It felt like a Pretty Good Week with Mom

It might be Mom’s last road trip, but Paul and Kaitlyn’s wedding was worth it.

November marks essentially two months since Mom moved from independent to assisted living side of the senior community (Carmel Hills) where she’s been since we moved her from Tampa, FL to Charlotte three Junes ago. I was her primary caregiver for seven months, and lunch-making, shopping, medication consistency, appointments, walking and just being around were the essentials. I worked my presence down to twenty hours a week for the last month before she moved to the assisted side.

I’m proud of having gotten her to Raleigh for my nephews seriously cool wedding weekend in July and yes, I was worried that her meds got messed up back in Charlotte during my terrific NY week without responsibilities. I went right back into service the morning after a 17-hour return trip, handling a situation with Mom’s cable because that’s what caregivers do.

Just days after we learned about a single room opening on the assisted side, my mother caused a smoke-out, the very first time she’d tried to reheat any leftovers.  The strangest part was getting a Sunday morning call just after pre-church shower about it, because nothing seemed amiss when I’d picked her up for ice cream at 7:30 and stayed till 10:00 the previous night, and smokers are still events that count heavily in determining when such moves are finally necessary.

Mom never mentioned it, mostly because she didn’t remember it. It turned out between 4:45 when I called about our ice cream date, the smoke alarm at 6:30 and time I arrived, Carmel Hills had done their emptying out drill, cleared up the charred stuff in the apartment, and was back to normal.  Overall, that was a fortunate stroke of timing, but having a plan for such moves when the time comes makes transitions easier on everyone.

That’s when we moved Mom, and its such a good situation for both her and- as I sit before a picture window with sunshine and finally changing color leaves outside- a lifestyle change I hadn’t really comprehended.

Primary caregivers have a different challenge

When I wasn’t jumping over there between 11:00-1:30 because she liked early lunch and card games, and post-dinner (7-9:30), I admit accepting that I couldn’t work for several hours because she wasn’t wired, and I felt guilty if I didn’t keep her involved in conversation.  While there was always a satisfaction about my caregiver role in the clutch, the difference when I didn’t have to  divide my time has allowed an obvious, positive rise in productive hours elsewhere.

My second book submission – with a tightened-up 7,300 word intro – is going out two weeks early, so this past month constitutes a successful conversion for me. A golf writing – travel gig possibility from August ended with several hospital stays by client, but I’ve had opportunities to present my flexible niche writing abilities  on a regular basis on well-populated professional sites. There are jobs and gigs, long enough and challenging assignments that make an economic difference.

Last week was a good one with Mom. Saturday evening I took her to an Oyster Roast by our Men’s Club, to church on Sunday, and Thursday I brought her tiger lilies after I bought a necessary new laptop, because that’s what you do when Mom’s are on the same side of town as business. I got to Carmel Hills when she was about to start a roast beef lunch, and  believe me, even if I was suit and tie dressed up and had flowers, that took priority. Helpers got the flowers into a container and on a table in her room.

I also let Mom know Edna, her best buddy since 2nd grade, was going to visit in two Fridays. Of course, I’ll remind her a couple times, but that’s definitely a good news thing, and repeating isn’t any kind of negative.

At the Oyster Roast Mom kept saying she wasn’t sure she liked oysters, but she’s eaten every one I’ve fixed her before. We settled at a table with a lady and her Mom who remembered me trying to sell tickets a month ago, and they kept Mom company while I wound up managing a variety of situations with the roast. I made sure she had a wine, got back several times, and found her a good slab of chocolate cake. She appreciated getting out, so I loaded up on karmic rewards.

Mom wanted to treat to dinner after church this week, so Mike, Mom and I went to Red Lobster, beating the rush easily. As often as she says she’s hungry, Mom still doesn’t eat much, although she always has room to work with her sweet tooth, and sharing a nice warm brownie with ice cream worked without a hitch.

Mom needed a nap after the wine, and by the time I got back to the house, the Panthers were pounding the Ravens on TV, including a semi-sneaky 54-yard FG to end the first half with a 24-7 lead. I’m a FanSided/CatCrave blogger, so by the time I’d watched until the surprising 36-21 conclusion, a last touch on a good week for me included a twelve-mile bike ride.

I’m still thankful to the ex-HR person who definitively stated NOBODY had writers working in staff positions any more, that everything was out-sourced.

Having embraced that attitude, and forgetting about knocking out a straight forty hour week, the challenge remains the same—making my time worth while to a paying client.

Bringing flowers and getting Mom out several times, that still makes for a no doubt feeling about being a ‘Good Son’. Having said before that being a caregiver is about making other people’s lives go right and taking care of yourself—that still works. Having picked up the habit of utilizing smaller time frames for proposals and entrepreneurial projects, I’m better at utilizing the technology that’s making it easier for me to (relatively)  put myself in front of significant others.

Prostate cancer news is Joyful! Awesome! when your best friend says ’10 years’

two men playing volleyball near red canopy
Photo by Jim De Ramos on

Having mentioned how a knee replacement from last December has affected my life so positively more than once, getting a couple videos from my best friend in college- Ivan Marquez– about surviving prostate cancer for ten years is a valid point to assess time and circumstances and how it affects those we love.

More than anything, my desire is to encourage communication, because that always make a difference with major illnesses. Not everyone reading this will care, but beyond understanding the medical marvel side requiring ninety pills a day and a whole lot more, there’s a very real feeling of Joy that bursts forth when you learn something that’s heroic or unexpectedly Good.

The fact I reached out another time Friday to share something I was proud of with him and got something so decisive back, that rarely happens without a small, extra effort.

 I’ll shorthand things by noting my Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was dead in two years, and he died five years ago. How could you not think the worst was coming for your best friend?

After Dad told us (four brothers) about diagnosis, we were more than a little surprised when doctors did anything surgical. They don’t usually think that chemo and radiation improve quality of life in eighty year-olds, but in trying to implant a few radioactive pellets to kill the suspected cells, Dad was taken off Coumadin, had a stroke that night, and lost his desire to eat almost anything beyond power shakes.

That Christmas he was a bag of bones. While he survived another Christmas and died in late January from congestive heart failure—a family weakness, my Uncle Don died two days earlier in the same Tampa hospital from it—he wasn’t close to the friendly, active guy he’d always been.

choir boys2016
The four choirboys, now 50 years old- Dad was an artsy guy

My brothers all agreed that we wish he’d discussed it with us vs. just told us the prognosis. It was his being relatively healthy, and a desire not to leave Mom alone, that drove his decision to try the pellets vs. rigors of chemo-radiation. The next thing we knew, the stroke was a fact. I drove to Tampa the day after I learned Uncle Don died, I would have gladly driven down many months before that to beg Dad to reconsider the course he eventually took, but we’d all assumed there’d be another chance at that.

I’m certain I went into denial when Ivan first called about his prostate cancer, because it was a well known and vicious killer. When he called briefly last year about his survival, I asked why he hadn’t told me, when of course, he had.

While I periodically sent him notes or articles I was proud of and he responded with, “Good going, keep it on the blacktop (vs. driving into a ditch),” I always assumed he was keeping the ugly negatives from me, although he’d never really been a guy who wrote much. I called every once in a while– most recently when I vacationed in upstate NY for a week– but didn’t get responses, which reinforced that notion.

It didn’t occur that he was frequently busy with hospital (Mayo Clinic) things, just that he wasn’t responding, so it must be bad- and hopefully I’d get some notice about a funeral.

Ivan created a fine men’s volleyball program at Concordia College, then dropped the coaching when he became the Commissioner of EVIA (Eastern Volleyball Inter-Collegiate Association) because his ‘men beat boys’ recruiting style was built on getting ‘older’ stud players who flunked out on scholarships elsewhere a second chance back on campus. Although legal, he didn’t want any potential negatives to come back at the school.

I’m certain I went into denial when Ivan first called about his prostate cancer,  because it was a known and terrible killer.

The video he sent—which was done by students in the Communications Dept. at Concordia, where he’s been the Athletic Director since 1995—gave me 1000% more insight to his situation, and also showed he still talked and treated others as he always had. He speaks of Concordia athletics in terms of ‘playing with the toy,’ meaning figuring out how to do something better or desirable for the program.

The point about communication is that you often HAVE to keep pushing people to share, because many don’t want to be pitied or thought of as weak. They can’t talk about the regimen without admitting it mostly sucks, which he admits in the video. Many equate not talking about it with sparing you the boring details of ugliness, and maybe that was a righteous reason for me in past, but I’m getting on the phone shortly so I can communicate how important it is to know more about my best friend’s life.

One Really Good Story: I get to take a portion of credit for Ivan’s career, because after I repeatedly beat his brains out in basketball back in the early ’80s– surviving the heat stroke waiting to happen that 90-plus degree Tampa afternoons always is– he said, “Nope, I can’t go back to Puerto Rico and play in some league if I can’t stop THIS guy’s jump shot.”

FYI- If you’ve watched college or beach volleyball, he was the thinker who determined that volleyball missed the TV spotlight championships usually draw because only service scoring (vs. every point) meant some five-set matches went forever with side-outs. He brought his alternatives to several coaching friends with clout (BYU, UCLA) and today its 25 points wins, and the 5th set is like sudden death, only to 15.