Sometimes it helps me to look back so I don’t go back… I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of love lately and reflecting how the more you give love, the more you have. This was a worry filled time in our family a few years ago. I’m grateful to God for pulling my brother through.
When I was a young girl, one of my uncles taught me how to throw a punch. Since I was always a bit of a loner, he must have sensed I’d need to be a fighter. He wanted to make sure I grew up strong and confident, ready to face any battle… neither of us could have imagined the battles that I would wage against myself.
Almost 34 years ago, my mother married my step-dad, and our families merged. It takes a special man to love a child that another man created as if she were his own- that is what he has done. Though I still had my father at that time, he treated me like I was another of his daughters and welcomed me into his family. He had four grown children (three daughters and a son) who graciously accepted my mother and me even though they must…
“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.
“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!”
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.
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!”
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.
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.