No Chance

There was no chance to fight the swift and terrible disease called Ovarian Cancer. My sister went in the hospital four days after my mother passed away. Twenty-six days after mother was gone, so was Penny. Gone forever – except in our thoughts and memory.

There are no more chances to get to know her, something that did not really happen in our lifetime. Oh I knew how talented an artist she was, I knew how much she loved crafting and antique collecting. I knew how much she loved my mother and devoted her life (literally) to caring for her. I knew she got great grades in school, and she loved to garden. I also knew she could not live without Mom.

My view of her was tainted by her inabilities rather than her abilities. I saw her symptoms of Aspergers and let them define how I viewed my sister. We clashed often before I understood, but even after she would not let me into her world. It was her world and I was not allowed in, probable because of old grievances and stupid things I did as her younger sister, but maybe just because it was her world, not mine. My regret is that I did not find a way that was not threatening to her. I did not find a way, until the last eight weeks of her life, and that was not enough time.

I will be forever grateful we had those last eight weeks together. Much of it was spent focused on Mom, of course, but after Mom passed, the focus changed. I listened to her stories, she told me where to find things, our past difficulties were forgotten or forgiven without being spoken of. Yes, I will be grateful, but I still regret what has been lost. I admire her decision not to fight. Much like my father, she went bravely into the night, alone and scared but sure of her path. Travel well sister.IMG_3940

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And So

I was too busy and too tired to write a blog these past few days. My sister has been moved to long-term care. And so we wait.

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Sit & Listen

Well, here I am, unsuccessfully sleeping – so blogging instead. Maybe once I get moved back home, sleep will come easier, but I’m not counting on it.

Our medical system is completely whacked. There is no way an insurance company (private of government) should dictate how long a person stays in the hospital, or what kind of therapy they should be getting in order to qualify for coverage. I know you know all this, but until you live through the nightmare of it, when all you want is for your loved one to have some peace as they die, you don’t know. I didn’t. I didn’t understand until now.

I’ve always hated insurance companies since I was a young adult and saw some young friends get filthy rich quickly with nothing more than phones and desks for investment while farmers invested millions in land and equipment and then had to depend on government programs to make their payments. I know insurance companies spend millions on lobbyists to influence our congressmen and women to vote for legislation in their favor. I know they are a billion dollar industry and they hold you in their “good hands” because they make money, lots of it.

I’m ranting because I’m grieving. At the same time I’m trying to be my sister’s health advocate, I’m having to change her address with utility companies, stop the newspaper, pay the lawn guy, have her old cars hauled off, get her estate in order, get my mother’s estate in order, grieve for my mother, clean the house and prepare it for winter, figure out her banking so I can pay the bills, inform the post office, the assessor, the lawyer, the accountant, … You get the picture. I’m mad.

In the hospital, I hold my sister’s hand and she tells me things, things she thinks of and wants me to know where to find it, or who to get to fix things around the house, or which piece of furniture our great grandpa built (she remembers this kind of thing – I never did). That should be my only job right now, to sit and listen. I wish.

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Waiting and more waiting. We now know my sister has cancer. Just what type and what type of treatment she will need are still to be revealed.

People have been telling me to take care of myself too. I’m not sure how to do that right now. Nothing seems real. I’m eating. I’m bathing. I’m trying to get sleep although that hasn’t been working out so good. Is there anything else I’m supposed to do?

I thought she would die of a broken heart from losing my mom. Not for a moment did I imagine this. In my favorite movie of all time there is a line, and forgive me if I slightly mis-quote it. “The world is round so we can’t see what is coming.” I was prepared to lose my mom, after all she was 98, but I came around the corner and got sucker punched by a two by four called cancer. What an ugly word.

I’m going to get mad. I’m not there yet, but it’s coming. Anger is one of the stages of grief, so you’re just going to have to forgive me, because I’m going to get really, really mad.

The diagnosis came. Ovarian Cancer. There is nothing the doctors can do. It is far too advanced. She has already beat the odds living this long with her symptoms. Now, we turn to living what time she has left in the best possible way we can manage.

So, I may not be writing much in the coming months. I don’t know yet how all this will play out. In a way writing is therapy for me, but I don’t want my anger to spill out on you. One thought keeps recurring as I lay here trying unsuccessfully to sleep. My mother knew. She knew she had to die, so she could be there to take care of my sister.

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I feel adrift, rocking somewhere in a boat and I can’t see the shore. This boat has no oar, no sails, and no anchor. My anchor is gone.

I also feel like I’m living two lives right now. One, in my home, writing, doing fall yard work, making s’mores with my granddaughter, trying to plan for the book launch, and the other, in my mother’s home five hours drive away, trying to clean and sort and prepare my sister for whatever lies ahead in her future. I find I don’t split myself up well.

I’m even contemplating getting a cleaning person for the time being. When I come home, I want it to be a haven where I can rest and recharge, and that doesn’t seem to include cleaning my house. LOL.

My granddaughter helped me bring in the backyard art for winter and decorate for Halloween. I had already put up fall things, but we added Jack-o-lanterns, a scarecrow, Mrs. Bones to the bench out front, a ghost gourd and a scary purple cat (okay, so maybe purple makes it not so scary). She loves doing it and I enjoy watching her.

I am so grateful to my family and friends who are rallying around me with love and support. My job is to stay strong in order to support my sister. Sometimes that is easy, other times not so much. We do what we have to do to get through. I am proud of her for her positive attitude in light of so much bad news.

I mowed the lawn for the last time this season, brought in the outdoor furniture, and drained the hoses. Now to go over the hill and do that on the other side of the mountain. This is probably convincing me of why I don’t want a cabin somewhere to take care of. I think I’ll stick with rentals. I know when I return there will be tons of the neighbor’s leaves to rake up. Funny, that’s a job I don’t mind versus scrubbing a bathroom and dusting baseboards.

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I have never before sat with a person crying from pain for hour upon hour. My sister needed pain meds but was unwilling to get relief – until now. She was afraid of drugs and the side-effects too. In all fairness, her attention was on caring for my mother instead of herself, but she is stubborn too. Caught in that pain, she couldn’t see the big picture.

I cannot imagine the strength and compassion of doctors and nurses in war torn areas who work without the drugs and medicine they need to be effective. This experience has left me knowing how blessed I am, and how sheltered in the opulence of America. We should not take our medical care for granted.

Later: My sister was admitted to the hospital. Now the wait is for diagnosis and treatment options, etc. etc. When she is stable, they will send her to a nursing facility for rehab. Physically and emotionally, it has gotten much easier on me. I no longer have to help her move her foot into a position so she can stand, then put a sheet behind her and pull her upright. I don’t have to listen to her crying and cussing at herself. Many of the tears came from the grief of losing our mother, many came from frustration at the breakdown of her body, and many are from the fear of being alone, something she has never experienced. The rest of the tears were just plain from pain.

The choices are up to each of us; how we take care of ourselves, how we take care of our family. Life isn’t meant to be easy, it’s just life. We don’t get to choose what comes our way, only how we respond to it. Tomorrow will be a new day and a new story will come our way.

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My mother. I can’t say she’s resting now. For the last twenty years, she used a wheel chair most of the time, so I tend to think she’s hiking, or fishing, or bossing those Welch boys around on my great-grandpa’s farm. For sure she’s drinking root beer floats and watching M*A*S*H every evening.

Mary Ann Welch Jones was born on January 17, 1920 in Wayzata, Minnesota. She was the oldest and last surviving of seven children born to O’Glenn Andrew Welch and Florence Katherine Heidelberger Welch. After meeting Vince – Vincent Reed Jones – on a train during WWII, the pair married on June 29, 1944. During their sixty-three years together they had three children, Pamela Ann Jones Spence, Patricia Ann Jones, and Barbara Katherine Jones Tyner.

Mary and Vince lived in numerous locations during Vince’s career in the FBI until settling in Grand Junction, CO in 1952, and there they remained. Mary loved gardening, antiquing, exploring the back country of Colorado, and her hobby group, remaining active until her health prevented her from attending meetings. She loved playing Rummy and was thrilled to play the card game with her “Greats” as she called them. Every morning, she maneuvered her wheelchair over to look at their pictures on the coffee table before settling for the day in her blue rocker, and then reversing that process every night before bed. In her final days, her thoughts returned to her youth, fishing with her dad and sailing on Lake Minnetonka.

Mary departed this life in her home on September 20, 2018 at the grand age of 98 and will rest eternally next to her parents in her beloved Minnesota. She was pre-deceased by her daughter Pamela and her husband Vince. Mary is survived by two daughters, Patricia Jones and Barbara Tyner, four grandchildren, Andrew Spence, Eric Smith (Jamie), Laura Johnston (Price), and Erin Lohman (Matt), five great grandchildren, and numerous nephews and nieces, every one of whom she loved and cared about so very, very much.IMG_3877

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