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

God’s Encouragement

After an unexpected trip to the emergency room, we returned home, weary but grateful.

“I’m glad you’re okay, Mom,” my son said as he hurried off to work.

“Me, too. Thanks for helping me.”

The symptoms of GERD often mirror the symptoms of a heart attack, so my doctor has told me, “Always get it checked out. You might think it’s GERD, but you need to be sure. Go to emergency and let them check your heart.”

While grateful that this latest episode did not require any hospitalization or further tests, I also struggled to understand. Discouragement hit me like a heavy mallet. Why? I had been so careful with my diet, eating slowly my small meals every day and staying away from anything that might cause a digestive upset.

Why did this happen when I had almost paid off the medical bills from the last episode? Now more bills would pile into my mailbox, notices from each of the professionals who tested me, talked to me or hooked me up to expensive machines. And how could I prevent it from happening again, this delicate balance between what I put in my mouth and how my body digests it?

I decided to walk around the back yard. Anything to free myself from the questions, to escape from the receipts and reminders of what had just happened.

God, I need some encouragement, please. For some reason, you have allowed this to happen and although I thank you it wasn’t worse – now I’ll be faced with enormous bills again. I’ll have to call and set up payment schedules with each place and try to pay them off a little at a time, every month, forever. Please, God, I need something to encourage me.

I tried my usual tactics of repeating Bible verses and singing praise songs. But they didn’t work. Somehow anything I tried to manufacture fell as flat as the stones in my garden.

Another trip around the back yard and another. Tears of despair and wondering if life was ever going to get better. Must I always and always struggle? Was this another test to see if I would trust God?

I do trust you, and I know you are faithful. I’m just tired of having to barely manage financially, and I don’t know what I ate that set me up for this again.

Then on another lap, I picked up a stick that had fallen from the wintering of my trees. I broke it into several small pieces and decided to put it on top of Ivory’s grave – my sweet Siamese who passed over the rainbow bridge three years ago. I miss her still.

tulipsAs I bent over, I saw the tiny green spires of tulips, trying to poke themselves through mulch and into the sunshine. Tulips. The first signs of spring.

It was as if a fresh breeze lifted my worries and carried them to another part of the city.

God still made tulips grow through the tough branches of winter. He knew how to bring color to brown patches of earth and splash hope on my dreary day. He heard my prayer for encouragement and followed me around the yard, pointed out the stick and led me to place it on my Ivory’s grave where I would see his sign – his precious reminder that he cared.

Yes, the bills will come and somehow they will have to be paid. Yes, I still struggle with digestive issues and fight this delicate balance of what and how to eat.

But God is greater than it all and he is still able to bring life out of death, hope out of worry and faith out of fear.