Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Deserve The Title...

...of Worst Blogger EVAR.

Or I should at least be a contender. I'm sorry I've been away. I've kept up a few posts over at, but I have no excuse for my absence here but my own laziness and restlessness. (Yes, you can be afflicted with both of these at once. I am living proof.)

Maybe "laziness" is a bad word. Perhaps "procrastination" is better.

Anyway, Gram is still holding on. She isn't doing well at all, though...and the Hospice nurse was surprised that she made it through last week. Yesterday and today were bad days. She couldn't speak at all, and was almost completely nonresponsive tonight. We are also having to force liquids down her with an eye-dropper. I just have an awful feeling that she'll end up dying of dehydration. I hear that it's very common for this to happen and that a majority of folks in Gram's state do in fact die from lack of fluids. Personally, I can't stand the thought of this, which is why I forced a cup of liquid into her tonight. I don't think she wanted it, or at least not all of it. It took five hours to get it down her with the dropper, and a few times she closed her mouth on top of it, almost as if to mock my attempt! How dare, Ms J!

Oh, my Ms. J. I don't want you to leave me. I know you have to, but I don't want you to and I will miss you so much. I just hate to see you in pain...

I told her this. It didn't come out that well, and I'm not even sure she could hear me. All I could get were a couple soft moans and a furrowed brow. I just laid my head on her chest and cried for a little bit, not bothering to hide it from her. I just don't think any of us gain ANYTHING from the "brave face" bit, any more. We're past that point. Now is the time for honesty, for conversations from one soul to another...even if one can't speak. So much can still be said.

I was in a rotten mood earlier today. I was tired, my back hurt, and I just found myself becoming highly annoyed at my relationships with some of my friends. In one moment I felt like I wanted to reach out, and in the next moment I was upset that more of my friends hadn't reached out to ME. I'm told that I need to stop "demanding" that people act the way I want them to act. I don't think it's "demanding." I think it's just "expecting" and then feeling disappointment when those expectations aren't met. To me that's different than an unspoken demand. Maybe it isn't. Don't care right now, honestly.

To be fair, I know that I haven't reached out to people in the past as much as perhaps I should have. Maybe I'm paying for it now. I don't know. Part of me still feels like I'm getting the ishtty-end of the stick, though. I dunno.

I do know that it's 2am and I know I should be asleep, but I'm afraid. I am afraid she will die tonight and I won't have been there to help her through her last moments. I'm afraid she will feel isolated and alone.

BUT...even though she's had a hard time breathing normally, she hasn't done that fish-breathing thing yet. I sleep? Or should I go sit in the recliner by her bed, just in case? I'm only three or four yards from her doorway right now, so I know I could hear her if need be. But what if she passes in her sleep, rather quietly? I guess there's nothing that I could do anyway, if that's the case...right? Or is there?

I'll let you know in the morning what I chose to do. For now, I am putting this laptop down. Thanks for hearing me out, y'all...and I'm sorry it didn't come sooner. Maybe I'll play catch up in the next few days, if I can.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Night Light" by Janice Lynch

"Night Light"

When I was a preschooler and afraid of the dark, my grandmother, in whose house my family lived, would leave an M&M trail from my bed to hers. I would set forth through the dark house for the night light of her room. Once I'd eaten one M&M, I could find the courage to search for all of them.

My presence in her room always woke her. She would say, "Hello, doll. Dark getting to you?" Then she'd turn back the blankets to make room for me. It was many years before I believed, as my grandmother often said, that there was nothing in the dark that did not exist in the light.

Thirty years later, when a doctor told my grandmother she had widespread kidney cancer, we found ourselves in a different dark. My mind played with the terrible anticipation of her absence, the way your tongue cannot avoid exploring the pain of a fever sore. I wanted to become some sort of light for Grandmom, to blaze a trail from the dark room of her illness, fear, and pain to the light of my love and the love of our family.

But as the days wore on and cancer took her life piecemeal, I clung to what little we could still share. I held her hand and stroked her head. In those last weeks, I sang for her: hymns, spirituals, Irish drinking songs, sea chanteys, "Amazing Grace," and "Lord of the Dance." When I tired of singing, I read aloud: trashy novels, magazine articles, newspaper stories, reports I was writing. The content was meaningless, but my voice calmed her.

During the last two weeks of her life, she taught me to pray the rosary, a ritual I had somehow missed, despite years of Sunday school and church. To her, the rosary was a daily obligation. To me, it was an odd and time-consuming task from an archaic world. She could no longer recite the entire litany aloud and could not keep count of the prayers she had said. She wanted someone to pray it for her. I volunteered. The rosary connected her to her faith and to the past, her parents, her brothers and sisters.

Praying with her as she lay dying became a way to connect and comfort us. I had to concentrate to say each of the prayers on each of the beads, moving them through my grandmother's sore fingers. I could think of nothing else. When we began to pray, it was usually in the midst of her pain and my fear. But by the time we had come full circle, she would be asleep and peaceful, and I would have forgotten, for a while at least, how awful things were.

On the last day of my grandmother's life, she lay in pain in a hospital bed. I could not see the world without her in it, yet I could not bear the world that kept her now. I wanted to say something to release her, and so began to whisper names. I named my sisters and brother, my cousins, my grandmother's siblings; I named streets we had lived on, countries where she had traveled. I whispered and prayed that her tight grip on this life could be loosened by memories of how much she had loved this life, and how well she was loved.

She began to grow calmer later that evening. A priest suggested we play a tape of Gregorian chants for her, and the music stilled her. I went home. My mother and sister were just falling to sleep in her room when she stirred for a moment, sighed, and was gone. As I drove back to the hospital that night, my loss was as overwhelming as the darkness had been 30 years earlier, on my M&M trail to safety. I made that late-night drive to the hospital because I so desperately needed to see my grandmother at peace; it was her turn, again, to guide me through the night, to teach me to walk without fear into the hard moments of this life. I held her rosary beads in my hand and let them rattle against the steering wheel.

-- Janice Lynch

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meet Ms. J/The Situation of the Lovely Ms. J...In Print

Hi folks. I had the opportunity to write a "Meet My Grandmother" article for the local paper here. I've changed names to protect the innocent, as we do around these parts...gotta retain that anonymity, of course. I'm glad I did it, since I had wanted to finish my bio of Ms. J and had thus far failed to do so.

So, here it is.

Meet My Grandmother
by Miss R

 I received a letter recently from an uncle on my mother's side of the family. He offered up advice and encouragement on my current situation, caring for my disabled grandmother. She is my father's mother, thus not a blood relative of this particular uncle. However, he knew her fairly well and was able to describe her to a "T." He used three words in his portrayal of her: conservative, self-reliant and stubborn. 

How accurate.

"Conservative" does indeed describe Ms. J (aka, "Gram"), but only in part. Conservative in political beliefs perhaps, though there is so much more to her than her voter registration card. For instance, my grandmother was "green" before such a term was ever in vogue. Whether it was due to living through the Depression or because of her Scottish roots, I am unsure. (Apparently I am descended from one of the thriftiest nationalities ever to exist.) I also owe my feminist views to my Grandma, though she'd never admit to having anything to do with that dreaded "F-word." Whether she likes it or not, she taught me that as a woman, nothing should hold you back. She was as rough and tumble as any of the ranch hands she knew, and was always the one to tackle home-improvement projects with the gusto of a dog attacking a small animal. Yet, she always had a warm meal ready for "the men" when they came home from a day's work in the field. (I wouldn't be surprised if she was also out in the field with them and was somehow cooking dinner at the same time.)

This brings me to the second adjective my uncle used: "self-reliant." She would always see the home-improvement projects through until they were completely finished, and to her satisfaction. There was no waiting around for anyone. In the spring of the year, when I was a kid, she and my mother would load up my cousins and me and head for the Cabin to fix leaks and cracks in the waterline that formed over the winter. It may not sound like much, but if you understood that a mountain spring was at one end, the Cabin at the other, and how many feet of pvc tubing was in between (a lot), you'd understand what an undertaking that was. Or, if that doesn't illustrate my point, maybe the phrase "let's just take out that wall" does. I think that was her favorite phrase. Family members practically had to hide the crowbar and other [de]construction implements from her, lest we all be drug in to yet another project. I'm pretty sure I grumbled and groaned about this as a kid, or hid in corners or something. Now that I'm in my twenties and have the gift of perfect hindsight, I can see just how admirable her attitude was.

That leaves us with the third word: Stubborn. I recently read a blog that described living in rural Montana as being a lot like being duct-taped inside a refrigerator box with a bear. Well, telling Grandma she was wrong about something might also be described that way. You took your survival into your own hands. Again, this trait is usually blamed on our Scottish heritage. Supposedly the Scots are known to be bull-headed and bellicose. At least, that's the rumor. 

In any case, those three words do describe Gram pretty well. However, many others do too, such as hospitable, talented, outgoing, and adventurous. A few words about her life history will help illustrate my point.

"-----", as she was christened, was born to Christina and Benjamin J. on August 9th, 1922. The family lived in Springdale Montana at the time, as her father worked with the Yellowstone Park Company. A few years later the family moved to Chestnut Valley where she was raised from then on. She had two older sisters, Ms. M and Ms. N, and a younger brother B. Many memorable stories have been told about this time period. For instance, her mother worked as a switchboard operator, and wore roller-skates at work each day in order to make the fastest connections she could. Also, her paternal grandfather employed Charlie Russell as a chore-boy.

She grew up riding horses every day, usually bareback and regardless of the weather. These were the years of the Great Depression, and Gram would always share with us the various ways she and her family saved money and helped out those who were less fortunate than themselves. As I've mentioned, she always taught us to "waste not, want not" and had many creative ways to reuse or recycle everything under the sun. Nothing was ever thrown away unless it was absolutely necessary. No, if it could be washed and reused, it would be. This included plastic plates, cups, and yes, Ziplock bags. 
 In the winter of 1940, Ms. J married the love of her life, Mr. J. They met on her family's ranch, where he worked as a ranch hand for several years before they started courting.  After their marriage, the two moved to a house in Dodge, which was built by Mr. J's uncle. Gram lives in that very same house today. In 1955, Mr. and Ms J began an outfitting business on the south fork of Stickney Creek. The building was originally homesteaded by Mr. J's father, who was a prominent lawyer. The lodge, known to most as "The Cabin" grew over the years to become quite successful. Many seasons of hunting brought the family life-long friendships, including one with Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell. The outfitting [business] specializes primarily in elk and mule deer hunting, though a few people--myself included--enjoy fishing Stickney Creek for mouthwatering Brook trout.

Ms. and Mr. J had three children, M. in 1941, R. 1945, and S. in 1951. Nothing meant more to Gram than her kids and the grandchildren they gave her. I was only one of many children that she helped raise throughout the years--her house was the go-to place for her kids, her kid's kids, and other people's kids. Everyone knew that Ms. J's house was the place to be. There was always yummy food on the table and a warm bed for anyone who needed or wanted it. Plus, she always had a way of making you feel special.

 Ms. J also had quite the adventurous side. She had ridden since she was a small child, and ordinarily thought nothing of getting thrown off a horse. Somewhere around 1970, she was bucked off one of her ranch horses and landed on her neck. As a result, she needed surgery and had her spine fused back together. It was pretty serious business, but it always was that way with Gram. She has had many surgeries through the years due to her active lifestyle. Somehow she was able to balance her wild side with proper manners, classy style and superb taste. (I should probably add "shopping at Kitsons" to her list of favorite hobbies.)

The eighties proved to be trying times. In 1989, after almost a year of treatment, Ms. J's beloved husband passed away in Spokane, Washington. His death was devastating to her and to the rest of the family. Ms. J kept on outfitting with the help of her sons and other family members. She also continued to run the "Star" mail route up Adel and Mission, which she did for 30-odd years. I recall coming home from school one day to find out that a pickup truck had backed over Gram's leg as she was on her way to deliver mail. What did she do? Went down to the post office anyway and started sorting the mail--fully intending to run the route! It wasn't until the postmaster pointed to the blood running down her leg did she agree that, yes, she supposed that seeing a doctor might in fact be a good idea. Stubborn, indeed.

Gram is also very talented and outgoing. She was an active member of Eastern Star and Daughters of the Nile, and because of her rich knowledge of the Dodge area, frequently added to Mountains and Meadows. She also belonged to Women's Club, was a lifetime member of the Methodist Church, and taught Sunday School. Ms. J also had a beautiful voice, regularly sang in choirs, and could play music by ear. (A talent I certainly did not inherit.)

Ms. J was once given an award for "Best Hunting Camp Cook" by some of the hunting lodge's patrons. She enjoyed cooking even outside of the Cabin, and made fabulous wedding and birthday cakes. She always made the most scrumptious treats for every holiday, such as Bunny Rolls for Easter, popcorn balls at Christmas, corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's Day, etc. Truly, feeding people probably counts as one of her favorite things to do. Since she's been disabled, it's been very hard on her to not be the one to cook for her guests. Since it then falls to me, I find myself nervous that I won't be able to fill her shoes, even if I did have the best teacher imaginable.

A further example of her outgoing nature is her ability to make friends. She would chat with people while standing in line at the DMV and recognize them five years later when she ran into them in the grocery aisle of Sam's Club. Her outgoing nature and attention to detail meant that she never forgot a face...or a story. Story-telling, one of her other talents, was one that produced the most memorable childhood moments. On her way to work, my mother would leave me at my grandparent's house in Dodge, and I would cuddle in bed with Gram. She would tell me story after story about flower fairies, moonbeams, and silly stories about hiding under the bed amongst "fuzz balls."

Over the last ten years, Gram has survived strokes and a broken hip. Her health has been in steep decline over the last year, and the doctors tell us that she doesn't have much longer to live. This news saddens all of us, and all of the family has rallied around to visit.  This article has given me the chance to tell the community about my loving grandmother at a time when I most needed to share all that she has done for me and for others. She spends her days relaxing and watching some of her favorite shows, and we make sure that she laughs loudly and often. Her memory is as keen as ever and her sense of humor just as riotous.

Each of us might boast that we have the grandma that baked the best pie crust, made the best spaghetti sauce, or gave the best hugs. However, I would venture a guess that Ms. J could easily be in the running as one of the toughest grannies ever to grace Montana soil. Somehow, through all of it, she remained a pretty classy lady who taught me and many others valuable lessons. (And also how to bake the best pie crust, make the best spaghetti sauce, and give the best hugs.)

Easter...We Made It To Another Holiday...

Chocolate Bunnies
I truly didn't think that Ms. J was going to make it to this weekend. I really didn't...not with how poorly she was doing last week. I blogged about it over at, but in a nutshell, here's what happened.

On March 26th, Gram Cheyne-stoked on one of the caregivers. Her heart actually stopped. This went on for about 45 minutes. The caregiver said she had never seen that happen without the person dying. She's had a lot of experience with Hospice, rest-homes, etc. So was a big deal. So, I flew back early from the brief trip I took home (for a roommate's wedding) because I was afraid it was the end. When I got here, she was bed-bound and slept straight through 3 days or so. We barely got any liquid or nourishment down her and the nurse told us that we probably just had days before she passed.

I am too tired at the moment to recount everything that has happened since. All the family rallied around and she got to say her goodbyes. Then....she perked up a little and is now better. She declined after the episode of course, and is even more care now than before. However, she's still hanging in there. She was fussing tonight, so I know things are fairly back to normal.

So, I made Easter for this Saturday. We had a big potluck, I made a kick-ass turkey, and Gram seemed to have fun. I made us a basket full of goodies, but I had showed it to her know, just in case she wasn't with us by the weekend. God. It sounds so weird to write that.

I got her a copy of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, the requisite chocolate rabbit, some licorice tea, some magazines, different fun candies, candles, and honey sticks...among some other random stuff. I can't NOT have Easter baskets. Please. I live for holidays and all that goes with 'em.

I'll write some more tomorrow. I am too exhausted to do much else at the moment.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Waiting for Living Our Dying...

I just ordered my new copy of Joseph Sharp's book...the one I keep talking to you all about. I think I may need to rely on it now more than ever before. Hope it comes soon.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Have to share this...

This is a poem that was featured on Desperate Housewives, Season Four. Maybe you remember this gem as Karen McCluskey's tribute to Ida Greenberg:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.

I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight.
I am in the starshine of the night.

I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in everything.

Do not stand at my grave & cry,
I am not there, I did not die.

Mary E Frye, 1932

Limited Time

I left for a few days to attend a wedding last week, during which time, Ms. J took a turn for the worst. She is currently bed-ridden, because each time we move her, she cheyne-stokes and her heart stops. (!)

So...we are now to the point of check-and-change with the Depends, and move her only so her bedsores heal up.

She just asked us to wash her hair, she's still in there, all right.:)

The nurse just came to visit and thinks that we only have days. I guess the Doc may have been right when she said that we had two months, back in February. I sure don't know. I guess Ms. J is holding on for something or to something and isn't ready just yet. Was it for me to come back? For Dad to come home? He'll be back tonight, so we'll see.

Please keep her and the family in your thoughts and prayers.