The House of Sickness Waiting

Something about houses attracts me. I notice Tudors with their brick facings, happy bungalows – especially the ones with porch swings – cottages framed by specialty gardens.ranch house

And I am writing my memoir focused around the theme of various houses in which I have lived. Maybe I should have become a realtor.

The house Mom bought, then had to leave behind, is a typical Oklahoma ranch style. When dementia first began to squeeze its nasty tentacles around Dad, Mom felt as if she needed to get Dad off the farm and into the safety of town. Neither of them could fully operate the farm anymore and when dementia stole Dad’s vocation from him, Mom made the final decision.

They settled into the brick ranch and lived there as Mom nursed him and my sister Kris helped her for 10 shadowy years. Then on a gentle spring day in May, the angel of death took Dad away.

Mom stayed, unwilling to move anywhere else. In fact, she announced one day, “My next move will be to the cemetery.”

Ah – if only it had been that simple.

The ranch home evolved into a pain-enshrouded house as my sister’s beloved cat, Champ, sickened and Kris had to put him down. What an oxymoron of love and pain when we have to call the vet and schedule a death – yet in the doing of it – we exhibit the release of love for our furry babes.

The ranch then became the forecaster of Mom’s next move as she began forgetting the location of pots and pans, the important bills she threw away, the pills she counted numerous times before swallowing.

It was in the ranch house where Mom passed out, her brave heart needing the extra pulsing of a pacemaker, her head bleeding from where she banged it when she fell.

When she had to leave – a series of ambulance rides transported her from the hospital to the nursing home rehab and later to her studio apartment in assisted living.


Meanwhile, the house of sickness waiting remained. Mom never had a chance to tell it good-bye.


The yard is its best feature, a surrounding halo of plantings – zinnias, pansies and the four o’clocks that actually open at four o’clock each day.

I like the house, usually finding a slice of serenity inside when I visit family. Although it is a bit weird to sleep in the bed in which I was conceived, I gaze at pictures on the walls and remember when we gave them to Mom and Dad. I hang my clothes in the closet and touch hangers that hold Mom’s winter coat, a suit she no longer wears, a knit shirt with embroidered daisies – some of the threads barely hanging on to their frayed outlines.

Mom’s brush and comb still wait for her on the dresser, flanked by doilies her mother crocheted, their white loops now fading into the yellows of the past. Mom’s massive mahogany furniture which none of us will want –  a sturdy pronunciation of her style.

But Mom never seems to miss the ranch house. She only remembers the farm as her home where she raised three children, cooked harvest meals and hung clothes to flap on the line like fabric silhouettes of each family member.

This place – this emotional shelter, safe within its strength yet even now scented with illness and Mom’s shadowed existence foreboding.

My sister is now the keeper of the ranch house. It serves its purpose of shelter for her, of last memories where our parents aged out in its rooms. Yet it also continues to play out its description as the house of sickness waiting.

Kris struggles with arthritic pain and several types of joint diseases which emit a pain I cannot imagine. She limps through the house, taking care of her cats and the neighbor’s pets, then ambles outside to feed the birds and pull  weeds from the gardens her green thumb has created.

The flag she painted on barn tin bears the symbol and colors of the University of Oklahoma. Inside the house, the walls record screams of pleasure whenever the Sooners do their thing and score multiple touchdowns per game.

The personality of this house follows me whenever I drive away. I am left with a sense of gratitude that my sister is safe within its walls – at least for now – until as she says, “The body gives out.”

Then we will know that somehow – in that house – our family made an imprint on the earth.

Houses become the measurements of years as each place serves a purpose. And within each place, we wait for that final call home that contains no walls, needs no paint and provides the freedom where our spirits roam.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

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An Ethical Alzheimer’s Question

The question came up again last week when a caregiver faced the ultimate decision. “Should we put our mother through a surgery, knowing that it may save her life, but at the age of 88, it will only prolong her journey into Alzheimer’s. What should we do?”

The decision, of course, will ultimately rest with that family and the medical professionals, but it is a quandary that many of us face as our parents age without the ability to express what they want for their own bodies.

Doctors are trained to preserve life, to “do no harm.” And they are skilled in the various ways to test for disease, treat the symptoms and perform surgeries that prolong life.

But at some point, don’t we have to ask the hard questions? Is Alzheimer’s any type of quality life? Would our loved ones want to go through the pain of surgery, the rehab after surgery and still face an even longer period of time living within the shadows of Alzheimer’s?

My family faced this decision a year ago with Mom’s pacemaker surgery. Yes, her heart needed stimulation because she was passing out, bumping her head and experiencingAlz awareness all sorts of physical problems. Doctors determined she needed a pacemaker, and the decision was made quickly by those who care daily for Mom.

It was supposed to be an easy surgery, in and out in a couple of days. But complications set in, Mom’s mental status quickly deteriorated from confusion to dementia, and the end result was four days in the hospital with a transfer to nursing home care.

Would it not have caused less harm to let Mom’s brave heart just wear itself out and wing her to eternity where there is no pain, no surgeries and no Alzheimer’s?

As I stayed night with Mom in the hospital, she experienced a rare moment of lucid thought and communication. She asked, “What did they do to me?”

I explained about the pacemaker and the complications of a collapsed lung, the possibility of pneumonia. “Your heart needed to be fixed, Mom,” I said, glad for this moment between us but wishing we could be talking about something besides her difficult prognosis.

She raised up in bed, setting off monitors that blinked and brought nurses running. “If they would have asked me,” Mom declared, “I would have said ‘No.’”

When I arrived back in Kansas, the first thing I did was to instruct my son that absolutely no life-saving measures should be performed on me. “If I get Alzheimer’s like Grandma, and if I’m not able to take care of myself, the best way you can love me is to let me go.”

Then I wrote it down in my last wishes’ papers and finalized everything. Do no harm. Let me go.

In the third book of the Life at Cove Creek Series, Reverend G, Jacob and Chris will also face this decision. Writing about this serious topic in a fictional story was easy because I had lived through it with my mom. I knew what Reverend G would choose because I knew my own choice and what I felt was the sanest and kindest way to go.

When it comes to that decision, a life of further Alzheimer’s versus stepping into eternity – for me there is no debate. But each family has to make that choice.

What do you think? I’d be interested to know where you stand on this subject.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo                                                            Finding Hope When Life Unravels