"…By what stretch of arrogance do you think a life form that looks like you is more important than a life form that doesn’t?”Joel Salatin

Nothing is more beneficial to your wellbeing than to look for and acknowledge those parts of everyday life that you enjoy.

"If you are happy where you are now, why does it matter how painful it was to get there?" -- Abraham

"It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." -- Bilbo Baggins a.k.a. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play in your hair." -- Kahill Gibran

“And forget not

Monday, May 20, 2013

I spoke at the Ladies' Spring Tea!

Invitation to Spring Tea
Last December, I had the pleasure of attending the Ladies' Christmas Tea at Beverly Drive United Methodist Church.  Yesterday, I had the honor of - speaking - to the ladies at the Spring Tea at Beverly Drive United Methodist Church.

I met Linda Marcum's dog,  Angel,  first, then through my over-the-fence friendship with Angel, I met Linda.  It's odd how some people just click into place in your life as if they were meant to be there (which they are) or have always been there.  Linda is one of those. She is way busier than most people I know, because she is the pastor of this church.  I didn't really realize how much work that involves until my friend, Dotti LaSeur, gave me a quick run down on what pastors do.  My already considerable admiration for Linda went up several notches.

My view of the room from Speaker's table

Linda and I have been to dinner several times, to the symphony and to see "Grease" at the Wichita Theater. What I have found out about her is that she has a heart as big as Texas, and an open mind.  She welcomes all.

When she asked me to speak at the tea, she said, "I trust you to come up with a suitable topic.  It doesn't have to be religious."

So I accepted and decided to talk about my journey after Ronnie passed on, to become a happy person -- again.

As most of you know, I joined Toastmasters Club 305 last year.  Toastmasters is the best and least expensive education you can get to increase your ability to speak in front of an audience. At Toastmasters, our speeches are evaluated by one of the other members, and often, the speech written is different from what comes out at the lectern.  If I had had an evaluator yesterday, he/she would probably have said I could have fleshed it out in the middle more completely than I did -- so what I am posting here is the version of my speech taking the evaluator's probable suggestions into consideration.

My Journey Back to Happy

Shortly before she passed away in 1988, my mother told me, "You owe it to yourself and your Creator to enjoy as much of this life as possible.  Look for something enjoyable in every thing you have to do."

And so began my journey to become a happier person.  Prior to that, I was not very happy.  I was married with two kids, a stressful boss, bills to pay. Ronnie and I had the same problems that most married couples have. Life seemed hard then.  It felt like a daily struggle just to make ends meet.  It felt like a daily struggle to figure out ways to get along with each other.

But after my mother died, I began to look for something enjoyable in the things I had to do, and surprisingly, they weren't that hard to find most of the time.

In trying to decide what to say today, I went through some of my old daily journals to see where I was on the happiness scale before Ronnie got sick. I was doing very well.  I was working in a low key flowershop, we had a brand new grandson, we'd gotten 5 numbers on the Texas Lottery which had paid a whopping $1,500, but we had t-shirts that said "I won the Texas Lottery!"

Ronnie had recently retired from PPG and we were learning how to fill this new, more lax schedule. I felt like we were on a good path.

Then the ax fell.

Ronnie's back had been bothering him for a long time.  He'd been complaining about tingling in his legs and numb feet for a while, but since he had had back surgery in 1991, he always attributed any back discomfort to that old injury.

We went for a walk at Lucy Park on Saturday morning.  Ronnie said his feet felt weird and when he walked, they were flopping in all directions.  He thought if he kept going, he'd eventually work it out but by Tuesday, he was bouncing off the walls.  He fell down in the dining area.

I got him in to see Dr. Ruyle that morning and he immediately ordered an MRI.

The test showed a huge tumor  growing on Ronnie's spine.  That night as we lay together in his hospital bed, he said, "This is not going to take long and when it's over, don't waste a lot of time being sad. You still have a life to live.  Go have some fun."

The next day, a surgeon removed most of the growth and secured the spine with titanium rods and screws.  He advised  Ronnie to make an appointment to see an oncologist.

Because they never gave him any hope for survival, he chose not to take  the chemo or the radiation.

He had five wonderful months of going and doing with his family and friends, but then in February the paralysis returned.  Within a couple of days, he was unable to walk.

A friend brought a power chair. Others came and built ramps out the back door and into his shop.

While looking for something else, I found this that I had written one night while Ronnie was asleep.  It is the best description of what I went through.

"My husband has been paralyzed from the waist down for three months now.  A 'destructive bony mass' has eaten away at his spinal cord causing the paralysis.  He was told by the oncologist that this type cancer is not curable.  They said they could slow it down, extend his life a few months with chemo and radiation.  He decided against the treatment.  He said, "I feel fine now, better than I've felt in years and I'm not going to let them make me sick." Without chemo and radiation, they predicted he had four months to live. That was nine months ago."

I quit my job to stay home and take care of him.  It is by far the hardest work I have ever done.

When he first lost the use of his legs, I felt so sorry for him, I was willing to do anything to make the end of his life better, but as time wears on, I find myself increasingly bitter.

Afterall, this is my life, too. For thirty three years, he worked a rotating shift and I had abundant time to write, read, work in the yard, have lunch or dinner with friends and family. Now I am as housebound as he is.

Living with someone who is paralyzed means more than being duty bound to 'get me this and get me that' although there is plenty of that to do. It means he can't take care of his basic needs. I have to catheterize him many times a day.  His Depends briefs are usually wet and must be changed.  This is not an easy task.

His bowels work but he doesn't have the ability to "go" on his own, which means someone has to take it out. Nurses do this on a regular basis, but he has always been a very private man and the humiliation of having to have this done for him is more than either of us could live with, so I do it.

I am not a nurse.  I never wanted to be a nurse, but I do the best I can.

Getting him out of bed is a major undertaking. After he ended  up on the floor trying to transfer from the bed to the power chair, I rented a personal lift. If we didn't have this cumbersome hydraulic device, which is like a crane for humans, he would have to stay in bed 24/7. He isn't that far gone, yet.  His mind is still clear and he enjoys being up and dressed when his friends and family come to visit. Even with the lift, though, by the time he is ready to come out of the bedroom, I need a nap.

But I still have to feed the pet birds and clean their cages, feed and water his flock of pigeons, feed the dogs, put out feed for the squirrels and wild birds. I need to water the front and back yards, tend to the flower beds,  and run the vacuum, remember to give him his medications four times a day, fill his water jug, make sure he has his phone with him and that it is charged. I have to change the sheets and put the ones I washed yesterday in the dryer.

I don't cook anymore. I'm too tired and stressed out so most of our meals are fast food, or friends and family bring it in.

By the end of the day, I am worn out.  I long for the time when I could just go take a shower and go to bed, but before I can do that, I have to get him out of the chair and onto the clean bed. I catheterize him, clean him up, put lotion on his feet, then the tet hose, then his socks  because even though he can't move his legs, he still has the sensation that his feet are cold. I have multi-layered the absorbent pads beneath him in order to try and protect the new mattress. I roll him on his side, just long enough to put a waterproof bandage on the pressure sore on his butt.

By the time he is settled, I'm too tired to take a shower, so I crawl into bed next to him and sleep for a couple of hours. I'll get up between midnight and two am to give him medications again, then take a shower.

During these late night times to myself, I have done a lot of crying.  This is not fair. In his younger years, he was so reckless, I promised him that if he went out riding a motorcycle and got maimed to the point he needed the kind of care he needs now, I'd put him in a rest home and I wouldn't come to visit.

But he didn't have a motorcycle accident.  He has cancer, so the afore mentioned threat isn't applicable, and I am the most reluctant nurse ever.

Before I get back in bed, I cath him again, change the Depends and if necessary, replace the pads under him.  I refill his water jug.  Heavily medicated at night, most of the time in the early stages, he didn't wake up.  As the disease progresses, it seems, he seldom sleeps at night.  There is a trapeze over his side of the bed which he uses to help make himself more comfortable.  At night, he holds onto it and rattles it constantly, twisting it, trying in his "dreams" to figure out how to "fix it".   I can't move it to the center of the bed where he can't reach it until he goes to sleep.

I was advised many years ago to look for joy in everything I have to do, so I put on the happiest expression I can muster for him, but the truth is, I'm having great difficulty finding anything to be happy about. I am horrified by what has happened to him, and humbled by the courage and fortitude he has exhibited throughout all of this, but I'm also wallowing in self-pity as well as the fear and misery of knowing that he is dying and that in the near future, I will be alone. 

Yesterday as I was mentally complaining about something I needed to do, I leaned down to turn off the outside water in the back and I had an epiphany.  "I can walk."

A few seconds later I realized what all that meant. I can do whatever he needs me to do for as long as he needs me to do it.  I'll pump that lift to get him out of bed and I'll pump it again thirty minutes later when he wants to lie down again.  I'll refill his water jug fifty times a day if necessary -- because I can stand up and walk to the refrigerator any time I want to.

I have no right to complain about anything he needs or asks me to do, because deep down inside, I know that he would gladly do these things for himself if he could.

A dead tree fell over in the yard today.  I contemplated hiring someone to cut it up and haul it off.  Then it occurred to me; I can use the chainsaw.  I can walk out there, start it up and cut up that tree myself -- and I did.

I will never again take for granted the blessing of being able to walk."

After Ronnie passed on, I went several months without writing much of anything.  I'd sit at my kitchen table, look out my back door, a view I have long cherished, watch the abundance of birds, squirrels and box turtles visiting my feeders, see the progress of flowers and seeds I'd planted before Ronnie died and all I could think about was, "What do I do now?" I was lost.

So I decided to do some of the things Ronnie had suggested I do with the modest insurance I'd gotten. Our bedroom needed a new floor.  The sub-flooring had completely deteriorated and the wood laminate was warped and mushy under foot, so I hired a handyman.  He turned out to be almost as big a nightmare as Ronnie getting sick and dying. So I had to fire him and find someone else to finish the job. The emotional trauma of my house being torn up on top of  what had happened to Ronnie sent me to an all time low.

One day, while looking for something else, I came across the "I can Walk" document. Reading it again, I realized that I had a choice to make regarding how I wanted to live my life from that point forward. I could continue to wallow in my self pity or I could seize this "heads up!" moment and make the most of my life.

I had to learn again how to look for something to enjoy about everything I had to do.  Shortly after reading the "I Can Walk" document again, I wrote and posted this to my blog:

What Does Happy Feel Like?

As I begin each brand new day, my dominant intent is to feel good.  Nothing is more important or more essential to my well being than that I feel good, that I choose fun, interesting, joyful things to talk about and think about. So regardless of where I am, what I'm doing, or who is with me, I will focus on the things around me that please me.

In other words, I'm gonna get happy -- in every way I can.

So what does happy feel like on a day to day, minute by minute basis? Probably more pleased than displeased, more satisfied than aggravated.  Happy might come when you feel the relief of letting go of or giving up a struggle that seems hopeless and has seemed so for quite a while. It could be present when you make the decision to stop worrying about everything or anything, when you finally say, "That's it! That's all I can do," or "This problem really doesn't belong to me so I'm not going to stress out about it."

Happy can be playing with a pet, touching your child or grandchild, seeing new growth on a favorite plant in the window or flowerbed, seeing a good mood smile on the face of a loved one.

Happy comes in fleeting moments that we often don't notice or stop to appreciate.  For me, it's when I see the daffodils and Iris come up in my flowerbeds after a deep freeze of a winter. It comes when I see that my goldfish and koi are still alive in my pond after having a sheet of ice over it for several days.  It happens when a sweet fragrance comes to me from the Carolina jasmine, my grandson clean from his bath, or from fresh sheets and towels, still warm from the dryer.

I feel happy when I have a new package of paper, a page of postage stamps, or a new notebook to write in.  I feel happy when I walk into my bedroom and see that I did make the bed earlier. I like to stop and look at the pretty pictures and decorations that I've put there.

I'm happy when I get cute and funny animal pictures and videos via email.  I'm happy when I see the cute faces of teddy bears and other stuffed animals.

Happy feels like seeing my children, my grandchildren, new friends and old ones. It's finding those sturdy styrofoam coffee cups with clamp on lids in a stack of 6 for a dollar.  It's cold wind blowing on my face when I'm having a hot flash.  It's having a hot flash when I'm outside freezing.

We have a tendency to consider happiness as a future goal, something to work toward, something that will suddenly happen when we have all the money we want, the dream spouse, perfect kids, the ultimate position in the community or business.  In that, we minimize or completely ignore the momentary bits of joy that can occur hundreds of times a day -- if we are paying attention

Life is now.

This moment right now is the only guaranteed time we have, so why waste it agonizing over current events over which you have little or no control?

Look for the things that please you.  You'll be surprised how many different things every day will make you smile.  You might be surprised how much better you will feel about a whole bunch of stuff when you "get happy - in every way you can."

The food was awesome, the tea perfectly brewed and the room beautifully dressed for the occasion!  I had a great time!  Looking forward to Christmas!

Here are some pictures and some bits of wisdom from the Ladies Spring Tea.

Count your garden by the flowers, never by the leaves that fall.
Count your days by the golden hours, don't remember clouds at all.
Count your life by smiles, not tears, 
and with joy on every birthday,
Count your age by friends, not years!

Time Spent With You ...
(author unknown)

Time spent with you, 
My special Friend
Is like the perfect blend of tea.
Savored and treasured 
Like your friendship
Which is priceless to me.

"You owe it to yourself and your Creator to enjoy as much of this life as possible.  Look for something enjoyable in everything you have to do."  Stella Johnson 1988

 A beautiful thank you from Linda and the tea Committee .along with . . .

this beautiful tea set! Thanks, Linda for inviting me to your very special Ladies' Spring Tea.  I'll never forget it!  And Thanks to my sister, Peggy, my friends, Grace King and Dotti LaSeur for going with me.  And thanks to all the wonderful ladies who attended along with us.  You are all so very special!