Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ugly Sweaters.....



"Please!  Can't you help me?  Get me out of here!" my mom pleaded as she tugged on the railing of the rented hospital bed.  And then she pointed, hand trembling, at the crimson red cardinal on a bird feeder just beyond her bedroom window.  "I wish I could fly away..." she said longingly.  All day long, she begged me to rescue her.  From time to time, I had to leave the room because it was too much to bear.

It had taken years, but we had finally arrived at this place.  My mom's physical body had totally betrayed her.  She was bed bound, trapped and imprisoned by the end result of an inopportune series of debilitating health issues, including surgeries for colon and breast cancer.  Her memory had faded almost completely.

At the time, I felt I was failing her because all I could do was be present, sitting on a chair drawn close to her bedside.  My own coping and caregiving resources were hanging by a thread.  Sheer exhaustion prevented me from being as fully engaged in her profoundly disturbing emotional struggle as I would like to have been.  What do you say to a loved one who has finally reached her final days, but is unable to grasp what that means?  Whatever words of comfort, whatever words of explanation, it didn't matter.  They were quickly forgotten a few minutes later.

Lots of great grandchildren sugar
Now, lest you misunderstand, my decade-long caregiving journey with my mom started out on a high note and stayed that way for the most part.  It was a shared adventure that made me feel worthwhile and useful.  Under normal circumstances, my mom was light-hearted, easy going and fun.  As we navigated her numerous unfortunate serious illnesses, we laughed a lot.  Trips to the doctor's offices were often "eventful."  Having become somewhat childlike, Mom would usually say whatever popped into her mind.  If she noticed a lady in the waiting room wearing a sweater she didn't care for, then of course, she had to comment:  "Look at that ugly sweater!"  Saying "Shh, Mom!  She can hear you!" made no difference at all.  Or she might decide to put her finger in her nose, declining my polite offer of a tissue with a big smile on her face.  More than once, I wanted to move to another chair on the other side of the room and pretend she wasn't with me.  Sometimes I seriously wondered if she knew she was putting me in awkward predicaments just for the fun of it....

She always forgot what her colostomy bag was for, then thought it was hilarious when I explained once again what was in there.  Speed car racing events were among her favorite TV programs .  Sometimes she watered her artificial flowers.  When I reminded her they really don't need water, she thought that was funny too.  Oh, and then there was the daily morning ritual helping her get dressed.  I'd get her all fixed up, everything matching and colorful, come back an hour later to find she had changed clothes.  I continually tried to hide one particularly frayed and snagged old grey sweater that I didn't have the heart to throw away, but she always mysteriously managed to dig it out and put it on.  (Yes, she had her own ugly sweater....)  Most of the time, it didn't matter.  But when we were expecting company, I know guests had to be wondering why I didn't buy her some decent outfits.

Mom lookin' snazzy
Of course, mom had not always been a mischievous and forgetful great grandma who delighted great grandchildren by tickling them under the chin saying she was getting some sugar.  She had been a beloved daughter, a fun sister, a faithful wife, a best friend of many, a concerned caregiver.  She made the best cheesecake in the world.  Talk about having a green thumb--amazing flowers and exotic plants would grow in dirt she left behind on her potting table.  She loved traveling, camping and desert rock hunting.  She was a top-notch bargain hunter.  I'm told she was quite the gal in her younger years--she enjoyed looking "snazzy" and throwing what was called back in those day "hen parties" with all her girlfriends.  She was a devoted grandma and mom.  I was the girl she always wanted, born eight years after my brother, the boy she always wanted.


Because dealing with dementia means living "in the moment" with the one afflicted, often I would forget the able-bodied and sound-minded individual that was my mom.  It was too easily overshadowed by the intense caregiving she required as she approached a great old age.  Had she been able to verbalize it, she would have wanted me and everyone else to be mindful of all that she had been and accomplished, now unrecognizable behind the fa├žade of  infirmity, wrinkles and failing memory.


The next time you look into the limpid eyes of an elderly, worn-out human being who may feel old and in the way, try to see beyond the frail exterior and search for the essence of the exuberance of youth and beauty, good times, love, values, experience, hopes and dreams, including the heartaches and scars of living that shaped that unique person.  It's still there underneath it all.  Even if someone has become debilitated or suffers diminished memory, you may find yourself surprised by their response to the depth of your perception.

Mom and her girl...me
I will never forget my mom's last words to me.  Her quality of life continued to ebb away and we arranged for her to be placed into a hospice care facility.  She had to be transported there by ambulance.  Surprisingly, that particular day, she became unusually alert and talkative.  Apparently she chatted to the attendant riding with her, saying who knows what.  I was afraid to ask....at least he wasn't wearing an ugly sweater.  When they placed her on a stretcher and wheeled her into the facility to her room, she was awake and propped upright.  I remember thinking how pretty she looked.  Before I left her room that day, she pointed at me and told the nurse, "That's my beautiful daughter!"

Mom suddenly fell into a coma-like state.  We lost the ability to reach each other.  And then she was gone, her God-given purpose in life on this earth fulfilled.  I hate to admit it, but it took me a very long time to finally throw away her favorite frayed and faded ugly grey sweater.


The sunset of life can be beautiful....

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Does a Hummingbird Hum?

Dad loved eating pie as much as he loved telling jokes


Why does a hummingbird hum?  Because it doesn't know the words....  OK, I can hear you groan.  But that was one of my dad's favorite jokes.  That and other zingers like the guy selling candy bars for ten cents each or two for a quarter.  If Dad could be coaxed into standing up and telling jokes at a gathering, the audience laughed till they cried.  And this happened on numerous occasions well into his advanced senior years.  After he died, I came across his notebooks and scraps of paper filled with humorous sayings and old-timey jokes.  To show how nimble his mind was, he had only written down the punch lines.  I would love to have the full text of these bygone, folksy jokes, now becoming a lost art.

When he wasn't telling jokes, Dad always had something witty to say.  Doctors and nurses who attended to him in his final years were often targets.  One nurse was getting information from him for his medical records, asking what he viewed as nosey questions about his lifestyle.  When she asked him if he smoked, he retorted "No!  Do YOU?"  They quickly learned to treat him with a degree of respect.

My dad loved his garage.  In warm weather, he could be found out there wearing one of his favorite tee shirts, full of holes.  Admittedly, he felt cooler in those tee shirts, but it didn't look very "cool."  Hanging on the wall and on every shelf and in every corner were tools he had accumulated for absolute decades, including a huge, unmovable plug-in circular wood saw that took up way too much space.  He had antique farm equipment items that went back to the mule-pulling-the-plow days.  The garage was organized in a cluttered sort of a way, so somehow he always managed to find what he was looking for.  There was barely enough room to park his old Ford van among all the tools, cast-off lumber and pieces of pipe or scrap metal--anything he thought he might use someday.  Most people would have long since thrown it all away.

Zooming with great granddaughters on his Rascal
If someone needed it, Dad could usually make it--handy things such as a smooth, sturdy stool, exactly the right height for my petite mom to step up easily into their van.  It had always been this way.  Dad was the fixer, the inventor, the provider, the protector.  When he could no longer walk as quickly as he wanted, he used a Rascal (motorized chair).  It made my head spin watching him zooming by on his Rascal, cutting through my back yard to who knows where.  We had three acres between us, so he had plenty of room to zoom.

I was so accustomed to his mobility and sharpness of mind, his attaining a very old age crept up on me and on him.  As I look back on it now, perhaps I was comparing him to my mom, who had required intense care giving prior to her death.  Dad had most things under control, including the foresight to decide on his own to stop driving at ninety-one for safety reasons.

And then one day when my husband and I were away on a short trip, I received a phone call from a neighbor.  Dad had fallen during the night.  Before we left, I'd made arrangements for someone to check on him daily.  And hospice came by regularly to attend to him.  Unfortunately he became disoriented due to the fall and couldn't get back up, so he had been on the floor for several hours before he was found.  We rushed home.  Friends had taken him to the hospital.  He suffered no injuries from the fall, but hospital tests disclosed a chronic severe infection that his worn-out body could not overcome.  Three weeks later, he died.  It happened so quickly and unexpectedly.

Dad wanted with all his heart to be with the Lord.  He often had vivid and colorful dreams of the Holy City.  He joyfully anticipated the bliss of his first conscious moment in eternity.  It was foremost on his mind.  So maybe it was time....

In retrospect, how I wish we had all been more protective, even though he seemed to be so self-sufficient.  It would have been circumspect to have arranged for my dad to have a senior emergency alert device.  Dad and I had discussed it briefly on a couple of occasions.  He simply didn't feel he needed one just yet, and I agreed.  And it remains a mystery to me why, through he had medical care, the fatal infection was not detected earlier on while it was still at a curable stage.  I suppose we were all fooled by his quickness of mind and mobility at age ninety-three.  He seemed fine....

I felt I was giving my dad the best possible care.  I tried hard to help him not feel old and in the way.  He valued his independence living in his own home and I wanted to honor that.  Being so close to the situation, I had blind spots.  He and I assumed he could handle the unexpected.  He always had.  But he was in his nineties, after all.  In the final analysis, there were extra measures that could have been taken which might have extended his life or at least minimized the distress of the fall.  Access to an emergency alert network was needed and maybe an assisted living environment was also in order.

If any of you have a loved one or know someone full of years and still going strong, try to gently reason with and explain to them how they can make care giving easier by accepting additional assistance even though it may appear to be premature.  And let's face it, there are occasions when it may be necessary for the care giver to make an unpopular decision for the good of everyone concerned.  Better to be safe than sorry.

The sunset of life can be beautiful....
Joyce Catherwood (c) 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Credit or Debit?


A favorite comic Pickles by Brian Crane
 
"What kind of gas are you putting in your car?" asked a senior citizen who pulled up on the other side of the pump I was using.  It struck me as somewhat of an odd question to ask, but I didn't give it a lot of thought and instead found myself wondering if I was older or younger than he was.  This is what I do now that I'm a senior.  My husband and I look at other golden-agers in restaurants or the mall and say to each other, "Do you think we look younger or older than they do?"  My husband usually thinks we look younger.  I usually think we look older.  Not sure if there is some profound meaning in that or not....

Back to the story:  "Regular," I replied as I continued filling my tank, trying to avoid having a heart attack as I watched the dollar amount soar.  In the meantime, out of the corner of my eye I noticed  several times the older gentleman opened the door to his car and spoke to his wife, then returned to the pump, but was still not using it.  When I finished, it occurred to me maybe I should check with him to see if his pump was working.  So I peered around the gas pump and asked if there was something wrong.  He quietly said no and mentioned he just wasn't accustomed to a pump offering three types of gas.

As I drove off it dawned on me, perhaps he actually needed some help.  Duh!!  This delayed reaction is typical of me.  Sometimes I simply don't think on the spot.  I turned into an adjacent parking lot and I could see him standing there motionless, staring at the gas pump screen.  His wife was still inside their car, impatiently banging her cane on the closed car window, trying to get his attention.  So I turned around, went back, got out of my car and asked him If I could help.  He said there were so many buttons and he must have pressed the wrong one because he couldn't get it to work.  So there we were, glaring at the screen, trying to figure out what went wrong.  I had a difficult time finding the cancel button because I didn't have my glasses on.  Big help I was!  By that time, the attendant came out and offered to assist him.  So I left.

This may be difficult for younger people to comprehend, but it is easy for many of us to get confused by a computer screen.  Credit or debit?  Pay inside or outside?  What's your zip code?  Do you want a car wash?  Do you want a receipt?  This poor elderly man was totally befuddled by it all and the "simple" task of filling a gas tank made him feel inadequate.  In his prime, he could have been a professor or CEO.  But it doesn't matter who he had been, the fact is he now no longer has the same quickness of mind.  To find himself at a stage in life where he needs help to buy gas is, I'm sure, devastating to the ego, disconcerting and discouraging.  I certainly should have been more observant and offered to assist him much sooner than I did.

By the way, I concluded he was older than me, in case you are wondering....

Little old couple "lost" in the neighborhood
It brought to mind an incident that occurred about two years ago.  My husband and I walk for exercise every day.  We live in Texas where it tends to get blistering hot in the summer, so we search for streets to walk on that have some shade trees.  One day we were standing in the middle of a neighborhood intersection talking animatedly and pointing here and there as we analyzed which street had more shade.  A younger lady in an SUV stopped and very kindly asked us if we needed some help and were we OK.  We told her we were fine, but as she drove away we quickly realized we must have looked somewhat bewildered and lost.  She probably assumed we had wandered away from the nearby nursing home.  Happily this was not the situation.  But she did exactly the right thing by noticing, being concerned and stopping to make sure.

I guess what I am trying to say is try to be alert, observant and sensitive to the circumstances surrounding elderly people.  They may need some assistance and are too embarrassed to ask.  Sometimes they feel they are in the way or being a nuisance.  There is always the risk of insulting them because they may not welcome intervention.  But if help is offered discreetly, in a caring, friendly way, it is unlikely to be interpreted as an insult.

As the Son of man on this earth, Jesus was keenly observant and saw so many things that went right over the disciples' heads.  For example, from a distance, he  noticed a grieving widow's tears as she trudged along in her son's funeral procession.  His heart went out to her.  He immediately stepped away from the massive crowd that had been following him, went right over to her, and said gently "Don't cry."  Then raised her son from the dead.

Admittedly, helping a slight, timid older man at a gas pump doesn't begin to measure up to what Jesus did.  But the point is, Jesus noticed the widow's plight and compassionately lightened her burden.  To one degree or another, we can do the same if we become aware and responsive to the needs of those of an advanced age, doing whatever it takes to help them avoid feeling inadequate, old and in the way.

The sunset of life can be beautiful....

http://i-love-to-tell-the-story.blogspot.com
(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

"C'mon, Mom, unlock the door!"

Mom and me.  She passed away in 2002.


"C'mon, Mom, unlock the door!"  I pleaded as I rang the door bell.  Nothing...  I knocked loudly, then rattled the door knob.  Still nothing.  I knew she was at home.  I had noticed her peeking through the window as I walked over from my house which was next door to hers.  She had a perfect view from her small bathroom window and often kept track of my comings and goings from that little perch of hers.  "What in the world did I do?" I asked myself out loud.  I was only coming to do some housecleaning.  I had tried to call her before leaving my house, but she refused to answer the phone.  I knew I was in trouble somehow.  I wasn't sure where my dad was at this juncture--probably taking his afternoon nap.

An inveterate caregiver in overdrive, I tended to wholeheartedly jump in there and get things done, a bit like the Energizer Bunny.  I had purposely hired someone to clean my own house so I would have the time to clean my mom's.  There was no way my parents would allow anyone else to come into their home and do the job, especially if it cost money.  And their house was no easy task.  They never wanted to throw anything away.  There were knick knacks and mementos scattered all over, everything from 1920's salt and pepper shakers to a rock collection that came from the California Mojave Desert, all collecting dust.

Occasionally I tried to discard an item I thought no longer had sentimental or monetary value.  Big mistake!  My parents would fetch it out of the trash and place it right back where it "belonged."  These were usually things that were broken or had long since lost their identity.  My mom often wandered wistfully from room to room looking at her things.  She was unable to do much else in her late 80's.  Her memory was fading rapidly, but now and again, as she handled some of her little treasures, she would have happy flashbacks of days gone by.  So most things I left undisturbed, except to dust.

Mom at home with beloved great grandchildren
I always felt pleased with myself after I had done the housecleaning, assuming I was being such a big help to my mom.  So the day she locked me out, I was in for a big revelation.  Once I persuaded her to open the door, I followed her to her favorite rocking chair in the sun room of their house.  This was where my parents spent most of their time.  The huge windows provided a view of woods and wildlife and neighbors.  They especially enjoyed watching one neighbor who always wore a huge straw hat in the mid-day sun as he mowed his acreage on his rider mower.  For some reason this was major entertainment for them.  Not sure why....

When I asked her why she was mad at me, my mom said, "You insult me by coming over here and cleaning my house all the time.  My house is not dirty!"  Hello!  This was news to me.  Though her memory would come and go and she had serious health issues, this clearly did not prevent Mom from feeling embarrassed because she could no longer do her job.  My eager-beaver demeanor drove her nuts.  Of course her house did need attention, but it was her house. She had always been the housekeeper until she became frail.  There are other ways I could have approached the jobs at hand and been more respectful of her territory, rather than blow in like a tornado, vacuuming and dusting and washing and cleaning.

Perhaps you are familiar with the Gospel story about sisters Mary and Martha.  In one instance, Martha ran around frantically trying to prepare a meal for Jesus and be a super-hostess. She was quite upset with her sister, Mary, who instead of helping her, sat attentively at Jesus' feet listening to his words of life.  Jesus told Martha she was overly involved in the preparations and had the wrong focus.  Though the lesson in that particular story carries a much deeper spiritual meaning, Martha's well-intended, but misguided zeal described me perfectly.  I rushed about focusing on getting things done, overlooking the age-related emotional needs of my mom.

The moral of the story?  Tread lightly when you find yourself with an opportunity to help an aging senior, particularly if you are on their territory.  I thought Mom would be relieved and overjoyed to have someone take over and do all the work.  But I had forgotten it was her house.  Keeping it up had been an integral part of her identity and no longer being able to do so meant her life, as she once knew it, was slipping away.  Being unaware of this dynamic makes it easy for a caregiver to step on toes or come across as dismissive or insulting, and this can cause an elderly person to feel expendable, old and in the way.

The tasks can still be accomplished by using tact and diplomacy, easing into situations rather than showing up, mop and broom in hand, and vigorously invading their territory.

Oh, and just so you know...Mom never locked me out again.


The sunset of life can be beautiful.....

For more on story of Mary and Martha, see post "This Sister of Mine" http://i-love-to-tell-the-story.blogspot.com
(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

"There she is!"

My dad at age 90

Every time I walked in the door, Dad would clap his hands once, look really pleased and say, "There she is!"  He was always sitting in his not-so-gently worn, green upholstered recliner, surrounded by small tables piled high with Bibles and commentaries.  In front of him was a tray-type contraption he had made that lay across the arms of the chair, outfitted with a built-in pencil/pen holder.  Sticking out of all his books and Bibles were those little stiff advertising cards people receive in the mail. Dad used them as book marks.  It seems every other page was "book marked" because every other page was important to him.  Behind his chair was a heavy, rusty stand-up lamp that must have been at least 50 years old, with a long chain to turn it on and off.

Sidewalk from Dad's door to mine.
I don't remember exactly when he started greeting me that way but I had become so accustomed to it, it barely had an impact on me.  It's funny the things one gets used to.  Now that dad is gone, I can't begin to tell you what I would give to receive that greeting just one more time.  In his 90's my dad was living alone, having lost his life partner of  70 years.  His little house was next door to mine, with an unusually long sidewalk from my door to his, a sidewalk he specifically designed and had put in.  Through a sliding glass door near his chair, he would expectantly watch for me coming down the walkway, which I did several times a day to check on him.

He always wanted me to sit down so he could tell me all about what he had been reading, or a "new truth" he had discovered from his research.  And sometimes, I would accommodate him.  But, thinking I didn't have the time, most of my visits were for the purpose of making him something to eat, or cleaning his house or washing his clothes or feeding Maggie, the little stray dog he adopted.  So I busily went about getting things done and I know he was happy to have some company, but what he really wanted was for someone to listen to him.  He would talk to anyone, including strangers, and the first question he would ask was "Are you a Christian?"  Then no matter what the reply, he would immediately say, "Sit down, let's talk!"

My dad's education ended with the 6th grade.  But that didn't stop him from enjoying learning.  His mind was bursting with ideas.  He was continually inventing things or streamlining existing machines to make them more efficient.  He could fix just about anything.  His interests were numerous, from bee keeping and smoking meat to solar energy.  Right into his early 90's, he would follow construction workers or repairmen who came on his property, asking questions or giving advice....actually mostly giving advice.  As his physical strength ebbed away, studying his beloved Bible and all his well-marked books became his main focus.  And that suited him just fine, because that was his favorite thing anyway.  He died at age 93.

My mom and dad,  married 70 years
In the course of his life, there were occasions when his voice had been more readily heard.  Never on a grand scale, of course.  However, as the years went by, his stage grew smaller and smaller.  Yet deep inside there was still so much he wanted to say.  I realize that now.  He needed to be re-assured that what he said still mattered.  The need to be validated doesn't diminish with age.  In fact, it increases.  In my dad's case, he eventually became basically housebound and had few visitors, so if I didn't provide a format for his voice to be heard, then it was as though the spotlights were turned off, the curtains closed and the audience had left.  And that happened way too often.  I was simply too caught up in all the physical care that I thought "needed" to be done for him.

If I had it to do over again, I would spend loads more time just sitting and listening.  And even if I didn't agree, I would still listen.  Even if it didn't make any sense, I would still listen.  Some elderly people have few friends and no family visitors and therefore no stage for their voice to be heard.  Already constrained by aging bodies, the added frustration of not being "heard" is discouraging and demeaning.

It is fascinating to consider the reasons God the Father used a devout old man named Simeon to bless the infant Jesus when he was brought to the temple to be consecrated.  Simeon had waited all his life for the redemption of Israel.  He had been given a special revelation that he would not die before seeing the Messiah with his own eyes.  When Jesus' parents entered the temple, Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms, praised God and pronounced a blessing on him and his parents.  The Scripture says Mary and Joseph marveled at his words.  What Simeon said mattered.  He could now die in peace, honored and validated.

If it is within your power to provide a listening format for a senior citizen, I hope you will do so.  Don't leave it up to the caregivers.  They can grow weary.  The bigger the stage, the better.  Otherwise they may spend their final years feeling useless, old and in the way.  And they will wonder: "  Did you hear me?  Did what I say matter to you?  Was my life worthwhile?"

The sunset of life can be beautiful....

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011
Photos by Joyce Catherwood

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

These Pancakes Taste Like Rubber

My Aunt Polly in the nursing home.
                                        
About 3 pm one Tuesday, we received a phone call informing us that my Aunt Polly, my late mom's beloved baby sister, was in a hospital and not expected to live through the night.  We immediately drove four hours to a small town south of Austin.  Arriving late, we stopped by the hospital to check on my aunt, who recognized us, but was confused and groggy due to the medication she had been given.  She needed to rest.

The next morning, we hesitantly entered her room expecting the worse.  But there she was, sitting up in bed eating breakfast, complaining to her son, who had just arrived from Florida, about the rubbery pancakes.  She was miraculously back to her feisty self and mad at the hospital because, as she put it, "When they think you're gonna die, they call all the relatives."  Two days later, she was back in business in her nursing home.

Since at age 87 her mind was sharp as a tack and she was quite mobile, she practically ran the nursing home where she was a patient, always volunteering and acting as liaison between staff and residents.

Biggest catch of the day!
And she participated in everything--bingo every afternoon, annual fishing from a children's play pool in the yard, watermelon-seed-spitting contests, riding on parade floats and even an occasional gambling night.  She always seemed to win first prize for the costume contests, her most notable being Little Red Riding Hood. She was accompanied by the man who lived across the hallway, impersonating the Big Bad Wolf.  Dancing the Charleston in her flaming red flapper costume was another big hit.  And when a visiting Mexican band threw a big sombrero in the middle of the lounge area floor, she jumped up and did a Mexican Hat Dance.  Even though her physical surroundings were dismal and her physical stamina was fragile, she decidedly made the best of it.

During one visit with Aunt Polly, I presented her with a dairy and asked her to write anything she wanted.  "Naw, why would I wanna do that?"  was her response.  "Who would read it?"  Assuring her that I would read it still didn't convince her.  But on a subsequent visit a few months later, with a huge smile on her face, she proudly laid the dairy on a table in front of me.  She had written almost 60 pages.  And were we in for a treat!  She insisted on reading every page to us out loud, acting out parts, even singing the songs she mentioned in her writings.

She told us when she started writing she couldn't stop, laughing and crying over the memories as the past flooded into her mind.  She wrote about growing up in a poor, but loving, hardworking Swedish immigrant family in rural central Texas.  Every Saturday, her daddy would give her 25 cents for doing chores and they would go to town.  She spent her 25 cents on a hamburger, Woolworth candy and a toy, then a "picture show."  She writes in her dairy:  "What a beautiful life.... What loving and caring parents we had.... No one ever had as much fun as we did.  We laughed and loved a lot.  Never had an argument.  Not very many can say that."

Her journal describes various jobs as a teenager: One stitching 30 mattresses a day in a mattress factory and another cracking 80 buckets of eggs a day in a factory that made powdered eggs.  She tells about being widowed twice, first as the wife of a WWII, Purple Heart paratrooper.  With her second husband she worked day and night in the oil fields.  He taught her to hunt, deep-sea fish and build a boathouse.  Though her life was far from easy, she wrote:  "If I had my life to live over, I wouldn't change a thing."

Little did I realize how much writing in that journal would validate Aunt Polly.  Too often, particularly as we age, we feel insignificant, old and in the way.  Capturing the past in written expression reminded my aunt that her lifetime had significance.  There is an inherent longing in every person to feel their existence on earth has meaning and value.  Jesus set the highest standard by putting the greatest value possible on each of our lives and dramatically proved it by his death on a cross for us.  It is easy to become distracted by everyday living and forget how beloved we are by our Creator.

Three months after her hospital stay, Aunt Polly died.  Not wanting to be fussed over, she asked the staff in the nursing home and the hospital ER not to contact family immediately.  This time, she was simply too exhausted to hang on and was eager to finally be with her Lord.

During the long drive to attend her funeral, I fretted about whether many would attend to honor her memory.  Silly me!  Her funeral service was full of friends, family and staff members from the nursing home.  There were warm tributes and numerous portions of her cherished journal were read aloud.  Even her beloved pastor laid aside her normal clergy robe to conduct the service and wore a bright red blouse and cherry red lipstick because red was Aunt Polly's favorite color.

A small grave was dug next to her second husband's for her cremated remains.  Her passage here on earth was over.  But the stories in her dairy and memories of her non-nonsense demeanor and determined participation in life live on, rubbery pancakes and all. 

Try coaxing an aging parent, grandparent or loved one to write some of their stories in a journal or have them dictate stories to you so you can pen them in a keepsake dairy.  You will have a true treasure on your hands for yourself and generations to come.

The sunset of life can be beautiful....
(C) Joyce Catherwood 2011
Photos by Joyce Catherwood