Thursday, December 31, 2015


There have been several times these last few weeks where I wanted to be anywhere or do anything else but what I've been doing. Many times, I thought it would be easier to lose myself at the bottom of a bottle or crawl into bed and hide under the covers forever. Or just stop. Give up and say that this is beyond my control. Or run away. I dream at night about waking up on a quiet beach or a mountain cabin or a foreign country.

They seem like easy choices on the surface. But if there's anything I've learned in life, it's that "easy" doesn't always equal "better".

Looking back, it's easy to say that I'm ending this year in pain. It's easy to look at myself and find all of the things I hate about myself -- all those things I wish I could change. I'm overly-sensitive and stubbornly proud and terrified of failing. Yes, those are things easy to see about me.

But "easy" doesn't always equal "accurate" either.

I am sensitive. I joke often that when God gave out feelings, I got in line for thirds. It's a part of myself that I've always been ashamed of. It's been scolded by bosses as unprofessional and taken advantage of by others. My sensitivity was a target, a soft spot, a trigger.  All my life, I viewed my mother as the "tough" one. She was the one I was afraid to cry in front of and hid my hurt from. I wanted, more than anything, to shield myself as she could. What I've learned, however, in the last few years (and weeks especially) is that my sensitivity has led me. It guides me in the questions I ask, the battles I choose, the decisions I make. It gives me the understanding and patience to sit bedside and not look away. It reminds me how lucky I am to have had 39  years of my father's love -- so much more than far too many have had, and it gives me the ability to give him permission to leave us when he's ready.  More than anything, it gives my mother an example to follow. This woman -- this wonderful and strong woman -- who held her feelings and fear at bay all of her life to shield her from pain is now defenseless. She is uncomfortable and unsure in her own feelings, but she is not alone in them. I am grateful to have grown up in a family who, while they may not have loved my sensitive nature, never forced me to abandon it.

I am stubbornly proud. To a fault, many times. I detest asking for help and resist accepting it when given. I believe fervently in making my own way, owing nothing to anyone, and standing on my own.  That, to me, is a success. But it's not, really, because when I look at my life, who am I without those around me? From my family to colleagues to friends I see often and those I see rarely and even those I've never even officially met. My stubbornness leads to me being a better teacher and a better competitor, but it also makes me stick and stay. And my pride, well, it forces me to think of others before myself, and for that I'm grateful. I'm grateful to be in a place I can still want more for someone else than need for myself. I'm not alone, however, and even on the days that I do crawl into bed and hide away, I know that I will always have someone to seek me out, take my hand, and pull me back into the world -- whether I ask them to or not because I'm also surrounded by people just as stubborn as me.

It would be so easy to judge myself or this year by only the sadness I feel now, but that's not fair or accurate. This year, I was loved by many friends, traveled to wonderful cities, ate delicious food, drank, danced, and laughed a thousand times more than I cried. I saw my favorite team win a national championship, and I sat court side on their journey. I challenged myself, and I met the challenges of others. I grew. I changed. I reflected. I was knocked down. I kept getting back up.

Yes, things seem dark now. This will not be the last dark day I see, no matter my hopefulness for 2016. But without acknowledging the dark, I cannot see the value of my light.

And I am surrounded by so, so much light.

I wish you light and love and laughter this year, my friends.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Roller Coaster

The last two weeks have been an up-and-down, sideways-twisting, loop-the-loop, roller coaster of a ride. With any chronic disease, like Parkinson's, this is the way of life. It's been this way for many years, but this felt different. It feels different, I should say, because it is different. It has felt like the ride was coming to the end.

When I got home two weeks ago, we prepared for the very worst. Each time we thought we made a decision, something happened to make us question. To make us afraid we were wrong. It has been the most confusing, sad, gut-wrenching moments of my life, watching my father deteriorate and seeing my mom struggle. There is no handbook for these moments. There is no one who can make these decisions for you. Even if you've had that talk with your loved ones (and if you haven't, you should), it's so hard to know when the end is really the end? When is enough truly enough?

We live in a society where it's practically a sin to stop. We believe in fighting and hanging on and never giving up. And for 95% of the time, that's a pretty great attitude. There are times, however, that I've wondered who is hanging on for whom?

Each of us has separately said our own goodbyes to my dad. I have been for years with each decline. And in the last two weeks, we've let him know that it's okay to let go if he's tired. He hasn't though, and we've decided to let him fight as much as he wants. It feels selfish, in a way, to put that decision on him, but it also feels selfish to keep it for our own.

For most of this time, we make the 140 mile trip, we sit in his room for hours, and we wait for the few moments he's awake. My mom monitors his pain by his facial expression. She explains what the nurses are doing if they do not. She strokes his forehead and sings softly to help him sleep. My father was always the caretaker, the nurturer, when we were sick; now that task has fallen to her. And she's more beautiful at it than anything she's ever done, I think.

Two nights ago, my mother's best friend of nearly 50 years (my Aunt Patti) came to sit with us. As she and Mom told stories from when they were young and wild, I watched my father watch them. They told story after story for almost two hours. Some, I had heard (like my mother putting my dad out of the car on a wintry night on the Canyon E-Way and then forgetting where she left him); others I had not (like how my dad, before they officially met, would come into the diner where my mom waited tables and order a $0.25 cup of coffee and then leave her a $5 tip). They cackled and cut up, and the whole time, my dad grinned. I kept waiting for him to sit up and defend himself or tell a story of his own, but that's an empty wish. Instead, I was just grateful for the grin.

And today, he's been awake and lucid more than in the past two weeks combined, looking at my mom, smiling, answering her questions with a nod or a blink, and even telling her, "I love you". It was the only Christmas gift she needed or wanted.

I know that my dad isn't going to get out of that bed again. I know his wounds will never fully heal. The inevitable is the inevitable for a reason. The train will eventually return to the station because the ride cannot go on forever. But today, it's enough to just still be on the track.

Merry Christmas and love to you all.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Thursdays are my mother's favorite days. Thursdays are shuffling cards, homemade desserts, and good friends. Thursdays are a break from worry, from heartache, from pain.

On first appearance, they look innocent enough. Christmas sweaters, Santa earrings, coin purses. If you happened by, you might think them a book club or a prayer group, full of grandmothers and aunties, just waiting to pinch your cheeks.

You'd be wrong though. These are not your average grandmothers. These are my mother's people, and anyone my mother spends time with could never be anything but fun and fierce. If you've got nickels and quarters in your pocket, you're nothing but fresh meat.

The game is Rummy Dummy. At first glance, it seems simple enough: a game devised on the sequence and systematic playing of specific, pre-determined hands. Looking deeper, however, it becomes a gauntlet of seemingly impossible card combinations meant to do nothing but strand its victim while it bleeds you of all your silver change.

It's not an expensive game. It's just a quarter to join and a dime for every round you don't lay your cards down, but with each coin you drop in the bucket, your desire to quit is only tempered by the insatiable need to hear the jingle of all those coins in your pocket.

Any time I'm in town on a non-holiday Thursday (which is not often), I'm invited to the card game. I like it because it makes me feel grown-up. Contrary to popular belief, "grown-up" is not an age-thing; it's an acceptance thing. But always -- always -- there are pre-game reminders from my mother.

"You'll need to pack a lunch."
"You have to pay attention."
"Don't be on your phone, texting at the table."
"When you cut cards, leave the bottom."
"Don't be late."

I learned that last truth pretty quickly yesterday as one of the regulars showed up, late from a doctor's appointment, midway through the first hand. The penalty for showing up late? A dime in the pot, 55 points on your scorecard, and a second go-round on hand #1. That dime buys you nothing apparently.

As a lifelong careful observer of rules and devout follower of protocol, Thursdays with the girls always give me sweaty palms for at least half an hour.

While we played, I tried to stick up for one of my favorite ladies when the others were complaining about a well-played quick hand that ruined all of their plans.

"Don't be nice to her just because she's the oldest! No special treatment!" They chorused and crowed, and even she admitted, "It was kind of an ugly play... But I don't care."

"I should have known better," I thought to myself as I watched this 90+ year old woman flip a card across the table with such fierce grace that it'd put all those baseball bat flips to shame.

Over the course of three games, they complained and wheedled and poked at one another, but they also caught up on one another's lives and grandkids and holiday plans. They even cut loose a foul word or two (which only made me love them more). During lunch, they listened to my mom's update on my dad. They let her talk, they helped her cry, and they comforted her with fudge and homemade cookies and empathy that only wives and mothers and daughters who had journeyed this road can give. At the end of the day, they wrapped us in big hugs and whispered support.

I am so grateful for these women. My mother has always been private with her pain, yet they don't allow her to hide. And with each moment she shares, I see the trust she has in them -- a feat not easily accomplished. But more than just listening and comfort, they cut us no slack. They took our quarters and dimes without hesitation because that's what you do on a Thursday. And my mother would have it no other way.

I did manage to win a game, and I will tell you that I've never worked harder or been more proud of a handful of dimes and quarters. I put them back in my mother's coin purse for another Thursday with the girls. And it was money well-spent. 

(Just kidding. It was totally my mom's money to begin with. I'm not quite grown-up yet.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I hate the smell of Axe body spray.

As a junior high teacher, it's my right -- nay, my duty as an American educator -- to lead the fight against its use. Axe is the pubescent attempt to avoid showering after gym class, to snag a date for Friday's dance, to blend in. It is desperate and overbearing and toxic. My school's hallways are clouded with it often. I now confess to having even used my locker key to confiscate bottles from a few of the worst offenders.

So it was with great pain and regret that four years ago, at the top of my father's Christmas list, sat my worst enemy: Axe Body Spray.

It did not make sense. My father was 68 years old. He'd been married nearly four decades. He is not overbearing or desperate. Why was this on the list, I demanded  inquired.

To which my mother replied, "It makes him feel better."

My dad -- my beautiful, strong father -- could no longer shower himself. Often, he could not toilet himself. He had accidents. He was always sweating. And although the staff at his nursing home showered him every other day, he was ashamed. He would douse himself in his aftershave and deodorant, but to no avail. So he would wait patiently for his next shower day, trying to hide his embarrassment.

My mother had given him Axe after a trip to Dollar General one day. It was the only thing that could cover not only himself but also the smell of other residents and cleaning products. It was a change from the smell of sickness, old age, dependence. It shouldn't have surprised me that Axe was his antidote. It had erased all other living smells from my hallway and classroom for years.

It hurt. All my life, I could recognize my dad just by his scent. He smelled of Lava soap, Old Spice, the roll of Certs mints or cinnamon candy he always kept in his pocket, and just a hint of WD-40. "Just a dab behind the ears", I'd tease him. There have been nights in the past four years that I woke up, longing, heartbroken, for that scent. I can remember wondering what other kids' dads smelled like. Maybe  fresh ink and paper, or expensive suits, or suntan oil and chlorine. My dad smelled like hard work. It was the smell of confidence and independence to me. I felt ashamed for questioning his choice.

So I begrudgingly gave in, buying him cans and cans of it for any occasion: birthdays, Christmases, Tuesdays. It did not matter. If it was what he wanted, it was fine by me.

Last night, as I stood next to my daddy's bed, feeding him ice chips, I took in the smells around me. Antiseptic, colostomy bags, uneaten hospital food, fever sweat.  His eyes searched my face, questioning. His lips moving. His voice a whisper of visions and words I could not understand.

And I longed for the smell of Axe Body Spray.