Good morning from the airport in Charlotte, NC,
First, thank you for the texts, the comments, the tweets and the other ways in which so many of you have reached out and shared your kindness and concerns over these past days. I actually stopped to see Lydia one last time before I left Menomonie at 1:15 this morning. She was sleeping and yet seemed to be leaving this life at the same time. It was snowing steadily as I drove the 70 miles to the airport, and it was nice that it was 2:00 a.m. so there was little to no traffic on an interstate yet to be plowed. I listened to music that comforted me and allowed me to ponder as I crawled my way, figuratively speaking, to MSP.
What is abundantly clear to me is the simple fact that I have been, yet again, given two amazing gifts from Lydia. The first was to have 8 days with her and to be with her as she prepared all of us, both the staff of COH, who have been her family for three and a half years, and me, who became the son she never had, and has spent the last ten years with each other, to let her go. To say there were poignant moments during these past days comes no where near explaining the words, the expressions, and the tears that have been shed in the last room on the left at the end of the hall. The second gift, because in spite of the fact she told me that ” I had a shit temper”, she also knew that I would be an emotional wreck should I be in the room when she passed. Therefore, I believe, and I was told by both the caregivers, the nurse, and the administrator (and now by Melissa and Maria, through José) that she waited for me to leave. I never told her I had to leave on a particular day, but she held out. What people did not realize about Lydia, unless they were blessed enough and therefore allowed to get close to her was that she was an incredibly loving person. I wrote about her compassionate nature in other blogs, but whenever anyone was hurting, it affected her to the very core of her being. Her eyes would well up in tears and her voice would tremble as spoke in her Austrian accent, “Michael, it is just terrible.” And she always rolled those Rs. Kevin, her painter, tells of the time she took a large amount of food to the food pantry in Menomonie. As she saw the people waiting for basic staples, she cried and wanted to go buy more food to take back to the pantry.
Yet, to be fair, she was not always easy; she could be incredibly tough. She expected a lot from people, but nothing more than she expected of herself. She worked tremendously hard at creating a life for herself in this country and in 29 years of work took only two sick days. I think, in spite of her independence, after George passed away, she was unbelievably lonely. I did not know her for about 10 years, but I have a pretty good handle on who she was. I think Dennis, who spent 13 years in the carriage house, was important in that transitional time. I think Shelley , who probably treated Lydia better than Lydia treated her, was also important. I think the hard work and companionship that Shelley gave was important to Lydia in the time following George’s passing. I think Lydia was continually reaching out to people and simultaneously pushing them away. Somehow, and for some reason, she did not do that to me. The other three (technically four) people who managed to keep Lydia’s companionship and she never pushed away were Bill and Maryann (Bill and Lydia were colleagues at Stout and actually started at the same time.), Becky (Lydia’s department secretary), and Elaine (her next door neighbor). For some reason, and I am not sure she would use this term, but we somehow demonstrated a worthiness and as such, she trusted us. When she trusted someone, by extension, she loved them. In spite of the fact she never weighed more than 100 pounds until the last couple years of her life, and ended her life under 5’0″ tall, her heart must have taken up most of that space because it was incredibly large and strong. I also think it is what kept her alive these last days.
While I have noted this to people before, I am not sure I wrote it publicly. I do believe there are events that occur in our lives that we do not really understand until much later. I think my coming to UW-Stout is such an event. What I know or believe now is that Stout merely served as a vehicle to create other possibilities. First, while I learned important things at Stout, both positive and not so much, the learning I achieved was significant. It afforded me the opportunity to meet Mark and Gayle Decker and prepared me for coming to Bloomsburg, where I would be with the Deckers (although more of them) again. It prepared me, albeit primarily through observing others, about how I might develop and support a program. However, perhaps the most important and unexpected event was a chance conversation with Elaine that led me to Lydia. As I noted in a recent blog, I had no inkling that we would become a family. I think, and not meant inappropriately, I became her caretaker, her child, her spouse, all in one. It was both a blessing and a curse of sorts. I think of the morning I woke up and she was standing at the side of my bed staring at me and asking if I were awake. I think of driving her around town (much like driving Ms. Daisy) on her errands. I think of fixing her breakfast every morning or mowing, or walking along the roof with the blower, cleaning out the gutters so she wouldn’t. I think of raking leaves or snow blowing and shoveling to try to keep her from doing it and freezing. I remember going to her house for a glass of sherry or fixing dinner so she would eat more than grapes or bananas. I remember taking her out for rides in her 1977 Oldsmobile Ninety-eight and her patting the robin-egg blue dash and exclaiming, “Michael, it’s a beautiful car.” I now believe that Lydia was, and is, the real reason I came to Menomonie. Indeed, epitomized in the last 8 days, it was in sitting by Lydia’s side that the event of 11 1/2 years ago finally became crystal clear to me. Menomonie=Lydia. Regardless her penchant for independence, God knew she needed someone to be there consistently. For God to believe I was worthy of this calling is humbling to me because I am not extraordinary and seldom do I think about any kind of worthiness.
It is now the 28th of December and I am back in Bloomsburg and Nate has taken over the vigil. I am not sure how he will manage things as the family is with him and they have relatives in the area. I called COH a couple times yesterday and I spoke with Nate also. When I called this morning there was no substantive change. Lydia is Lydia; there is nothing more that can be said. I think she will wait Nate out also. The idea of being there is much difference than merely physical presence. That is what I believe. Lydia inside her deteriorating cognitive capacity is as sharp and determined to manage her life as always. Perhaps our worthiness is the actual witnessing of an amazing lady who will live her life completely and also completely on her terms. Perhaps it is that she allows us to participate in such an extraordinary event that offers us something of worth. She is not in pain and she rest comfortably; she is still lucid at moments and even poignant and witty, though that comes primarily through her eyes and her smiles, frowns or other body language at this point. Yet, as I noted in her comments like “no kidding” or “I know” or her patting my head lovingly as I cried on her shoulder demonstrate the worth our relationship has to both of us.
As I got up this morning, it was also a Sunday 17 years ago that I received the phone call that my father had passed away. He had dementia also, but actually succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I have wondered if today will be Lydia’s day and it would merely connect us in yet one more ironic way. Today I will try to focus my energies here and organize some things before I am on the go again tomorrow. I need to manage a half dozen things specifically first thing in the morning. I have appreciated all of your comments, your prayers, and the various ways you have made me feel worthy of your gifts and friendship. I will be communicating through FB and this blog over the next week. I will have photos of my researching and working on more of Lydia’s story in the next days. May we all find our places and things that give us a sense of worth. Sometimes, probably usually, they come when we least expect it.
Thank you for reading.