A Good Place with Each Other

Aaron has a very special friend at his day group, Paradigm.  Her name is Victoria.  From the time Victoria first started attending Paradigm, she and Aaron just hit it off.  They became fast friends. 

Developing and maintaining relationships can be very tricky and difficult for Aaron.  We understand Aaron better than anyone does but even with us he can be full of relational surprises.  The tone of our voice…a particular hand motion…not following in his rigid demands…   There are so many ways that Aaron can suddenly become upset and angry with those of us who know him best.  Imagine the pitfalls of combining all the special needs and personalities in his day group!

But there is something very real and incredibly sweet about his relationship with Victoria.  She squeals and jumps with delight when he walks into Paradigm.  She misses him terribly when he isn’t there. 

And Aaron…well, Aaron (as far as we know!) tolerates her noises because he sees how much she cares for him.  He even shows empathy when a storm comes and Victoria is very scared, or when she is sad about something. 

Who can explain love? 

One thing I do know is that all of us, on whatever level we operate, want and need to be loved.

Aaron is an open book as he attempts to analyze and understand his feelings for Victoria.

One day, after an altercation with someone at Paradigm, Aaron was pondering Victoria’s reaction to that person.

“Mom, Victoria told N not to bother her boyfriend.  Am I the boyfriend?”

Another time, as he talked to me about Victoria, he revealed more of his thoughts.

“Mom, would she be happy for me to tell her I think she’s a girlfriend?”

Gary and I have tried over the years to stress the relationship of friendship rather than boyfriend/girlfriend.  But no attempts on our part to redirect his thinking on this can squelch the feelings in his heart. 

“Mom,” he commented one day, “Victoria and I seem to match each other.”

Who can argue with that? 

Then one day came this nugget of hilarious wisdom.

“Mom, every time I burp, Victoria laughs at me.  And when I make the farting noise like this, Victoria makes it too.  I think we’re right for each other!”

Love is a many splendored thing, right?  😊

Recently, our friend Barb from Paradigm sent some pictures she took as she walked with Aaron and Victoria to the popcorn shop nearby.  As Barb said, this was so genuine and sweet.

I cried when I looked at them. 

And I thought of another comment that Aaron had made about their relationship.

“Mom, can you tell that Victoria and I have a good place with each other?”

Yes, Aaron. 

And I think it’s a very good place to be.

What’s In Your Shoe?

Aaron has developed a special relationship with the nurse practitioner at his day group.  Megan is gentle and kind with Aaron.  She listens to his endless talking and shows interest in his latest interest…interests that are more like obsessions on Aaron’s part.

Right now, Aaron is all about space and planets and galaxies and moons and stars and the sun and YouTube videos about all of these and more.

Megan has told her son, Cody, about Aaron and shares with him some of the space “facts” that Aaron so happily shares.  Cody has written Aaron three notes, thanking Aaron for sharing what he’s learned and for telling him about the YouTube videos he should watch.  It’s really very sweet.

Aaron LOVES these personal notes.  The first note made it home with Aaron, and he happily shared it with us. 

The second note, however, was somehow lost.  Aaron thinks it must have fallen out of his pocket.  He was very sad to have lost that note.

Two days ago, after I picked Aaron up from his day group, our van started over-heating.  Gary met us and took the van to the shop while I followed in his truck.  In all the excitement, Aaron forgot to mention that he had another note from Cody.

 Aaron and I sat in the waiting room at the shop while Gary talked to the manager.  Suddenly, Aaron took off his shoe.

“Aaron,” I said, “don’t take off your shoes in here.  Wait until we get home.”

“But Mom,” he answered, “I wanted to show you this.”

He reached into his shoe and then handed me a damp folded piece of paper, which I wanted to hand back.  Yuck!  😊

“Cody wrote me another note, so I put it in my shoe because I didn’t want to lose it!” Aaron explained.

I read the note while Aaron broadly grinned.  Once again, Cody was thanking Aaron for sharing info about Saturn and the beautiful rings.  I finished reading, and then Aaron refolded the note before putting it back in his shoe for the ride home. 

Aaron talked and talked about that note as we went about our evening.  So, I finally told Aaron that he should write a note back to Cody.  He thought about this for awhile and then went to his room.  Before long, he handed me his note that he had written.  Now it was my turn to grin broadly.

Look at the first planet.  Mercenary!  😊 😊

But even funnier is the fact that his note is just full of facts.  Nothing personal at all. 

This is SO Aaron! 

When he talks to his brother or sister on the phone, this is exactly what he does.  He never ever asks them how they are doing or what is going on in their lives.  He instantly launches into his latest book or game or movie.  He loves facts and information and trivia.

It’s why he loves reading his Handy Answer Books on different subjects but has never liked stories that involve dialogue and relationships.

This element of autism is exhibited in every area of Aaron’s life.  When he and I went to pick up our van yesterday, Aaron immediately started telling the employee there all about Saturn.  I finished paying just as Aaron decided to move on to Venus, but I ushered him out the door as I told him that on our next visit he could give the Venus lecture.  I noticed the huge grin on the face of the waiting customer as we left. 

Tomorrow Aaron will take Cody’s note to Megan.  We are putting the note in an envelope.  I don’t think an envelope will fit into Aaron’s shoe.  I hope not, for Cody’s sake.

I’m sure his mom has a pair of latex gloves he can wear, though.  😊

Here’s A Rose!

Once again, this year our friend Jody at our local Dillon’s store made sure that Aaron had a box of beautiful red roses to take to his day group on Valentine’s Day.  And this year, unlike last year, Aaron did stay at Paradigm (his day group) all day.  Special days are hard for Aaron – too many expectations on a day full of a party atmosphere.  It all drives Aaron a little crazy. 

My favorite picture of the morning was Aaron’s sheer delight after giving a rose to Antoine, one of his favorite staff. 

Antoine takes Aaron to QuikTrip on most days.  He is so very patient and understanding with Aaron, even when Aaron’s exuberance is a bit much. 

I captured pictures of Aaron giving a rose to Barb, our dear friend in so many ways.

And to Victoria, his very special friend.

Last week Jody saw to it that Aaron and I also had roses to hand out to our Meals on Wheels clients.  Look at the loveliness!

Aaron enjoyed taking a rose to each door and handing one to each of our sweet clients. 

I relish seeing the way Aaron loves giving those roses away.  These are memories tucked happily into my heart. 

Thank you to Jody and to Dillon’s for making those two fun days possible.  The kindness shown and the memories made are truly priceless!

Footprints

 

For the past two days we had a small and gentle snow that fell to the ground and blanketed our brown earth with a fresh coat of white.  Besides needing the moisture, it was a relief to look outside and see the drab brown grass and trees transformed into the beauty of a soft winter wonderland…new and sparkling white.
 
Andrea is still here with us as she enjoys the last day or two of her Christmas break.  Along with her, we have her adorable dog – Darcy.  Darcy is so small compared to our huge Great Dane, Jackson.  The difference in their sizes was very evident yesterday as I looked down at their footprints in the snow.  I had no trouble being able to distinguish which print was Jackson’s and which was Darcy’s.  The impressions that each dog made in the snow was undeniable…big for Jackson and small for Darcy. 
 
 
I’ve been thinking about footprints and pondering the significance of those footprints that we cannot see…the footprints that we leave in the lives of people that cross our paths.  I have specifically been thinking of Aaron – of some of the people that have left a footprint in his life and therefore have impacted mine.  The footprints don’t have to be huge or to be many in order to leave an impact.
 
Years ago we had a dinner after the morning service at our church.  By this time,  Aaron was in his teens and his differences were very pronounced.  Most of his peers did not know what to do with Aaron…how to talk to him or relate to him.  They weren’t unkind but most simply handled the situation of Aaron by ignoring him, or by speaking briefly and then walking uncomfortably away from this person who was so unusual.  As I went through the serving line and filled my plate, I looked around for Aaron in order to direct him to the table where we would be sitting.  But there was no Aaron to be found as my eyes scanned the room.
 
Then I saw him sitting at a table full of teenaged boys.  I wondered if Aaron had just seated himself there and  my heart fell as I feared that he might be ignored.  It was then that Gary told me that one of the young men at that table, Tyler Ellis, had asked Aaron if he wanted to sit with them.  I was shocked…and I was also so very happy.  What to Tyler probably seemed like a very small thing to do was instead a huge blessing to Gary and me.  That incident left a footprint in my heart that remains today…a footprint of kindness that still warms me and makes me smile.
 
I have another footprint involving a young man that had his own struggles yet had a heart of gold.  Paul Gilbow came over to our house to swim with Aaron.  What was routine for our other children was rare for Aaron…to have someone purposely come over to swim with him and spend time with him.  I remember the joy that filled my heart as I looked out the window and watched Paul and Aaron swim.  Paul was unaffected by Aaron’s unusual behaviors or speech or appearance.  He gave Aaron a day of normalcy and fun, and he gave me a footprint in my life that will stay forever.  Paul has left this earth but his sweet footprint remains with me.
 
We each leave footprints in the lives of others.  Some of those prints are with intent as we purposely reach out to touch others and to help them along the way…or sadly as we may reach out to inflict verbal pain or to ignore those that we dislike.  Other prints we may never see or realize as we affect people in ways of which we are unaware.  I often wonder that if the footprints of our attitudes and our deeds were visible, like Jackson’s and Darcy’s, then what would mine look like?  When I leave a footprint in some one’s life, what kind will it be?  Will someone look at the footprints in their life and recognize mine?  And if they do, will it be because of a smile or an act of love and caring?  Or will they see anger or frustration or neglect? 
 
I want this New Year to be a year of making the right kinds of footprints in the lives of others…and to remember that even the very smallest of prints can leave a lifelong, profound effect on those whose lives I somehow touch.  

Aaron Riding High

Today after church, Gary and I went to lunch with our sweet friends, Phil and Lydia.  Phil is a business owner, and also a farmer.  They were talking about wheat harvest, which is happening now. 

Aaron has been loving a new game, Farm Simulator, so I asked if maybe we could come out and look at the farm.

“Sure!” Phil said.  “Aaron can ride with me on the combine.”

That was so much more than I expected!  How exciting!

Lydia picked me and Aaron up later, and off we went, headed west.  The golden waves of Kansas grain are so beautiful right now.  All along the way, here and there, we could see the combines out in the fields harvesting the wheat.

We got to the field, and soon there came Phil.  As he emptied some wheat, Aaron followed him to the combine.

Soon he was climbing the ladder.

And off they went!

How fun to watch that huge combine do its job!  And to know that Aaron was sitting up there!

What a fun day for Aaron! 

Thank you, Phil and Lydia, for being so kind and for giving Aaron another first-time and exciting experience.

Thanks for Praying!

I knew that some of you who were praying about Aaron’s MRI last Friday might wonder if he was able to have it done.  Days are so busy and get away from me, but I wanted to give a quick update.

He had no seizures the night before the appointment, so he was able to go and complete the test.  All went well and I’m not expecting to get results until his next doctor visit. 

Thank you so much for praying! 

He even went to his day group after the MRI.  He had said he wanted to just come home so going to Paradigm made me happy.  It made him happy, too, to be with his friends.  Victoria had saved him a cupcake, which pleased him greatly. 

And that reminds me that I wanted to share this sweet picture that our friend Barb sent me of Aaron and Victoria.  Aaron was tying her shoe.  Isn’t that the sweetest?!

On Saturday, Aaron and I joined our good friends for a birthday lunch.  Rosa and Aaron used to be in Paradigm together and became special friends.  Every year Louise and I get together for Rosa’s birthday in the spring, and Aaron’s birthday in the fall.  We didn’t get to do it last year due to COVID.  They hadn’t seen each other since November of 2019!  It was so much fun to see them enjoying time together again!

And with Mother’s Day coming up, I’ll share a picture of Rosa and her mom, Louise.

And me with Aaron.

In case I’m not able to post again before Sunday, let me wish each of you dear moms a very wonderful and sweet Mother’s Day!

God bless each of you dear readers!

My Airport Glory Story

In March of last year, 2018, I flew to Houston for a very happy trip.  Our daughter, Andrea, was getting married in the fall and so this weekend in March was to be full of trying on wedding dresses and making wedding plans.

Of course, I had a layover in Dallas.  There I sat in the terminal, catching up on social media and emails, when a fast movement caught my eye.  I looked up to see a little bird flying among the ceiling beams.  He would sit up there staring down at all the waiting passengers, though our area was people sparse at that time.  He would observe for a minute, then fly down and land on the carpet, where a few passengers would toss him bites of bread or crackers.  He was a cute little thing and broke the dull monotony of the usual airport terminal happenings.

I noticed a woman sitting not too far from me, within talking range, who was also enjoying the little bird.  Our eyes met and we both smiled.  We began talking about the bird.  One thing led to another and we realized that we had much in common.  The military…where we had lived…daughters in Texas…shared names.  She introduced herself as Johnnie Latham and had soon moved closer to where I sat so we could talk even more.

The best and brightest thing we quickly knew about each other is that we were sisters in Christ.  Believers understand this connection that is very evident, even when you meet a stranger.  It’s the Holy Spirit, and the communion that two people have due to that indwelling is very real and very obvious.

Johnnie and I talked up a storm as we sat there.  Gone were our phones as we talked and talked, enjoying every minute.  Gone was the terminal drudgery of the airport as we crammed as much conversation as we could into the now short time we had before boarding the plane.

All too soon, it was time to board.  We said our goodbyes and it was so nice to meet you as we got in line, with Johnnie several people behind me.  Before long, I had taken my seat near the back of the plane.  No one was in the seat beside me and it appeared, as passengers boarded, that my next-door seat would remain empty.

As I settled in and looked up, I saw Johnnie headed my way.  We hadn’t compared seat numbers.  Why would we?  But closer and closer she came, looking at her boarding pass for her row and seat number.  Then there she stood, confirming her assigned seat…and you guessed it!  Her seat was the one beside me!!

We squealed and laughed and exclaimed our disbelief!  Other passengers, I’m sure, were curious at this loud display of happiness over an airline seat!

“God wanted us to sit together!” Johnnie exclaimed as I fully agreed.

We just THOUGHT we had talked in the terminal.  Now we were on full-speed motor-mouthed conversation!  We spent the entire flight from Dallas to Houston sharing with each other as fast as we could.  And I’m sure we shared with everyone around us because we had a hard time talking softly!  We had stories to tell!  We had examples of God’s goodness to talk about.  We laughed.  We praised God.  We cried.  The whole time was really sweet and amazing and so very special.

“Let’s take a selfie!” Johnnie said through her laughter.

So, she snapped this quick picture of the two of us.

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And just like that, before we were ready, we landed in Houston.  Our fellowship was over all too soon.  I had never regretted finishing a flight like I did that one.

We hugged, said our goodbyes, friended each other on Facebook, and waved goodbye once more across the Houston terminal as we parted ways.

We kept in touch over Facebook through the next year.  And one day earlier this year, her life changed.  Johnnie was diagnosed with cancer.  Now she became a fighter as she endured all the tests, the chemo, the hospital stays…struggles that I can’t fathom.  Struggles for her and for her dear husband, daughters, and grandchildren.

But never turning her back on God.  Never giving up hope, even knowing that her final healing might come in heaven instead of earth.

And so it seems that this will be the case.  Her cancer has spread in her brain and there is nothing more to be done on earth.  She is home now, on Hospice care.

Her husband, Jack, said this in a post I read:  “She will win because she will be with our savior and she is looking forward to that day.”

Victory!!  Johnnie and I shared victory stories on that plane…me about my dad and Johnnie about her sister.  Now Johnnie will have the most powerful victory story of all!

What an impact this woman made on me in such a short time!  I can only imagine the huge impact she’s had on her family and friends who have relished life with her for years.

And I was thinking about how we both thought we didn’t have enough time on that day to share and talk and laugh and cry.  It wasn’t enough time.

But oh, we WILL have enough time one day!

We’ll have all of eternity to talk and share and laugh and worship God together.  In person!!

But we won’t cry.  No tears in heaven!

So, Johnnie, you hold my seat this time and I’ll join you in heaven one day.

I can hardly wait to hear you laugh on that day!

 

Hey, It’s My Birthday!!

We just finished celebrating Aaron’s 35th birthday.  We had three days of birthday events, full of fun and loaded with Aaron’s exuberance.  There aren’t many 35 year old’s who would embrace their birthday with as much joy and pure excitement as Aaron did.  His birthday is one of those times that we fully see how unencumbered Aaron is with adult responsibilities and burdens.  35 doesn’t seem old or worrisome to him at all.  He’s all about HIS day and all the fun it holds!  He’s very much like a kid, and everyone around him smiles at his delight.

Aaron begins planning his birthday months before the actual date.  I’m not exaggerating.  He talks and talks about his plans.  Can we go here?  Can we do that?  And often, he doesn’t ask us before he starts inviting people to come to our house or to eat out.  It’s easy to be exhausted long before the birthday celebration even occurs as we try to keep up with him and his grand plans.

His birthday was this past Friday.  On Thursday, he stayed home from his day group.  He helped me make lots of cupcakes for his day group to share the next day.

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We also made lasagna for some of his friends to have on Thursday night.  We loaded up the van with lasagna, garlic bread, cupcakes and drinks before driving across town to the residential home of some of his day group friends.  All girls, by the way!  😊

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On Friday, Aaron carried his cupcakes into his day group…chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing and sprinkles, per Aaron’s wishes.  At the end of his day, Barb…dear friend, second mom, and Paradigm manager…brought Aaron to meet Gary and me at Texas Roadhouse for his birthday “eating out” supper – Aaron’s choice once again, of course!

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Oh my goodness, his excitement was almost palpable!  He could hardly stop laughing and talking, and rubbing his hands together, in complete happiness.

“It’s my birthday today!!” he immediately told our server.  “Can you sing to me?!”

Our sweet server laughed as well and said of course.  She mentioned the saddle, which we had to explain to Aaron, and which he agreed to our surprise to do…but later he backed out on that saddle business.  He wanted the largest sirloin, but we insisted on the next size down.  He barely quit talking and eating.  He was large and loud and very, very happy!

His gift bags from Barb, and from Casady – Barb’s daughter and another very good friend – were perfect for Aaron because they know him so well.  And they love him, which he fully knows.

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At home later, he opened more gifts and he talked to family…and he loved the shark cuddle blanket from Andrea and Kyle!

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Then on Sunday evening, we met his special friend Rosa for their traditional birthday dinner at Chili’s.  Again, Aaron announced his birthday to our server and asked if they would sing to him and bring him ice cream with chocolate syrup.  Look at Aaron’s happy face when after dinner several of the staff sang and clapped and made Aaron’s final birthday celebration complete.

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Rosa ran to their car as we left, bringing out her doll head that she loves so much, while Louise and I laughed and laughed.  We love Aaron and Rosa’s friendship!

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My heart was warmed later when Louise told me about how she and Rosa were looking at calendars to buy for Aaron.  Aaron loves animal calendars, so Rosa eyed each of the three that Louise showed her.  Rosa instantly chose the buddy calendar that shows dog and cat buddies for each month.  Isn’t that so sweet?

I’m very thankful for each of Aaron’s friends and family that love him.  Every text, Facebook message, phone call, and gift to Aaron was also a very deep gift to me, as well.  I loved seeing Aaron so happy, and I love seeing Aaron BE loved by so many precious people in his life.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone when you raise a child with special needs, especially when they are fully adults yet, as in Aaron’s case, still so fully dependent on the help he needs from the family and staff that surround him.

Easy to look at others who are Aaron’s age, or much younger, who are finishing school and getting jobs and raising a family.

Those thoughts for me are fleeting, though, because I know the danger they carry.  Aaron is Aaron, created by God, and my responsibility is to love and care for him – not to regret that he isn’t someone else.

Barb’s daughter, Casady, a kind soul who loves Aaron to pieces, wrote this in Aaron’s card:

“Happy birthday, buddy!  Thanks for making me see all the sides of life.   Love you so much.”

 Those words seem to just go over Aaron’s head, but not mine.  Her words go straight to my heart and come out from my eyes in tears that I don’t let Aaron see…or he would call me a crybaby.

But oh, life really is so much more than our routine and our version of “normal.”  Trust me, Aaron shows us sides of life that we never even thought of!  And other sides that we would like to forget!

Yet Aaron also shows us how much fun it is to relish routine and special days and music and warm blankets and coffee and cows and horses and bugs and steak and movies and shopping and dogs and cats and milkshakes and sharing and pennies he finds on the ground.

I sometimes stop and look at Aaron when he’s doing an Aaron thing, and my heart swells ‘til it almost hurts.  He is so unique, complicated, hilarious, maddening, and upsetting.  All the sides of Aaron are also the sides that all of us have, but Aaron doesn’t often have the ability to hide them like we can.  They’re out there for all to see…and to hear!

And this morning, I heard a seizure a little after 5:00, and another just before 8:00.  Then one that he’s only had once before, back in April – long and strange and scary.  This is the side of Aaron’s life I dislike the most, but it’s a side we must handle and manage as best we can.  I handle it by being thankful in the many ways that God brings to my mind, and by knowing as well that God is there for us and for Aaron with His sovereign protection and grace.

The sides of Aaron’s life…the good, the bad, and the sad…are all wrapped up like a birthday gift that God gave to us the day that Aaron was born.  It’s up to us to relish all of who Aaron is, even the hard sides of Aaron; to thank God for our special gift; and to care for him in all the ways he needs.

Every side of Aaron…every day.

Hey, it was Aaron’s birthday!!

And I’m happy about that!!

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Holding Nora’s Hand

Nearly 20 years ago, Gary retired from the military and we moved to this house in this neighborhood in Kansas.  We’ve lived here the longest that we’ve lived anywhere and grown roots that we never dreamed would go so deep.

We hadn’t met our next-door neighbors yet when one day the kids and I were out working in our yard.  It was a hot summer day.  There in the driveway at the house beside us knelt an elderly man, our yet un-met neighbor, pulling weeds in the hot summer sun.  He was kneeling in his gravel driveway, working hard on those weeds, all the while coughing like crazy.

I was worried about him, so I told our three children to run over and see if they could help him.  Off they scurried, only to be told no and thank you.  We were sad that he didn’t want the help and worried about his coughing in the hot sun, but no is no.

Time went by, as have many of my memories.  I don’t recall how we broke the ice with our neighbors, but I do know that they loved our white German Shepherd, Rainey, and they eventually learned to welcome us and our children as their new neighbors.

Thus, we slowly came to know Don and Nora Kelly.  I distinctly remember that first Christmas, standing on Don and Nora’s front porch holding our simple covered plate on which we had placed some home-made Christmas goodies.  Don was totally surprised to open the front door after we rang the bell, and to see all five of us there with our smiles and our Merry Christmas wishes as we handed him the plate.  He was embarrassed and awkward as he thanked us, and then said, “But we don’t have anything for you.”  We told him it wasn’t necessary and that we just wanted to wish him and Nora a wonderful Christmas.

The following Christmas, our doorbell rang one day and there stood Don, a smile on his face and a gift bag in his hand.  We exchanged Christmas gifts every year from that point on, for fifteen years.

Don and Nora were very private people, still not wanting to ask for or to receive help from any of their neighbors.  They did, however, learn to take the garden veggies that we shared with them every summer.  I also learned that Nora absolutely loved my homemade rice pudding, so I would sometimes surprise her with a big warm bowl full…and remind her that she had to share with Don!

Don’s hearing wasn’t the best and he never would get hearing aids.  Nora loved to talk…and talk…and talk.  I knew never to go over if I was in a hurry to get away, because Nora had lots and lots to say.  Don would smile and then disappear, leaving Nora and me to talk.  Well, leaving mostly Nora to talk and me to listen.

Don and Nora were very close.  They went everywhere together.  I never saw Nora drive.  When they were out shopping or eating, wherever they walked, they always held hands.  Always.  People who didn’t even know them recognized them as the cute old couple who were always holding hands.  There they would go, little tiny Nora dressed to the nines and with her long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail…and very tall Don, usually in a suit with his hair still dark.

Sometimes I would run into them at our local Dillon’s store.  We would stand in the aisle, Nora talking up a storm in her little shrill voice, with Don beside her smiling as usual.  The last time I saw them there, I snapped this picture of them as they walked away.  Hand in hand…always.

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That Christmas, in 2013, I went over to their house as usual with our Christmas goodies.  Don answered the door.  He didn’t look well.  I stepped inside as he took our gifts and then said that he would get Nora to go downstairs to get ours.  I thought that was unusual.  Nora soon came with their gift and told me that Don wasn’t strong enough to go down the stairs and back up.  He had been sick, she said, and she was worried.

Things went downhill quickly from there.  Their other neighbors, the Tuflys, were also keeping an eye on Don and Nora.  One day they told Nora that an ambulance was coming to take Don to the hospital.  They had called one to come, and despite Nora’s objections, Don was soon admitted to the hospital.  When he finally came home days later, he was under Hospice care for advanced cancer throughout his body.

Nora insisted on caring for Don at home, though she was weak and exhausted herself.  But Nora was a tough wife who refused to let Don die anywhere but at home.  Our two families on each side of them helped…a lot…and three months after returning home, Don was gone.

Poor little Nora was left alone.  After being married to Don for 68 years, she was suddenly all alone in her big house and all alone in her many big decisions to make.  She had no hand to hold.  It was sad to see.

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She so wanted to be with people all the time.  She loved coming over to our house, including spending time with Aaron even when he got impatient with her.

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Both of us neighbors stepped up to help her with the housework, yard work, shopping, doctor appointments, and the many decisions she needed to make about her future.  Eventually, we helped her sort through every room and closet and drawer of that big house as she got ready for an estate sale and then a move to a retirement center.

Five months after Don died, we moved Nora to her new home.  What a huge transition this was for her!  Nora, I learned, was extremely afraid of being alone.  But alone she was, and she knew she had no choice.  Her inherent stubbornness stood her in good stead as she adjusted to not only this very new life, but a new life without Don by her side.

I had no idea at the time about what Nora would need, but I did know that she needed to be seen by her doctor about a wound she had gotten on her leg.  She was sent to the wound center, where she initially needed to be seen several times a week.  I reluctantly made the appointments for her, not sure how I was going to manage both Nora’s schedule and taking care of our special need’s son, Aaron.  Yet I couldn’t just walk away and leave Nora stranded.

Things grew after that.  Nora needed compression socks, special lotion, wrappings, and more doctor appointments.  Her eye doctor visit came, with a referral to a retina specialist.  She needed a new family practice doctor, along with an ENT referral and soon had to be seen by a podiatrist.  And don’t forget her normal dental visits…medicines to fill…insurance…hearing aids to buy.  It was too much for Nora to manage and understand on her own.

In a way, I became the daughter that Nora never had…and she became the mother that I never got to care for in her old age.  We got into a routine of sorts, Nora and me.  We were getting into a groove, you might say, bumps and all.

It hit me one day that I was now the one holding Nora’s hand.  From the very beginning of our outings, she would hold my hand as we walked.  Part of her reason was that holding my hand gave her stability, but I learned that holding my hand also gave her security.  She knew she wasn’t alone.

Nora needed me, but she had to learn to share me.  She especially had to share me with Aaron.  This meant that her appointments had to be scheduled around his doctor visits, and around the fact that I had to take Aaron to his day group every day and then pick him up.  I never knew about Aaron’s seizures, of course, so there were times I had to cancel a fun day or a doctor visit day with Nora.  She learned to adjust, but oh it was so hard for her to do that.

Nora also had to learn to trust me.  Trust was not an easy thing for Nora.  I learned that fact quickly on the day she was called back to see her doctor and I offered to watch her purse for her.  I got a big NO from her on that one!  Over time I knew that if Nora and I were to be together as much as we were, then I would need to earn her trust.  With time, that happened, and it filled me with joy that she would trust me with so much of her life.  And she even let me put my hand in her purse to help her find things – a HUGE no-no when I first got to know her.  When she let me hold her credit card or hold her purse while she was in a restroom, I knew I had truly arrived at full trust!

Our relationship continued to grow beyond doctor visits and trips to the grocery store.  We shared with each other our lives, our disappointments, our worries, our joys.  Nora gave me advice gleaned from her many years of living, and I tried to give her encouragement when she was scared and worried.

As time went on and we grew closer, Nora would also reach for my hand in more personal ways.  When I was driving, she would hold my right hand and tell me that she loved me.  As we sat in doctor’s waiting rooms, holding my hand gave her comfort.  And if we had a disagreement or she was upset, she would take my hand as she told me she was sorry.

One of the best things that we shared was our love for God.  Nora would pray the sweetest, most heart-felt prayers.  We nearly always prayed before we ate, and Nora really wanted to pray before seeing a doctor.  She was always the most panicked before those doctor visits – even before getting her teeth cleaned!  But prayer was a big part of Nora’s life, both praying out loud together and asking me to pray for her at home while assuring me she was doing the same for me and my family.

Nora wasn’t always an easy person to be around.  Our personalities were mostly opposite of each other.  I could make her laugh, though, and those times were so much fun.  It was good to see her relax, to enjoy life, to laugh, and to have something positive to remember.  She especially loved just riding, looking out at the pretty Kansas scenery as we drove up to Yoder or as I purposely took the longer, country route back to her apartment when I could.

She loved it when I took her to see the graves of Don and their son, Jim.  We made sure that there were always flowers in the vases…also making sure she could always buy them for half price at Hobby Lobby!

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And oh, how she loved eating out!

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Nora definitely made me laugh.  Did she ever!  She had the funniest sayings and such a spunky attitude.  She said whatever she thought, but she could get by with it at her age.  Servers in restaurants and the employees in stores we frequented enjoyed her so much.

Nora was very, very thrifty.  She never wanted to spend a dime more than was necessary.  I became very proficient at sneaking more money on the table for the server’s tip because Nora rarely left enough.  Once when we were in TJ Maxx, her favorite store, she insisted on me picking out a sweater as a Christmas gift from her.  Here’s how it went:

 

Nora:  Now, Patty, pick out anything you want and don’t worry about the price.

Me:  Nora, you don’t have to do that.

Nora:  No, I WANT to do it.  Now get something and don’t look at the price.

Me:  Are you sure?

Nora:  YES!!  Get whatever you want and don’t even think about the price.

Me (finally holding up a sweater):  I like this one.

Nora:  How much is it?!

 

HaHaHaHa!!!!  That was so Nora!

I have many funny stories that I could share about Nora.  Sad stories, too, as this past year Nora began to greatly decline.  When she first moved to her new home, she was alert and mostly healthy and so pretty.

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But last year, I noticed her increasing tiredness and confusion and weakness.  I talked her into getting a wheelchair to make our outings easier.  She would fall asleep while we were shopping, or when I would do her nails.

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Her vision was getting worse, and even though her retina doctor wasn’t sure if treatments were helping her, she insisted on continuing with them.

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She would call me, and others, at all hours of the night.  She would wander the halls of her assisted living center during the night and was very confused about what time it was.  But she kept pushing on, not wanting the increased help that was provided and not wanting to discontinue our outings.

On May 1, I picked Nora up for what she called a “fun day.”  That meant no doctor appointments or anything else stressful.  We went to our new Cheddar’s for lunch.  Nora had never been there, so she was excited.  She ate a bacon burger and fries, loving every bite.  Then we went to TJ Maxx, where she bought two big bottles of perfume.  I think she bathed in the stuff!  Finally, to Dillon’s for a few of her essentials, where the wonderful employees there greeted her and made her feel loved.

On our way back to her apartment, she took my hand as I drove.  “Patty,” she said, “I don’t think I thank you enough for all you do.”  I assured her that she did.  “No,” she said, “I don’t believe I do.  I just want you to know how very much you mean to me and how thankful I am for all you do.”

At her apartment, she sat and watched as I put her things away, opening her perfume bottles for her as well as her other items.  I showed her several times that her credit card was indeed in her wallet in the pocket of her purse, and that the zipper was shut.  I put her receipts where they belonged and her mail, and once again went over her medicines with her.  All the things we always did.

I could tell, though, that Nora wanted to talk so I sat down beside her.  She told me that she just wanted to be loved, so we talked about that.  I assured her of my love for her.  She wanted to talk about heaven, so we did.  There were some personal things said, revealing some of her hurts in life.  I put my arm around her.  I tried to comfort her as best I could, but she knew I was leaving soon.  She always hated my leaving and being alone again.

That day, while we were out, she asked about all my children…each one by name as best she could remember.  She asked if they were happy.  Before I left her that day, she told me that she was so glad my children were happy.  Then our last words were what they always were.

“I love you, Nora,” I said.

“And I love you, too,” she replied.

Then a kiss…because Nora always wanted a kiss goodbye.

On Sunday, May 5, Nora called to ask me to cancel her retina appointment on Tuesday.  She told me she was sick, so I told her I would make an appointment with her family doctor, but she said no.  Before we hung up, she told me that she didn’t think she would make it through this.

I had a full day on Monday, so I wasn’t able to go see her.  I planned to go on Tuesday to check on her and to try to talk her into seeing her doctor.  But on Monday night, shortly after 11:00, I awoke to hear my phone vibrating over and over on my nightstand.  I clumsily answered it.

The nurse on the other end identified herself.  I immediately thought that Nora must have fallen and that she was on her way to the hospital.  But it wasn’t that.

“Patty,” she said.  “Nora passed tonight.”

It was so shocking.  So fast.  If only I had known on that Monday how quickly Nora was going downhill, I would have gone to be with her.  I would have held her hand until the end, but instead she died alone.  I know it’s not my fault, but I do have regrets that I wasn’t there the way she would have wanted.

There were many other regrets that ensuing week for all of us who knew and cared for Nora.  Nothing was done in the way that Nora had carefully planned with me several years earlier.  Each of us have had to come to terms with this, and to say goodbye to Nora in our own ways, the best that we can.

I’m thankful for my years with Nora…for the good times and the hard times, even.  I’ve seen clearly that sometimes God plops a person right in your lap, out of the blue, for you to care for and love.  For me, it wasn’t only that I could help Nora.  Nora also helped me in ways I am still discovering.  And helping Nora was also a huge way that I could serve God.

I was privileged to hold Nora’s hand.

And I am sure that I will always hold Nora in my heart.

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