The Last Best Place on Earth

For Dad, it’s Alive Hospice, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The Nashville facility was full and the admissions nurse so determined that Dad needed to be there that she sent him to the Murfreesboro campus at midnight Friday.

Daddy rests in a large room halfway between the nurse’s desk and a family room containing comfortable chairs, recliners, and couches that flip into beds. There are several family rooms here, one with a dining area in front of a wall full of windows. The light streams in as if on cue.

In Dad’s room, we keep the lights dim. The room is quiet and peaceful; so is Dad.

He only stayed at the skilled nursing facility less than two days. We knew it was not the place for him, and when his kidneys began to fail Friday, the attending nurse practitioner recommended an immediate move.

With the help of the SNF’s social workers and nurses, Alive Hospice Nurse Gail ordered an ambulance for 11:00 P.M. They arrived at 11:45, two youngsters in ball caps reading Medic One.

“I’ll be riding in the back with him,” the smaller one said. “I see his diagnosis here is dementia. Has he ever become combative or kicked or punched a nurse or tech?”

I hesitated. “Yes, he did at the hospital, but that was when he was in complete psychosis. He’s not doing that now.”

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that if that happens….”

Big Guy butted in. “No, no,” he told his sidekick. “If something happens, you just let me know and I’ll pull over to the side of the road and come back there to help you get him calmed. We want to be very soft…soft.”

I could actually imagine a scene like that.

I left before the ambulance. The ramp to I-440 was closed, probably because of a fatal accident earlier in the day, but when I turned around to go the opposite direction, there were cars making left turns onto the interstate so I followed them.

I met Shirley, the night charge nurse, the techs, and the front door security guard. Shirley went over the care plan, medications that they’d be using, and ways they operate. She said the doctor would see me on Saturday. I told her it was already Saturday.

A nurse stuck her head in the room. “I am wondering what is taking that transport so long. Did you leave a long time before they did?”

“No, I was right in front of them, but I bet they got to that closed ramp and found another route.”

Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. They were automatically re-routed.

Dad was awake. Shirley explained what was happening.

“Ernie, we’re going to give you some pain medication and then we’ll give you a bath first thing and get you all freshened up.”

Two techs and two nurses busied themselves over him. He talked to them in slurred speech and from an altered state, but they caught about every third sentence.

“You are a handsome man,” one said. Another asked him about his 72-year marriage. “What’s the secret?” she asked.

“Let each other be free to grow and develop” is what we think we heard. I confirmed that he might have said that.

Then came the washing of the private parts.

“Ernie, we are going to have to wash you down there. Normally, we’d just let you do it, but you have some leftover bm there and we want you to be clean, okay?”

“Ah, you girls just want to look at me,” he said. “All the time.”

We all laughed at him.

“No, we don’t, but I’m going to raise your gown and clean you up and then we’ll put a fresh pad and gown on you.”

He picked up a towel a tech had left beside him. “Then I’m just going to put this over my face,” he said, and hid his whole head from the offending eyes.

We laughed some more, but they got him cleaned up and bundled up in his new bed.


Dad now gets a pretty stiff cocktail of haldol, morphine, and a valium-like drug. The dosage is small but repeatable. If he is not calm twenty minutes after the last offering, the nurse starts the routine again, or she slightly increases the morphine.

He lies quiet in the bed most of the time but when the meds start to wear off, he twists, grimaces, and mumbles.

The grandsons and families came to visit yesterday, including Jaxton and Savannah, ages 5 and 3. Neither was upset by Grandpa’s condition. Savvy said hi to him several times, anxious to get an answer from him.  Mom was glad to see the little ones.

I stayed last night. I played music to him and sang to him, hoping something might connect. In the middle of the night, I heard him say, “Diana.” I wasn’t sure of that until I sat up and waited for him to call me again. It’s like what happens when you try to say my name without being able to move the tongue.

“Lie-ah-uh,” it sounds like.

“What, Dad? What do you need?”

He grasps my hand. I kiss him on his old bald head.

“You’re in a really good place,” I tell him.


Lent…and New Year’s Resolutions

 Boy-oh-boy, Ash Wednesday seemed to come early this year—what to give up for Lent, what to take on, what to lose, what to find, what to… I’m still pondering my New Year’s Resolutions.

I made some. It took me until January 11 to adopt my list of intended personal improvements for 2013. I make resolutions every year. There have been years—and years—that I have vowed to “lose fifty pounds and walk to China” as my friend says and at first I added to my 2013 list,“Weigh xxx on x date.” (On x date, the Revells will be attending the Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City, Montana.)

There’s a reason I don’t include that intention on my final 2013 list: I’m a bit superstitious. Dr. Joyce Brothers (remember her?) appeared to me in a dream the night of January 10. In my dream, she just faded in and then faded out, but the next morning I remembered that sometime in the early seventies, I saw her on the Mike Douglas show and she talked about goals. I know exactly where I was standing and what I was doing. The boys were both down for the afternoon nap. I stepped into the living room from the kitchen, drying a plate with a dishtowel. Dr. Brothers said that perhaps it would help to set a “series of small goals” rather than one large one. Mike asked her to give us an example.

She answered, “If you are washing dishes, and it seems too overwhelming a task to accomplish, perhaps you could say ‘I’ll wash all the silverware’.”  Then, she said, after you’ve washed and rinsed the forks and knives, you make a promise on the salad plates.

Dishes? She thought washing the dishes was worthy of goal-setting? I sat down in the rocking chair, the plate and towel in my lap, when I heard her say, “You psychologically reward yourself when you accomplish that small piece of your larger goal.” I thought, maybe even aloud, that anyone who had to set a series of small goals to wash the dishes was in bad trouble for anything truly worthy of accomplishment.

After my Joyce Brothers sighting that morning, I considered my long, oppressive list of possible resolutions and thought about small steps I could take to work toward the major changes. I concluded that might be too ambitious and unrealistic and that what I needed was a shorter list. I was a tad inspired—only a tad—but I reduced the multiple-item list to three. I combined, eliminated, and re-stated resolutions to get to:

  1. Never wear pants that are too short.
  2. Walk every day.
  3. Get off sugar, as in “eliminate sugar from my diet”.

Gone were such specificities of the original promises as “Be two sizes down in my jeans by May”, “Give away half of my 40 T-shirts”, and “Walk to China and lose 50 pounds.” I completely forsook entire original list items like “Meditate/Read/Journal daily”, “Write every day”, and “Organize that *!%$ garage.” I cleverly placed myself in the arena of the possibility of success by declaring only three (3) resolutions.

#1 seemed easy. I tried on and sorted “too short” and “okay”. The dress pants are fine, but only one pair of jeans gets the label “okay”. #1 could get difficult, certainly expensive. There are two resolutions to this resolution dilemma and I’m going to use both of them. One, wear lower heels with the shorter jeans. Two, save the shorter jeans for summer cropped jeans; they’ll look fine with sandals. I changed #1 and I think it’s going to work:

  • Never wear pants that are too short. (Substitute “buy” for the “wear“.)

Let’s talk about #2. I don’t know when (although I do know why) I made the decision, but I changed #2:

 Walk every day.  Get some kind of exercise every day.

Then I changed it again:

Walk every dayGet some kind of exercise every day. (Substitute “MOVE” for the strike-through words.)

I figured the stairs to The Cellar would count; I could make extra trips up and down. I also ordered Zumba Gold – Live It Up. I haven’t started my dance exercise education yet but I have new shoes. And I’ve kept the bird feeders filled (another abandoned resolution from List Uno). And I’ve made great progress on one I mentioned earlier in this writing, the one about “that *!%$ garage”.

Let me just say that it takes stamina and calories to hoist boxes of chafing dishes and bins of T-shirts. I moved a before-plasma, ante-LCD 36-inch TV along with an HP multi-function printer that insists it has a paper jam when I know that it does not. (Somebody else is going to have to deal with that big fat liar.) I climbed on ladders and stools; I stretched, bended, and bounced. I dug and sifted and swept.

I also sat and sorted and remembered. Things like a program from my high school musical, Guys and Dolls, provided not only a jaunt up and down Memory Lane but also time for rest. I gave myself permission to spend time. I let myself wander through the boys’ report cards and achievement tests; there was plenty of time to re-visit favorite cards and letters.  I remembered that resolution I wrote that said, “Work at being present” and followed it with “Live in the moment”. My leafing through old pages was hardly “present” but I was present for the experience and I was certainly living in that blessed moment.

I sort of “came to” (Southern speech for “woke up from being out cold”) one evening after a particularly productive three hours in the garage. I only stopped working when the back end of the garage became too dark, even with the door open, to see what I was doing. I considered that I was tired; I wondered how many calories I had expended. But my promise to myself wasn’t to burn calories; it was to set aside time to just move—intentionally and regularly.

So, today, while Dave installed two additional overhead utility lights so that I can see to finish my storage project, I hurried to a neighborhood church to start a regimen on the family life center’s walking track. I remember that walking time is thinking time and I turn joyful. Walking is meditation. I think of savoring these weekly hours on the track.

Walking at the church costs $15.00 a year. I get a tote bag when I walk 592 miles—“to Branson, MO.” If I come back (and I might not since I’ve never been to Branson), I get a gift certificate for double that mileage. At least it’s not to and from China.

January 15 marked the first day of infringement on #3.

I hate to blame a baby, but when my new grandson Jaxton didn’t arrive by 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and there did arrive a prediction that “it will probably be 6:30 or so”, OtherGrammy Helen and I made a break for the cafeteria. After a small and sensible meal, we dawdled in the hospital gift shop, almost as if our absence from the OB waiting room could somehow hasten Anjie’s labor.

There was a sale on everything Christmas-themed. I found the perfect thing, a size 18-24 months furry reindeer jacket, complete with antlers and red nose on the hood.. Somehow, a Snickers bar, a Yorkshire Mint Patty, and a bag of Peanut M & M’s snuck their way into my bag to keep company with Jaxton’s next (first) Christmas coat.

I’m not saying a word about what Helen and Anjie’s sister Jackie brought back to the waiting room. That’s their business, but I will say that the condition and inhabitants of the place where you wait for babies propelled all three of us into a gone-rogue sucrose attack.

Six young women sported primary colored hair; I lost count of combinations on others. There was no end to the tats on one guy, even when he stood still, never mind the piercings. A full-back dragon on another (shirtless) was mesmerizing; the tail swerved down his right leg. (He donned saggy shorts.) And there was this one fellow who somehow lost the entire crotch of his pants! How do I know? Because he showed us.

For some reason, a fast-food bag rested under every third chair. I noted McDonald’s, Arby’s, Hardee’s, and Taco Bell (my choice of the four–it was NOT my bag, though). A garbage can sat less than twenty feet away from any row of chairs.

A young mother (I don’t know what relation she was to which imminent birth) arrived with a fat set of keys on an 18-inch pink lanyard. For forty-five minutes, she swung the keys by the end of the strap, round and round through the air, scraping the floor with a loud crash when gravity inevitably brought them down swing after swing. She only lost complete control of the keys one time and they launched across the room, unfortunately stopped by the full wall of windows. I fleetingly hoped the big wad of metal would break the plate glass and sail into the HVAC unit on the roof, but no. She was just as quick to retrieve the keys and start the swing all over again.

And then First-time Grammy (FTG) two rows away succumbed to the stress of pre-Grammyhood and stood in the middle of the room to sob, “Why don’t they do something for her?” Shortly thereafter, “they” did do something for “her” and FTG’s daughter brought her own nine pound daughter into the world via C-section. First-time Grammy de-railed again but was, this time, quickly comforted. I felt her helplessness—and then her relief.

Jaxton Edward Graham said hello with a loud wail at 8:35 p.m., according to the young blonde female doctor who finally came to take us to the room at 10:30. I fell in love with all 6 pounds 7 ounces of him. He looked teensy in the arms of his big daddy.

I ate the M&M’s on the drive home. All that was in the bag of reddish brown fur was Jaxton’s reddish brown reindeer coat. The sugar solution evades me yet.

I do know this: Resolutions only work for me if there is only one resolution. It’s a vague statement, an elusive promise, but the same every year, every month, every day: Balance. Everything in moderation. Live abundantly, but live. Be frugal, but generous. Organize for the future, but live in the moment. Let the past be gone, but savor memories. Be happy, and dance. Dance, and move. Move a little, and move more.  Moving inspires good eating. Eat well can mean eat less. A treat is special at a special time.

Pare down and attend more intensely. Diana, dwell on the riches: a new grandbaby, healthy Mom and Dad, loving children, a place to write, books to read, a working body. Warmth in winter, shade in summer, the stillness of the ravine.

Clean out the clutter. Give away. Consume little. Share everything. Work to be a good human.

So what singular item do I choose that might start a chain of living in balance? What might feed my spirit most? What might be most appropriate for Lent?

In the most real observance of Lent, we discover the full humanity of the Jesus of Christianity. So much of the time, it is so much easier to imagine mystical divinity than to accept the flesh and blood human—the human like us, the human that we are also meant to be.

For my Lenten journey, I’ll begin with time for a thoughtful walk—three or four times a week. At the very least.

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