~thankful thursday~ shine-dripping



~30 days of gratitude~ day 4

This morning I started off feeling grateful for kitties when they took turns burrowing into the sleeping bags that are still laying around the living room from road-trips-that-are-not-vacations. Then when I was wrapped in two hot towels after showering, (in recent years I decided throwing a towel in the dryer before showering was something I deserved, but only recently did I upgrade to two hot towels; I’m worth it! Anyone with self-worth issues should adopt this life hack.) I thought about when I’ve overused butterfly metaphors in years past, and how the chrysalis seems so appropriate for how this time of year feels. Going inward, wrapped in a sleeping bag and turning into goo. The slow cooker of imaginal cells encapsulating the dream of flying. But right now, the season of biding my time, wondering what all this goo is going to become when I emerge next spring.




~30 days of gratitude~ day 5

My mother-in-law Nancy died on October 15, 2021, eleven months after my father-in-law Bob, who died as last year’s month of gratitude was ending. As the writer in the family, I was honored to write a respectable obituary for her, simple words that fool nobody in their attempt to capture her life in one paragraph. These words here are not those respectable ones, but they have the same intent.

May her memory be a blessing.

As an aspiring writing nerd, I think of both sides of the word memory. There is what we remember her for, and there are the contents of her own memories leading up to her death. Her own memory, eroded by dementia, was a terrifying, fascinating landscape of imagination colliding with children’s Bible stories and nightmares. At least this is how it seemed to me in April, at that turning point while she still remembered who she was, who we were, but only just.

I couldn’t help thinking as I sat by her hospice bed in October, that her memory is what nobody will end up talking about as she is eulogized across Facebook. Nobody wants to talk about dementia, but I want to, because it has had such an impact on me this past year. I suppose it may be considered rude to bring it up, but the more Rich and I have mentioned it to friends and colleagues, the more we come across others with loved ones who lived with, or are living with, dementia.

Toward the end of her life, people said things like “you’ve already lost her,” extending empathy. There were many incremental losses, and by June she had no idea who we were. But I feel like I really got to know her in a unique way in April. So much of what had formed her and structured her life had fallen away, and in moments it was just the two of us, meeting in this liminal space.

Who I found under all that had been stripped away wasn’t exactly who I had known for the previous nine years. On our first meeting, she saw five-year-old Quinn melting down and judged him in need of firmer parenting. On subsequent visits, she busied herself with dividing possessions and heirlooms she wasn’t actually ready to relinquish and we weren’t ready to receive. We grew into a loving mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship over time. She gave Quinn oodles of fossils when he was older, and shared her crafting passions with me. I saw a sneak peek of what I’ll call her new uninhibited side during our wedding week, when she snuck a cupcake or two after decades of sugar-free eating restrictions imposed on herself and others around her. But in April, the only actual food I saw her help herself to was chocolate cupcakes I baked her for her 88th birthday. She happily sat down to whatever plate I put in front of her, full of “avoid” foods from her blood type diet chart, but she wasn’t paying attention to that anymore. In April, I didn’t see her so much as fill a glass of water, dementia had progressed to the point where she would have starved on her own, but those cupcakes, though. Her memory, her loss of memory, was a blessing in that it freed her to indulge.

She told me about her father’s appreciation for good coffee from around the world, the wonderful smell of the special coffee store they’d visit, how he’d let her try sips. She didn’t become a coffee drinker, addictive substance that it is, and she would never have told this story before April, inhibited about food as she was. She wore a tiny scowl when I would serve Bob a hot cup of coffee, a treat he loved, but which she believed he should avoid. I know this was out of love: she wanted him healthy, but I am grateful that she got a chance, finally, to relax these impulses. I’m picturing her with a nice dark chocolate cupcake and a mug of excellent coffee now.

In between bouts of agitation and sundowning, I saw her appreciate simple pleasures in those last days she spent in her house, things I hadn’t seen her do before. She spun the prisms in her window at sunset and watched rainbows dance around the ceiling. She delighted in a squishy silicone ring I bought her as a placeholder for the wedding ring she had misplaced. She said yes every time I suggested going for a walk.

After, as family sat around her kitchen table and I typed her obituary, once I had the basics covered, I said the words, “She will be remembered for….” and waited for family members to fill in the blank. Every time, we ended up laughing. She will be remembered for confiscating a bag of Cheetohs, forbidding a poinsettia, hypervigilance over a set of square Tupperware. She will be remembered for thrill-seeking such as no one would suspect from her appearance or personality; ziplining in her eighties and bouncing on our trampoline, and one of her favorite memories was of flying her father’s airplane as a girl.  She will be remembered for her devotion to Bob and her children, for her vitality, for her strong faith.

I will remember her for the walks we took, those two weeks in April, around her yard. I will remember her bending to sniff the lilacs and stooping to speak to the turtle hiding beneath the bush. I will remember her whistling to the scissortail flycatchers on the power line, turning to me with a smile when they replied. I will remember her surefootedness as she navigated the uneven terrain, the deer divots and sycamore seed pods, enjoying the flowers and butterflies with me.

I had no idea about dementia when I first heard her say her memory was giving her trouble. I understood dementia was memory loss but that’s not how I would define it now that I realize how those words oversimplify. Yes, many memories were lost, but many brand-new memories were also woven from the fabric of her experiences and the fantastical workings of her mind. Of course, many of these new memories bore no resemblance to established reality, but they were her memory, just the same. Sometimes these false memories were quite problematic, suspicions and fears, this ugly side of dementia that is not encapsulated in “loss” of memory, in forgetting. I wish more people knew more about this, to know when it was not really their loved one, but the dementia, talking.

In June, it was amazing, appalling, devastating, how much had changed. To her, there was something we ought to be doing about those canoes by the lake. To her, we were her “big people” and possibly “relatives.” To her, Rich was Jesus, and she had birthed a baby just recently that she didn’t get in “the usual way.” I wish for everyone who is ever going to experience this to know, going into it, to just nod, smile, and respond positively, even when your mother-in-law thinks your husband might be Jesus. “Well isn’t that something!”

This might seem to be an odd subject for a gratitude post, but I am grateful for Nancy’s life, grateful that she allowed me to be part of her family, allowed me to get close to her while she was dealing with the impossible disease of dementia, allowed me to feed her cupcakes and help her shower and take her for nature walks. I’ll stop short of gratitude for dementia, but for the lessons, the learning I’ve done this year on the subject, for those aspects, I am genuinely grateful. I’m grateful for her memory, and even for a few freeing features of her memory loss.

When we picked up her personal items from her assisted living facility, there was such an odd mix of things, like a child’s confused duffel bag after summer camp but on steroids – so many of her belongings missing, and items belonging to others we could only guess at. In one box I found a stack of dessert napkins in a colorful floral pattern, with a butterfly on each one, that she must have taken to her room after a social event. They stood out to me, these butterflies, my own solace as I used every spare minute of my five weeks in Oklahoma this year to photograph the butterflies around her home. I set the stack of napkins in the cupboard of paper products in the house that will wait until another non-vacation trip to be dealt with, but I tucked one butterfly napkin in my folder, a sad and silly keepsake maybe, but a reminder that even in memory loss, one doesn’t have to quit collecting butterflies.




~30 days of gratitude~ day 6

Happy national nacho day! Here are some tiny spicy peppers I grew, since they are good in salsa and prettier than nachos. If you’ve been here for the duration, you know this is a big day of gratitude in our household, and this year I had my avocados and cheese ready. After we ate our nachos, we walked outside in the dark to see how the clear sky had pulled up its cloud blankets over all but one small patch. Arms around each other, we gazed up and Rich joked that he saw a very slow shooting star. “That’s an airplane,” I said. “No, a satellite!” he corrected. As we both laughed, a real shooting star dove across the satellite’s path. It’s like that a lot with him, so I know now to expect the unexpected delightful light-bringing moments. Grateful for laughing at stars with my husband, nachos, and tiny purple peppers.



~30 days of gratitude~ day 7

I am grateful for a weekend of rain-sun, shine-dripping on us as we ran errands and puttered in the yard. I am grateful for thoughtful husband gestures like finishing grating the cheese, driving me to buy the one missing ingredient for dinner, and making a huge batch of popcorn. I am grateful for brussels sprouts.



~30 days of gratitude~ day 8

I am grateful for reruns! (click here and scroll down for apple gratitude from 2017)




~30 days of gratitude~ day 9

Today I am grateful again for nachos, grateful for sunshine, and grateful that this video shows up faithfully in my memories every November.



~30 days of gratitude~ day 10

I am grateful for writing. It hasn’t been an easy year, and the one that came before was also hard. So I’ve been writing a lot. Like a LOT. And going to meetings in boxes on screens with others who write. I am grateful for these writing friends and for their stories. The stories that stick with me are not the ones with shiny production value that wrap up neatly in a bow, but the hard stories, the ones where someone has made it here to tell the story by some grace, but with ragged edges and a careworn heart. This summer I watched my yard butterflies so diligently that I started being able to tell individuals apart by the nicks and cuts and gouges and folds in their wings. Like the writers, the most unforgettable butterflies had the most beat up and tattered wings, but still showed up to the flowers every morning, still lifted those shredded wings to take flight.

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