Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wheelchairs: A Necessary Evil

I am not quite sure when Mom and Dad acquired a wheelchair for her use. I do know that they acquired two, one called a transfer chair for easy use within the house and the other for a more regular wheelchair designed to use on a permanent basis. They seemed to have simply appeared out of no where. I do know the exact day Mom started using the regular wheelchair. It was night time actually. I had been given a wonderful opportunity to perform with a semi-professional local orchestra as the second chair flautist. Although not worthy of this position, I was incredibly honored and flattered and to make it all the more exciting, I was to play beside my long time flute teacher who was now just a friend and a part of my past. I could not wait to tell my parents, but mostly I could not wait to tell Mom because she was truly my only fan and I knew she would be ecstatic. She was!

As I searched the crowd for my husband and my parents, I struggled to find them. I was expecting to see them in a usual proud-family location within the first few front center rows but this was not so. Instead I located them in the side balcony. My heart sank when I noticed that Mom was in the wheelchair, but she was beaming from ear to ear and I could swear she was sitting on the edge of her seat just like she always did when she was vicariously enjoying one of my accomplishments. It's funny, but I don't even remember the music that was played that night. I don't even remember where the concert was held or even if I was nervous. I only remember that this was the first time that my Mom had used the wheelchair in public.

At first, Mom was still able to walk and do simple tasks but as the brain damage settled in, she became very off balance and her left side was not cooperating with what she wanted it to do. She used a walker for a period of time, but this became a dangerous weapon in her hands since she was unable to pick it up and slide it while simultaneously taking a step forward. This caused it to catch and thrust her forward. She would have many near misses of tumbling down stairs or inadvertently keeling over sideways. This was such a hazard. Enter the wheelchair. Although obviously a necessary tool, wheelchairs have their evils. For Mom, it became a "crutch". No one is to blame, it is just what happens. She became weaker and her already weak left side deteriorated immensely. Her balance, when having to transfer her, became dangerously skewed. Her posture assumed the conforms of the wheelchair seat making her sit in a chronic bent, slightly drooping position. This, in turn, made her head hang down from her neck like it is an over sized Christmas ball hanging from it's decorated tree limb. Because of this, she started to drool and have increasingly difficult times eating properly without choking. It is a never ending vicious cycle that only spins downward. Now we are dealing with incontinence issues. Before the wheelchair, she could be transferred easily to a bathroom where she could still maintain her dignity by performing her duties naturally. Now, she wears a diaper because no one can get her there in the appropriate amount of time. It used to take one person to help her with the toileting, then it took two people. Now a wonderful piece of equipment called a stand-lift machine does the job. Damn that wheelchair.

Why is it that I melt into gooey mush when I see a sweet little baby or toddler sitting all slumped and cozily squished in their umbrella stroller? It is extra sweet to see their little heads painfully crooked to one side while they drool and sleep soundly like little angels in their chairs. Why don't I feel this way when I see my mother sitting, sleepily drooling in her chair? It is such a cruel turn of events. It is what it is and I cannot do anything about it. I have nothing more to say about the necessary evil of Mom's wheelchair.


Sunday, August 16, 2009


Christmas was never the same in our house once my oldest sister married and moved on. This event took place four days before Christmas in 1975. I was only 10 years old. Not only did my sister leave our cozy, teasing, obnoxious, and loving family but Mom decided to redecorate the entire living room and dining room which meant that the Christmas tree could not be in it's standard place in front of our huge picture window. These two remarkable events in the eyes of my tender 10 years of age were devastating to me. Once the thrill of the wedding wore off, the reality of knowing that our family and it's dynamics were forever changed. Being the youngest of 4 siblings, I watched as one by one my siblings left the fold, never to return again to the family as I had once known it to be. How was I to survive? Well, I did survive thanks to my ever patient and omniscient mother. She told me that my role in this family as the youngest was to learn to accept change and embrace it, don't fight it. I remember asking her if I could cry about it before I embraced it and she said yes but don't drag it out! Ya gotta love her!

When the aging process began with my parents, I thought, no sweat, I can handle this; I have been well conditioned and well prepared. Not so. I struggled with this terribly. My husband and I are both the babies of the families and we made a decision early on in our marriage that we would not move out of state due to the fact that our parents may need us in their aging years. Aging seemed to happen so suddenly but in reality, it did not. Yes, there was the graying hair and the all-of-a-sudden inability to see anything without any type of eyeglass wear but there were other things too. For Mom, the second battle with cancer really knocked her for a loop. She took to the bed too easily and was constantly watching television. This was because the brain damage had made it so that simple tasks, like reading and needlework, were a virtual impossibility for her. Her handwriting changed too. It became so difficult for her that she stopped trying all together. (Maybe this is why I cherish anything that is handwritten by her). These things I know were premature aging due to her disease but there were other things as well. Like the inability to have multiple plans for one week let alone one day. I was so dismayed by this because my Mom had always been able to go in twenty different directions and not miss a beat. For Dad, his aging process seemed to start after two accidents. The first was his fall from a ladder, resulting with a bad break in his arm. Then just a few short weeks later he had a car accident with a teenage girl who had just gotten her license and ran a stop sign, smashing into my Dad and his car. He never really healed properly from either one of those accidents. I noticed that his pace slowed tremendously and that he too watched way too much television at ridiculously high decibels. What was going on? Then there was this inability to eat lunch at lunchtime and dinner at dinner time. These meals seemed to get earlier and earlier. To make matters worse, they would go to bed at 7! What? We could never call them or reach them after this time of night because they would turn off the ringers. One of the biggest shockers was the fact that they started to eat much smaller portions of food thus enabling them to think that other people eat these small amounts. Our family is big on food, not just any food but good food-okay, maybe any food. We love it. We can't even talk about any type of food without salivating. Most of our family fun was always gathered around an excellent meal. Both Mom and Dad were very good cooks but it was my Dad who had the sophisticated and extraordinary palette. He taught us to enjoy it to the fullest! We did and still do. Why, then, when we invited them over for a meal did they only bring one tomato or a handful of something? What happened to the gloriously large helpings and the well orchestrated food plans? When did my parents become O.Fs? As usual, I took my mother's advice and embraced the change, but not before having a good cry.

As I gaze across the room at my sweet and gentle husband, I watch as he struggles to read whatever it is in front of him because now he needs to wear reading glasses. He never seems to have them on him at any appropriate time. Like any good wife, I comment about this (okay, maybe it's more like a nag) and then he looks at me and holds his hand to his ear and says, "What?" After I fall on the floor hysterically laughing at him because HE WAS SERIOUS, I realize: Oh no, no, no, no, no, I am NOT ready for this change!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Duct Tape

Dad used to always fix things around the house. I have vivid memories of him kneeling on the ground, sweating profusely while his arms were immersed in a huge hole where some leak from the pool pipe ran from our house out to the pool pump. He had a remarkable way of muttering and cursing unintelligible things while working on the problems around the house, yard and pool. If you didn't know any better you would swear that the author of A Christmas Story stole this classic scene from our family when Ralphie's dad would clang, bang and mutter like the Tasmanian devil while trying to fix the furnace in the depths of their basement. While clad in his bathing suit and v-neck Hanes white undershirt ( a very attractive attire I might add), my Dad could fix anything. I have no idea when he switched from using real fix-it items to duct tape but somehow it happened and our house became adorned with this silvery-vinyl-fabric-reinforced-incredibly-tacky (not to mention sticky)-multi-purpose tape. Emphasis on tacky and multi-purpose. This stuff can fix anything and Dad started using it on EVERYTHING. Thank heavens it was after I moved out and started a family of my own before Dad fell prey to his new obsession. What is it with men and duct tape? I just don't get it.

The first hints of the silvery adhesive appeared in the interior of the house on minor fix-it problems. For instance, Dad would use it to reinforce the hammer handle or to fix the battery door of our portable phone so that the batteries would stop popping out. These uses were practical and relatively harmless but then he stepped it up a notch and started using it on things like the toilet or the ceramic tiled wall in the bathroom where the tile was not sticking to the grout anymore. Pretty! It also appeared on the porch door handle. This was a puzzle to me because I had to de-tape and de-string (this was also a favorite fix-it item) the handle when we were trying to get the house ready for the realtor. After unraveling yards and yards of string , I would tackle the incredibly durable and amazingly ginormous amount of duct tape only to discover that the handle was not really broken?! Huh???? The worst was when it started appearing outside of the house. Someone had decided to pull a prank on the neighborhood and bat down all of the mailboxes. No problem! We'll use duct tape to put it back on the post! That bloody mailbox never did come off the post again! He was even using it on Mom's wheelchair. For some reason, her side brakes lost the little grip pads so Dad in his ever-so ingenious jerry-rigging way used an old screwdriver handle to replace the pad and guess what he used to adhere it to the brake? Yup, duct tape! I don't know which looked worse, the tape or the unsightly screwdriver handle. Oy Vay.

Okay, okay, so I've saved the best for last. It's the van. It's all over it. What is he thinking? I don't know. All I know is that stuff is holding the van together. It's on the front and back bumpers, the mirrors (yes, both side mirrors), and it is used to cover up any and all of the minor fender bender boo boos that are ALL OVER THE PLACE! What can I say? It is hysterical and my kids get as huge kick out of it. I just wish I could be there when he drops it off for state inspection. You just know those guys are having the time of their life when they get to drive it into the garage and inspect it up close. Can you imagine what Click and Clack, the Tappett brothers, would do with that one on their weekly radio show? They would laugh and snort forever! Wow, it's just that bad!

Ah well, as I have said before, memories are a good thing and so I prefer to remember my Dad as the Mr. Fix-it who used real fix-it items. He really did fix things........didn't he?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Master Gardener

Although Mom never had any formal training in horticulture nor did she receive any certification for a master gardener program, she was incredibly knowledgeable and fairly well known in the Chester County area. With dizzying accuracy she could spew out nomenclature that included the genus, specific epithet, cultivars, subspecies and hybrid of any plant that grew in our region. I did not fully comprehend or appreciate her knowledge until I discovered a video journal that she had been keeping of her garden (once again this is something she did on the cusp her of second diagnosis for cancer). Here she walks us through her gardens on a weekly basis describing and naming every new growth that had come up that week. Now that I too am a certified plant freak, I was floored by her knowledge and fluency in this floral language. Better yet, I completely understand this Latin language! Oh how I wish we could share that together now.

Our yard was always open for impromptu tours of her gardens as well as the popular, scheduled ticketed tours set up by local arboreta and horticultural societies. People would come far and wide to ooh and ah at her spectacular cultivations. When the gardens weren't on tour, she ran a small perennial sale business where she would divide all that she grew and offer it to anyone and everyone for a steal. It was a word-of-mouth type business that nearly drove my Dad nuts but she thrived on this and loved forming new and lasting friendships along the way some of whom are clients of mine now.

Although horticulture seemed to be her main passion, Mom had other ways of "planting seeds". She was very passionate about her Christian faith and spent countless hours volunteering at our church that was located a mere two houses up the street from us. Unfortunately, Dad did not share this love and neither did we but when Mom had a passion for something, nothing stopped her! Her prayer, faith and gentle persuasion got the best of me and so reluctantly at first, I trailed along behind her. I am forever grateful for this seed that she gently planted in me. My faith grew and grew and I spent the remainder of my teenage years and all of my spare time at church. This is not only where my faith planted itself firmly in me, but it is where I met and married my husband of 25 years. She had a way of not cramming her faith down your throat. Instead, she gently and even quietly planted her seeds and like a good gardener, she would step back and watch them grow only tending to them when she thought it was necessary.

Mom can no longer tend to her seeds of faith and beloved horticultural plants by herself but I know she lives vicariously through me and I have vowed to carry on her passions. Today at The Barclay, I am happy to say that both my mother and my father tend to three house plants that grow in the lounge area. There is a sign posted among the plants and it reads "These plants are lovingly tended to by Martha and Ken Barnett." Dad helps Mom water them. The thought of this usually gives me a lump in my throat but I have to say the plants are happy, healthy and thriving...and so are Mom and Dad.