Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saying Goodbye and Celebrating Our Love

Beverly passed away four weeks ago and we had a private ceremony for the family shortly after she died.  We had planned to have her public memorial service and internment for December 5th.  It was well attended by her church family, PEO sisters, bridge partners, DAR friends and a few of Bill's friends.  Chuck and Suzanne came up for the service and both Bill and Chuck spoke at it.  We had a reception afterward in the church basement.  And then we went to the cemetery to have her interned in the urn garden.
Saturday was the 28th anniversary of our military wedding.  We spent a little bit of time going through some of Beverly's things to see what Chuck and Suzanne wanted for themselves.  Once we filled the trash can and the recycling bin and made a few decisions about things, we headed out to the Columbia River Gorge to do some wine tasting.  We went to Cascade Cliffs which was as wonderful as we remembered from our last visit there.  Chuck and Suzanne were very impressed with their wines.  The manager at Cascade Cliffs recommended that we head to Jacob Williams Winery down the road which was another small winery.  They had some very nice wines as well.  Our last stop was at Maryhill Winery which is more corporate based.  But it was quiet there on Saturday so we got a fair amount of attention from the pourer.  We came back to Vancouver and ate a celebratory dinner at La Bottega which was also wonderful.  I can't really remember ever celebrating our anniversary with anyone other than Bev or the kids so it was fun to have our best man and his wife here to help us celebrate.

It was a bittersweet weekend.  Fun to have Chuck and Suzanne here with us but it was hard saying goodbye to Beverly.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Our Thanksgiving Weekend


For the first time in several years, we were on our own for a holiday.  We used to always spend our holidays in a quiet way before we lived near family.  Occasionally we would travel to Denver or someone would come visit us to spend a holiday with us but that was pretty rare.  And occasionally we would celebrate with friends.  But with Beverly passing away, we were faced with our first holiday without her.  We have spent all our holidays with her these past 14 years--mostly cooking at her house.  We kept thinking about how we wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.  We wanted to do something that would get us out of the house.  When our friend, Diana, invited us to her house, we were thrilled.

The only thing she wanted was for me to make a dessert so I made some pumpkin bread and a chocolate pecan pie.  She was making the rest.  What a wonderfully decadent and elegant meal it was.  After dining in such an elegant way, it was quite the contrast to play Redneck Life after dinner.  Oh My God!  What a fun game!  We laughed so hard.  The goal of the game is to have as many teeth left as possible.  You get married and have younguns--not necessarily in that order.  You get married and buy a car or cars depending on how many younguns you have and have to replace them in you blow them up.  You get divorced and remarried and take on a lot of stepkids.  And you are constantly getting into situations that you lose teeth.  I managed to have no teeth and was still in debt at the end of the game.  I did better than Chris though.  He lost 17 teeth more than he had to start with.

Diana made a whole extra turkey for us to take home.  Plus leftovers so we are set for food for a few days.


The Vancouver Rotary Festival of Trees is always Thanksgiving weekend and Bill is always in charge of judging.  We bought several raffle tickets this year but we didn't win a tree.  So I will be putting up the new one that I bought at the after Christmas sales last year.


Jeff and Julie usually do a dinner for veterans on Veterans Day Weekend but they decided to go to Florida for a veterans event down there this year.  So we celebrated a little later this year--November 30th.  We went to a different location this year too--Langdon Farms Golf Course down in Aurora. There were 10 of us this year.  Ernie brought his brother, Bob, who was also a pilot during WWII. They went to flight school together.  Jeff's parents were also there as well as another couple that we hadn't met before.  It was a very nice evening with friends and meeting new ones.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rest in Peace Dear Beverly

The past six months have been extremely difficult for our family.  Out of respect for Beverly's privacy, I haven't publicly talked about our struggles.  We have been caring for Beverly for the past three and a half years since her open heart surgery and stroke.  But miraculously, she recovered to a point that she could mostly take care of herself, live alone and even drive.  She still needed caregivers to come in the morning and we went to see her every night and cooked her meals for her.  But otherwise, she was relatively self sufficient.  That all changed earlier this year.

She started to struggle with her mobility more and we needed to pick up more of her tasks and care like getting her groceries, going to the library for her and getting her mail.  Things were just getting more difficult for her to do.  In the spring, a couple of things happened to make things even more difficult.  She developed ulcers on one of her heels and ankles and she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Despite going to a wound specialty clinic, her ulcers just kept getting worse instead of better.  And because of her already frail condition, radiation was her only treatment option for her cancer.  Up to this point, she was still driving to her doctor appointments and church.  She was determined to stay as independent as possible for as long as she could even though it was painful to watch how difficult it was for her to do so.

Before she could even start her cancer treatment, she became severely ill in July.  She was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and did end up starting her radiation therapy while she was there.  But she was in no condition to return home.  She needed to go to a skilled nursing facility with the hope that she could go home.  She hated it there so that made things really hard for us all.  She pushed and pushed to get out even though she really wasn't ready.  I think she would have signed out against medical advice if the doctors hadn't signed for her to get out.  She was that unhappy there.  So despite my reservations, we took her home.

As it turned out, she really wasn't well enough to be home without a significant amount of help.  Her home care nurses, therapists and social workers as well as others tried to convince her that she needed to be in assisted living or some other living situation where she would have more supervision but she was dead set against it.  As any of us would want--she wanted to stay in her home.  So we did the best we could to keep her as safe as possible but were in constant worry that we would be called again for another fall and she was making a lot of unsafe decisions.  She was home for a month before she became severely ill again and would never return home again.  She needed to be discharged to a skilled nursing facility again--which she at first refused but fortunately we found a much nicer place with a private room and she was much happier there.  Less than a month later she was back in the hospital and it was obvious that she was close to the end of her days.  A heart condition and complications from her lung cancer lead to no more treatment options and end of life decisions needed to be made.

The last week of her life was a whirlwind at times and agonizingly slow at others.  After five days of trying to treat her pneumonia, congestive heart failure and tachycardia, we were given the news that tests showed that her tumor had grown to be very large--doubled the size in a month and it was a big tumor to begin with.  Her lung was collapsed.  None of the treatments helped her breathing difficulties.  She was miserable.  Tom was hoping to see her at Christmas.  He hadn't seen her in over two years and he was anxious to see her one last time.  We realized that if he didn't come now that he wasn't going to get a chance.  Fortunately his command allowed him to come home immediately.  Chuck also came right away.  We picked up Chris on Thursday night because she was desperate to see him before she started taking the steps toward dying.

We had great conversations with her those last few days.  She was totally with it and making all her own decisions up to the very last 24 hours.  She was visited by palliative care and hospice nurses and told that she could start refusing any treatments or medications that she didn't want to take anymore.  Tom and Chuck would crack jokes to keep her spirits up.  And we had an incredible nurse on day shift taking care of her the last three days that was just perfect.  We couldn't have asked for anyone better.  She kept us laughing as well and really looked out for us as a family that last day.  By Thursday afternoon, Beverly was ready to get on with it.  Bill went to Bellingham to pick Chris up on Thursday because the soonest he would get home by train or plane would have been on Friday.  She kept asking every half hour all afternoon and evening--"Where is Chris?" or "Where is Bill?"  She wanted to see them so badly. 

All five of us went to the hospital early Friday morning.  We saw the doctor and he wanted to move her to hospice house.  She had already been on comfort care measures for awhile and wasn't really showing any signs that she was going to die anytime soon.  And it is hospital policy that if you need comfort measures for more than 24 hours, you need to go home, hospice house or some other facility that is willing to do hospice.  She was refusing.  She didn't want to be moved.  And honestly, I think she was disappointed that she didn't die Thursday night.  When the doctor said she needed to move, she said "do I really need to go through this for another day?"  Fortunately the doctor said we could stay one more day and reevaluate Saturday morning.  And the hospice nurse was so helpful in talking Beverly into giving up her oxygen.  She was afraid to give it up because of how much she had needed it to stay alive.  But she wanted to die more so we gradually lowered her oxygen, started giving her medications every hour to help with her pain and discomfort, and totally took the oxygen away early Friday afternoon.  A few hours later, she was totally unresponsive.

Because she was sleeping so much and finally unconscious, we as a family had been completely silent all day Friday--so unlike the two days before when we were trying to keep spirits up.  We knew the time was near and were in our own thoughts and reflections.  Chris was so nervous and had a hard time with waiting and keeping still.  It was very difficult to sit there and wonder--when is it going to happen?  When is she going to stop breathing?  When is all her pain and suffering going to come to an end?  At one point, I tried playing some classical music on my phone but Pandora has commercial interruptions so the guys decided to turn it off.  At 8:00 p.m. that night, Chris took it upon himself to do something.  He pulled out Beverly's Bible that she kept at her side at all times those last few months.  He started reading the Book of John to her.  When he ran out of voice and steam, Chuck picked up the torch and continued reading.  Over the next two hours, all four guys took turns reading the entire Book of John to her as well as several Psalms and passages that were meaningful to her.  It really was a moving experience to me that Chris chose to hold her hand and read to her--something that she really would have enjoyed and I am hoping that she could hear them in her unconscious state and took joy in it.

At about midnight, the nurse told us that it could take all night for death to finally come.  Tom and I did go home to sleep for a few hours but Bill, Chuck and Chris wanted to remain at her side.  I went back to the hospital at 6 a.m.  We knew it was getting close but not how close so we decided we needed some breakfast and Bill, Tom and I went to pickup some bagels.  Chris and Chuck stayed with her.  While we were waiting for our food, Chris let us know that she had passed away while we were gone.  She had gotten her wish.  She died before she was asked to leave the hospital again.

We had a private family service at her church Monday morning so that the boys could go.  Suzanne, Gregory, and Suzanne's sister and brother-in-law flew up from California for just long enough to attend the service and have lunch before they returned home.  Unfortunately, Timothy lives in Boston and wasn't able to come.  It was good to have them here for the service and to go to the Grant House, Beverly's favorite restaurant in Vancouver, to have a lunch in her honor.  We had a long sharing time of our memories of her at church and continued at the restaurant.   

We are going to miss her.  She has been so much a part of our lives here in Vancouver.  We were so happy when she moved here so that we would have family nearby.  It was something that we had been missing up until the point that she came--especially for me having grown up with all my family nearby.  It was so wonderful for the boys to grow up being able to get to know her so well and have such a great relationship with her.  I look ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas and wonder how we are going to celebrate this year.  We have always celebrated and cooked at her house.  We won't be doing that anymore.  But I also feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  Being her caregiver all these years and especially these last six months has been so physically and emotionally draining.  So much time commitment to doctor appointments (usually two, three or more in a week), physically caring for her, and still trying to work full time.  Caring for her was becoming a full time job.  We are so happy she is no longer suffering.  It has been so difficult to watch her go downhill so quickly these last several years and months.

It was so nice to have both my boys home.  Tom left yesterday and Chris and Chuck left today.  I miss them all so much already.  Bill and I are alone again to try to figure out the next steps of clearing out her home, getting it ready to sell, etc.  It is a new transition in our lives but it will be okay.  Life does and must go on.

Rest in peace Beverly!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Carmen and Fort McCoy


In a weak moment, I promised Bill I would go to see "Carmen" with him yesterday.  We took our friend, Pat Jollata, along because she loves to go see opera with Bill.  It has been about three years since I last went to The Met: Live in HD with Bill.  I swore never to go again.  I really dislike opera.  But I know that "Carmen" is supposed to be one of those wonderful operas that everyone loves.  So I did say yes.  It was okay.   I certainly recognized some of the music from popular culture.  But it was opera.  To me--classical music is spoiled by the addition of operatic voices.  But as always--it is definitely fascinating to see the behind the scenes action when they are changing the sets around and hearing the interviews with the singers between sets and acts.

I had heard about the movie "Fort McCoy" a few months ago when it was getting ready to premier in theaters.  It was filmed on Fort McCoy which is near my hometown as well as in LaCrosse and Coon Valley.  Some of the filming was also done in California.  I have been interested in seeing it because of it being about a historical period in my hometown--prisoners of war being held at Camp McCoy.  My only exposure up to this point was seeing the trailer.  And I was pretty outraged that they called it "Fort McCoy" because that wasn't what it was called during WWII.  It was called Camp McCoy at that time.  I just recently heard that I could probably find it on Comcast Pay per View and so I watched it last night.

I have to admit--I was disappointed.  It was really cool seeing the buildings on Fort McCoy and the Wisconsin farmland and landscapes.  But the screenplay wasn't very well done.  The actress that played the wife was also the director and screenplay writer.  She played the role of her great grandmother in the movie.  The screenplay was written in a way that was fairly superficial.  I'm sure she wrote is as she heard the stories growing up.  She didn't know the characters so she didn't know how to develop them and what happened to them very well. 

I found a review after I watched it that pretty much summed up what Bill and I had thought about the movie.  Some of the reviews were a little more kind to the movie than this one.  But I think this was pretty spot on.  "Fort McCoy" review


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kansas

It has been close to a year since we saw Tom and Maddy.  I had put in for vacation time a long time ago.  When Tom got deployed, we kept trying to figure out how long he was going to be gone and whether he would be back before our visit.  Luckily he got home about a week before we got there so it was perfect timing.

Our trip was mostly aviation and space related based on the museums we went to.  And fortunately Tom had the whole time off so we could really enjoy spending time with him.  The day after we arrived, Tom wanted to go to the Cosmosphere Space Museum in Hutchinson.  It was a bit of a drive out there but well worth it.  There was so much to see.  We could have easily spent the whole day there but really only spent about 3-4 hours and didn't get to see everything.  Tom was really interested in all the rocket exhibits and spent a lot of time reading the display explanations. We went to a planetarium show too.  What I really liked best was a demo lab where they demonstrated rocket science and were blowing things up all the time.  We had a whole room full of kids on a field trip with us so it was fun to see it with children. 

On Friday, we decided to to to the Kansas Aviation Museum which is right on the airfield at McConnell Air Force Base.  It is located in the old airline terminal that was used in the 30's and 40's so it had a neat art deco design with lots of airplane features in the design.  After we went to the air museum, we headed to Old Town and saw the Museum of World Treasures which was a pretty interesting but eclectic museum with a lot of different kinds of things.

Thursday evening before we made dinner, we headed to downtown Wichita to see the Keeper of the Plains.  It is located on the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers.  There are beautiful walkways along the rivers and lots of art, sculptures and memorials to look at as you are walking.

And Friday night before dinner, we headed out to Burns to go to the Walters' Pumpkin Patch.  It was a pretty amazing place.   They charge an entrance fee which I thought was a little much for what we wanted to do--just get some pumpkins and maybe go through the corn maze.  But for kids--what a great place to spend a fall day or afternoon.  Tons of fun activities for kids to do.  We did play a little bit of Pumpkinland (think a big version of Candyland) besides going through the corn maze and going in search of the perfect pumpkins. 

After the pumpkin patch, we headed to Chester's--a really nice steakhouse.  One of those places that you get everything ala carte and it is really expensive.  But we were celebrating Tom and Maddy's engagement so we treated it as a really nice celebration dinner.  Bill was really looking forward to getting a good Kansas steak so he and Tom had steak.  Maddy had salmon and I had scallops.  Everything was very good.

Saturday Tom took us to the base and showed us his squadron and office.  Then we went to see "Gone Girl" at a theater in Old Town.  I had read the book and the movie followed pretty well with how the book went.  But you sure get made all over again at the main character and how she planned to "screw" her husband.

Friday, October 24, 2014

So Long to June

A couple weeks ago we said goodbye to a family member.  Bill's stepmother, June, passed away in Denver three weeks ago and we traveled to Buffalo the following weekend to lay her to rest next to Bill's father. She and her daughters had an interesting journey between Denver and Buffalo.  She and Gene had always planned that they wanted to travel to Buffalo for their funerals via train.  Amtrak was not allowed to use the tracks in Indiana for some reason so the girls had to hire a funeral home in Chicago to transport June's body from Chicago to Toledo where they could get back on the train because bodies cannot be transported by bus.  And the bus broke down a few times between Chicago and Toledo so it was an challenging trip.

June has always been more of a "mom" to me than a mother-in-law.  My mom passed away shortly after Bill and I got married so I asked June to be my mom and she immediately said yes.  I always felt loved and was grateful to be able to carry on a mother-daughter relationship with someone.  June hasn't been doing well since about April and her daughters recently got hospice involved in her care but my impression was that it wasn't for any impending reason.  Just to prepare for it happening at sometime in the next six months.  So just a few days before she passed, I was thinking I wanted to travel to Denver for one last time to see her before she died.  So it was a bit of a shock to get the call that she had passed away so soon.  In hearing about her last days, it sounds like it was an incredible blessing that she didn't linger a long time in the state she was in.  Because of her illness and slip into dementia, I haven't had the same relationship with her recently so I have been eased into the fact that she is no longer going to be a part of my life.  But I will miss that sense of having a "mom" to go to when you feel like you need one.

All her daughters and their husbands came.  Bill, Chuck, Timothy, Gregory and I came from the Roller side of the family.  Seven out of the ten grandchildren were able to be there.  A man that had become a good friend to her over the past few years also came.  We enjoyed sharing meals together, attending the funeral and touring the cemetery after the funeral.  As strange as that sounds, the Forest Lawn Cemetery actually has several different types of tours that they run.  We went on a two hour art tour of the cemetery the afternoon of the funeral.  It is an incredibly beautiful place and even is one of the top spots for brides and grooms go to have their wedding photos taken.  We got to wave at a couple as they were getting their photos taken while we were on our tour.
When Gene died, the whole family went to Niagara Falls after the funeral.  So I was expecting that but the those who were already there on Friday went then instead.  So we missed out on going as a family this time.  But I wanted to see the falls again.  Bill indulged me and we crossed over into Canada for about an hour so I could see the falls and travel alongside the Niagara River on the Canadian side.  The mist was so heavy from the Horseshoe Falls that is was like a downpour of rain.  And we only got to see a small sliver of the falls.  But the sunlight hit it in such a way that it was still beautiful and provided the view that you can see from my picture above.
Bill wanted to see Fort Niagara.  He remembered going there as a child and wanted to revisit.  I had never been there before so I was interested in seeing it as well.  I had seen pictures from Chris' trip there with June and it looked like a beautiful place.  It is located on the shores of Lake Ontario and its purpose was to guard the Niagara River.  We were there on such a clear day that we could actually see Toronto across the lake from us.  It is setup as a French fort because that was its beginnings although it has been occupied by the British and Americans as well over its history.  The French first occupied the site in 1679 and built the current fortifications as a permanent fort in 1726. 

It was a whirlwind trip.  Traveling on Friday to get there and coming home on Sunday.  And traveling through JFK Airport in New York was definitely a challenge.  But it was good to connect with family that we haven't seen for a very long time.  Some as long as nine years ago when Bill's dad passed away.  I was very happy to have gone and to pay my last respects to a woman that I loved dearly.  Goodbye June.  Rest in peace and enjoy your reunion with Gene, your parents, grandparents and other dear friends and relatives in heaven.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Homecoming

Tom left for the Middle East at the end of June and got home October 6th.  He and Maddy had a joyous reunion when he got home.
Maddy hired Elizabeth Grace, a photographer in Wichita, to take their homecoming photos as their engagement pictures.  They turned out fantastic!