked with her, my patient searched with her eyes for her husband if he stepped out of her line of vision for even a second and he continued to stand at her bedside. I offered to pull the recliner closer to her, saying it must have been a long day and asking if he wanted to rest. He beamed and said, “No. There’s been no such thing as time today. Only joy!”

 

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A Good Life

For My Step-Dad, with Love

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When I was 13 years old, my Mom told me she was getting married and I was furious! Absolutely indignant, in the way that only 13 year old girls can be…closing myself up in my room, spending hours on the phone with my friends (the only people in the world I was convinced knew anything about life), and just generally trying hard to make others miserable.

Mom and I were supposed to be moving to England in a few weeks- that’s where she is from and where I was born- and I thought my life was over when those plans abruptly changed. Obviously I knew she had been dating my future step-dad for some time, but I didn’t think it was serious. He’d come over to pick her up for dinner a couple of nights a week and on the weekends too, and he was nice enough, but still. We were supposed to be moving to England for goodness sake, and we’d already been shopping and everything! I kept thinking, “How can she do this to me?!” (I am using the excuse of being 13 as to why I thought everything was about me…yeah, that’s it…)

I knew my step-dad’s three daughters. They had all been lifeguards at a local pool my parents took me to and I thought they were so sweet… that’s the only thing my teen-aged mind was right about because they are.  Knowing we would be a part of the same family lessened the blow of not moving. When I met his son, I thought, “He seems ok.” Typing that now makes me laugh as I love him with all my heart and know he loves me too!

In the weeks before the wedding, my Mom was so happy and my selfish heart softened… a little. The service was beautiful and I could see how much he loved her.

My step-dad has always been an animated storyteller. He’d come home from work telling tales of what had happened in the hospital or clinic that day, and I was fascinated. He was very patient with my many questions. The influence he has had in my life led me to eventually become a nurse. Days of being polite to each other turned into his kicking the soccer ball with me in the evenings and then into “Can I come too?” whenever he had to run errands. Two of his favorite places were Radio Shack and the hardware store, and soon I was his permanent tag-along. He didn’t seem to mind. He taught me how to drive a boat, jump-start a car battery (many times, thanks to the very old Chevy Vega he had), use a come-along for fence repair, and to pursue knowledge. He’d become a constant in my life, always there, and I’m forever grateful.  About a year ago, I was facing a professional dilemma and he was the only one I wanted to tell. I asked him, “Will you please listen to me as a doctor and then talk to me as my Dad?” That’s just what he did.

Fast forward through the decades…two days ago, we celebrated his 90th birthday. He loved telling stories as much as we loved hearing them, and it was glorious to see him so happy and laughing a lot! He shared with us, “I sometimes forget what a good life I’ve had!” Don’t forget, Dad, and please know how very much you are loved.

Dr M 90

 

 

Aftershocks

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Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

This piece is dark and I feel like I should almost put out a disclaimer to anyone who might read it. Writing is cathartic; that’s what I needed.

I’ve been staring at this screen for a long time and still don’t know how to start. Though I can’t see myself doing anything else, sometimes being a nurse sucks. It just does. I know I should be sharing the good sides of nursing, and there are many- the honor of working with people who let you in at the most intimate times of their lives, being witness to miracles, seeing patients who were on the brink of death recover fully- but that’s not what this post is about. Today the well’s run a little dry and I’m praying for rain soon. It’ll come. It always does. Maybe even tomorrow.

Recently, we had a patient with end-stage lung disease. He’d been on our unit a few weeks, and we all had gotten to know him well. Early in the morning, his nurse called me to say he was having distress. We got him past the event with medications and a respiratory treatment; he had declined so much since I’d seen him last.

He asked me to stay with him after the others left so I pulled a chair up to his bed. He took my hand, looked into my eyes, and asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”

I said, “You’re very sick, Mr. Gandy. I know you’ve been speaking with your doctors about your options.” They had been discussing hospice and comfort measures but Mr. Gandy hadn’t made a decision yet.

“Yeah, I’ve been talking to them. I want to talk to you now. Please tell me.” He must have read my mind because the next words out of his mouth were, “I know you’re not a doctor and that’s ok. It’s just you and me in this room and you’ve been doing this a long time. Please tell me what’s going to happen.”

“If what happened this morning happens again, or if you get any worse, we’ll have to intubate you. If we do that, we may not be able to get you off the ventilator.” Saying those words out loud was awful. I don’t want to try to imagine how his hearing them must have felt.

He asked, “How long do I have? Is it weeks? Days? I’m not gonna make it out of the hospital, am I?” I answered honestly. His eyes were filled with tears; he squeezed my hand and said, “Thank you.” He asked me to call his brother for him so I did.

When the doctor came in, I told him what Mr. Gandy and I had been talking about. We discussed the progression of his disease and his prognosis with him. When asked about his goals, Mr. Gandy said, “My goal, what I want, is to be able to go home…but I know that’s not realistic.” What do you say to that? Sometimes, often really, there just are no words. He gave us an out when he said, “Tell me about comfort care.”

Mr. Gandy ultimately made the decision to be a DNR and opted for comfort measures only. He asked me to call his family again and I did. That too was tough.

I am very fortunate to have the best, most compassionate coworkers in the world. Some of the nurses got Mr. Gandy’s nurse to take a break and took over the care of her other patients. They also pitched in to perform some of my tasks so I could stay with the patient. I stayed with him until he died about an hour later.

We try everything we can to bring comfort to those suffering-giving medicines and treatments; most of the time it helps. Other times, we have to hope that our presence makes a difference.

My ego is terrible and I think I should be able to fix everything myself. It gets in the way a lot and is unfair to others. One of my neighbors is a really close friend and is like a younger brother. His daughter is my favorite of all the neighborhood kids (https://awhitlow2.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/remembering-the-wheeeeee-for-hannah/). We were talking about Hannah one day, and Jeff said, “I’m just trying to make sure she doesn’t grow up to be an a-hole.” You’re successful, Dad, because she’s definitely not! Keeping his words in mind and striving hard to not be an a-hole either, I reached out to one of my brothers and one of my sisters about struggling with this death. Talking to them helped immensely.

Now I’m just waiting on the rain…

November Memories

 

To my Carter family,

I think of you all often and especially at this time of year with Thanksgiving fast approaching. Memories from a very long time ago and those from more recent years, some silly and some not…they are all as vivid in my mind as if they happened yesterday. These are a few of the things I remember when I think of you.

Much love,

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Grandpa: tractor rides, “honey-bunch”, your big grin; sneaking into your office with you sitting in that old wooden desk chair- every time you heard me come in, you’d open your arms for a hug

 

 

Grandma: your endless patience! Teaching your grandchildren how to play the piano and to milk cows- more than once you were squirted in the face, but you’d just wipe off your glasses, smile, and let us try again

Dad: your sense of humor; hearing you laugh at your own jokes, snort, then snort some more…that’s what really made them funny; you hiding from your Dad when you went outside to smoke; hearing you tell stories from your childhood

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Uncle A.L.: the smell of your pipe; though neither of us were big ‘small-talkers’, you’d ask me what I thought about something and really listen to the answer; you didn’t shoot the bunny; you taught me how to throw a punch; Princess and the painted toenails

 

 

Aunt Maxine: the way you always know the right words at the right time; Hello-Dollies (thank you for making everyone’s favorite desserts each Thanksgiving); how quick you are to smile; the apple cake; Concho

Aunt Inez: your warmth; at the times when I needed it most, you let me know I mattered; long drives from Alabama to Negreet with a car full of teenagers; coffee and sewing

 

Uncle Gerry: you were always kind to my Mom, even after she and Dad divorced

Uncle Ike: the way your eyes crinkle up when you smile and laugh; your love of horses; watching rodeo VHS tapes with you for hours- we would have kept watching, but everyone else had other plans for us to be social! 14344945_10154447489281000_629348307474661689_n

Aunt Beth: your soft, sweet manner and gentle laugh; the way you’d always pat my knee when we were talking; you taught me how to forgive…not with words, but by example; yellow watermelon (the first one I ever saw was with you); you look for the good in others

 

Uncle Georg: the Store and HAM radios; your sense of humor too- it’s always hard to tell if you are pulling someone’s leg…until your eyes give it away

Anne Catherine: your love for Dad’s family; your beautiful accent; I had a huge crush on your handsome brothers all those years ago (Shhh, don’t tell!) 14390680_10154446801616000_5526713025807544775_n

Leigh Ann: the big bucket of hot chocolate mix; staying up very late to talk; your passion for nursing; the way you loved Ray and the courage you had to open your heart again with Corky- I’m glad you found happiness

Lawana: I love your laugh; the quiet way you show your tenderness- you were so sweet to Austin when he was a baby and you met him for the first time; your sincerity 14317450_10154447490846000_4427929467865153051_n

Gary: the way you make Lawana laugh; your baseball caps; you pretended (??) I was a pest (and I was), but were still the first to include me in anything fun; how much you love Aunt Maxine

Lana: so many memories…my partner in crime and forever staunch defender, no matter what and no matter when; the turnip greens; Hockaday and Bayside stories 14322453_10154447486546000_3918232671281643463_n

Jay M: meeting you for the first time, all of us in the kitchen drinking coffee with Aunt Inez, and seeing my dear cousin in love

Nita: your big beautiful blue eyes; you have your Mother’s way of making others feel special 14316935_10154447481151000_7021398830209113452_n

Jay W: your expressions- like it was with John, one single look from you can crack me up! Riding to Negreet with you and the boys when Austin was a baby and seeing how much you loved being a Dad; the night we all played Trivial Pursuit with your Mom tractor time

John: your heart, your laugh, your openness and generosity, your sense of humor; you were always barefoot when we were kids-you must’ve been a shoe rebel! Playing for hours in the hay loft; always hearing, “Hey pretty lady,” every time we spoke on the phone

 

Stacie: your doll, Mrs. Beasley! She went everywhere with you; going to Mr. Nathan’s store when there was still the old dirt road and sharing lik-m-stix on the way back img062

Georjann: the way you tell all of us “I love you”; your incredible memory! You recall details from years ago that the rest of us have forgotten, and I know if I don’t remember someone’s name, I can always ask you

 

Jennifer: seeing you with John when you were little, giggling every time he called you “Mennifer Jarie”; riding on the back of Grandpa’s tractor with you, laughing so hard every time he went over a bump and we nearly fell off; no matter how much time goes by, talking with you always feels like coming home

Joseph: your boots when you were a little kid; how you always took care of your sisters; you brought Dad to your parents’ house for Thanksgiving after he’d had a stroke; the way you made everyone feel comfortable and welcome

 

Anne: when you were very young, you would run full speed ahead and arms open wide to hug any of us that you hadn’t seen for a long time and I loved that about you; your sweet spirit

 

Daniel: as a young boy, you were always present, easy-going, and so very quiet, taking everything in;

Jordana: sometimes shy, sometimes talkative, yet always willing to join in; Dad adored you; seeing him carry you in his arms to look at the horses; I think you got your ‘deep thinker’ side from him

 

Mike: your flannel shirt matched the rest of us- somewhere there is a photo of almost every single Carter in flannel one Thanksgiving; your determination and work ethic; how you realized it would be futile to resist your obsessive, stalking, newly found sister when I phoned you

 

Cissy: your steadiness; one night, we all piled into a car to go see the Natchitoches Christmas lights and you were able to identify all the Bath & Bodyworks scents everyone was wearing! Just a small example of the way you find common ground with everyone and get them to talk, even the quiet ones

Tamara: your gentle voice; the ways you show that family is important- you’re like your Mom that way; your love for animals 14333163_10154447509631000_5788648884993851066_ndefault

Carter: as a very young boy, your inquisitive, adventurous nature and search for answers

Lindsey: I still picture you as a tiny girl with blue jeans and a button-down shirt playing on the steps outside Fort Jessup where we had a family reunion; I love seeing your photos of your beautiful family 14329903_10154446713141000_6378238242821869266_n

Chris: thank you for answering my endless email questions when I went through my crazy-middle-aged-fitness-phase! Watch out, there will be one coming again soon; you and Lindsey both make your parents so proud

Zach: you were always so polite and a joy to be with; in the car with your Dad on the way to Negreet, you forgave him for always promising a milkshake ‘just around the next corner’ and made sure to tell me he was joking so I wouldn’t get my hopes up

 

Tyler: you had me wrapped around your little finger when you were a young boy with your gorgeous smile; I loved seeing your Nanny’s face light up whenever you and Zach were around

Angie: your genuine happiness for your Dad as he was getting to know his family; you put others before yourself…not for recognition or thanks, but just because that’s who you are; every time I read Khalil Gibran’s piece in The Prophet “On Giving” I think of you 14344193_10154447450431000_5593204351961566444_n

Neil: as a teenager, you were surrounded by this newly found, flannel shirt wearing family and took it all in stride- thank you!

Catherine: watching you try valiantly to stay up late with your older cousins, seeing you crawl up on the couch saying you were only “gonna rest a little for a minute” then waking up covered with a blanket in the morning, genuinely surprised and disappointed you’d fallen asleep; seeing you and Jordana getting to know each other 14956467_1444776505540114_7940489661232069638_n

Austin: seeing you as a toddler in your overalls, looking at the horses with great wonder and feeding the deer; as a teenager, putting up with endless stories from your Mom-for hours- when we rode to Negreet together 14322493_1388547601160144_3649972821908517051_n