Aspens Aspens

It’s been a year. A year without your voice, a year without your laugh.

Those last months when your body was still with us but your mind was flitting between here and somewhere else were hard. The trip we made to Little Rock to see you was bittersweet. I’ll never forget the smile on your face when you saw Steve and me walk into your room. You instantly recognized us, which was such a relief. Then you started talking and I couldn’t follow. The next day you didn’t remember I had been there. In a way that was a relief, because I knew it was not causing you pain that I wasn’t there to see you every day. I still felt guilty, but not as much.
There were no more phone calls. You couldn’t figure out how to use the phone. If Michael or Tracey put the phone to your ear, all you were doing was parroting words. You couldn’t hear or understand me. That was so sad, but it prepared me for this year.

You may not physically be on this earth, but you are still with me.
Every time, and I mean every time, Steve and I walk through the house watching the sunset we talk of you. We remember your joy in the vibrant colors and huge scope of our Colorado sunsets. I remember you sitting on the couch in the sun room, watching the birds, nodding off to sleep in the sun.

We drove to Cripple Creek a few weeks ago. We remembered you looking out the window, riveted by the colors of the aspens in the fall. We laughed about your gambling “addiction” and how adamant you were that you needed to try out the casinos in Cripple Creek. I regret not taking you more often.

I sit in the living room and remember us painting it together. I was on the ladder, you were doing the lower part of the walls. I never told you about going behind you to get the parts that you missed. Remember all the houses we have painted together?

I’m not as directionally challenged as you were. Frankly I don’t think it’s possible to be worse than you were and still operate in society. But when I get turned around and a little lost, you are there with me giggling. And the first thing out of Steve’s mouth is “you are just like your mother”

I’ll always take that as a compliment.

We had friends over last night. They were sitting on your side of the counter while I cooked. We poured some wine for them and the memories flooded me yet again. I could see you sitting there, wine glass in hand, keeping me company while I cooked. I remember the laughter, the jokes, and the giggles. How fortunate I am to have had such a wacky mom.
So more people have heard about you Mom. More of your stories have been told. They don’t mean much to the people that hear them, I know that. But the telling is important to me. To Steve. To Keely. It’s the way that we continue to include you in our lives.

It hurt that you were not able to be with us when Steve and I got married. I know how important that was to you. But we felt your presence that day. We felt your joy and approval. I know that is just the first of many occasions that we will miss you.

I think I talk to you more now than I did that last year you were alive. On those long drives in the car going to Colorado Springs I tell you about what is going on in my life. I know you already know, but it helps to tell you. And of course I can carry on your part of the conversation because I know you so well. I can hear your voice “Well, Michelle….”

When I am alone in the house that is when I feel you close. I put on “your” music, Enya or Yanni, and as it floods through the air you are there. I cry. I miss my Mom. I want to hold your hand, hug you one more time.
I had the gift of time with you for many months while you stayed with us in Colorado. What a very precious gift that was. Steve got to know you and love you. Keely got to spend a lot of time with her beloved Grandma.

You knew that I loved you. I knew that you loved me. In the end, that was really all that mattered.

So Mom, this is your birthday. It is one year and a few days since you left us. So listen to me as I sing Happy Birthday to you, and know that I love you very much.

4th2009 001

Her Voice

DSC_1067A few weeks ago, my brother Michael called me while he was visiting mom in the nursing home. He said she was pretty chipper, and asked if I wanted to talk to her.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to talk to her.
The last few times he has put the phone to her ear, she either didn’t hear, or more likely, didn’t understand that I was on the phone. He told her who it was, urged her to say “hello”. She would finally mumble a little bit and he would take the phone away. All the time, I would be frantically saying
“hi mom! I love you, how are you?”
I’m really just throwing words out hoping something will sink in that she will respond to.
So this time, I really didn’t want to hear the mumbling that didn’t sound like my mom. But I told him to go ahead and put the phone to her ear. She seemed to know it was me. She said “Hello, Michelle”. It was the first time I heard her say my name since I saw her in November. I asked her how she was, and she went off into nonsense sentences.
But she said my name.
After we hung up, I cried. And I realized how much I was going to miss my mom’s voice. How much I would miss her saying my name.
So I sent a text to Michael and asked him to video her saying “I love you Michelle.” I know she was only parroting the words he told her, but I hope that she knew what they meant. Michael sent me that video, and I cried some more.
Really, I figured that would be the last time I heard mom’s voice.
Patty, Michael’s wife, called me Sunday. She was following the ambulance to the hospital, Michael was riding in it with mom. Internal bleeding, low blood pressure, bad bruising and swelling were all mentioned. Michael sent me text’s filling it all in.
So she is in the hospital now. Scared when she is coherent. But most of the time resting and almost comatose.
Michael called me yesterday and asked if I wanted to talk to her. I said no. Then I changed my mind. He told her I was on the phone, and asked if she wanted to talk to me. In a really strong, just like my mom voice she said “Oh ya, I love Michelle”. Once he got the phone to her ear, she really didn’t say anything. I sobbed out “I love you mom” and that was about all I could do.
Each time I talk to her or hear her voice I assume it’s the last time. This is killing me.
The logical, rational part of me is ready for her to be at peace.
Then there is the girl that loves her mom and doesn’t want her to leave.

An Update On Marty

It’s been a tough couple of years for Mom. Those of you that know her understand that she is a truly remarkable woman. She reluctantly retired from the Little Rock Police Department at age 83. She really didn’t want to stop working, but Dad’s health was getting so bad that he needed someone with him and she was the logical choice. I think she’d still be working today if she could. She loved kidding around with the guys at the police department, and I’m sure she delighted in embarrassing Tracey every chance she got.
Sgt. Marty Garrison was one of her all time favorites. Marty is not a real common name and the fact that they had the same name is really funny . Marty and I went to high school together. I guess he likes older women because once he met my mom she became his favorite girl friend instead of me or Tracey. Of course “Moe Dee” has hundreds of girlfriends but his wife is a really good sport about it.
Marty would call my mom and say “Miss Marty, what are you wearing today?” Mom would answer “Well Marty, you know today is Thursday, so it’s Thong Day!” or “Well Marty, nothing but a smile!” and then they would both roar with laughter. Now she was sitting right smack dab in the middle of the Detective Division, and everyone around her would hear the conversation. How could you help but laugh with that feisty little 80 year old woman?
She had a couple of episodes this last year that really scared us. We thought it might be dementia or Alzheimer’s but apparently the problem was with some of her medications. Mentally she is still the person she always was, but physically her body is showing her age. She is frail.
The problems started when she was staying with us here in Colorado. She was dizzy and getting more and more weak . She broke down one morning and told me she was afraid every night when she went to bed. She thought she was going to die. We thought it might be the altitude since we live at 5,000 feet above sea level but we couldn’t be sure. It was impossible to get her in to a physician out here so we got her back to Little Rock so she could see her doctors. We both cried when I put her on the plane. I really thought it would be the last time I saw my mom.
Those of you with older parents know the struggle. They want to stay in their house. They want to stay with familiar surroundings and all the memories that live in the brick and mortar of their home. But we were all scared to death of her living by herself. My brother was living with her to help out, but he is a fireman so he could not be there every day or night.
I would talk to her on the phone. She always tried to put a good spin on it, but once or twice she broke down. She was lonely, depressed, bored. Sitting in her recliner, reading and dozing in the chair. Afraid to walk, plus it hurt. Phone calls and visits from friends and relatives helped, but life was not fun anymore. Even when Michael or Tracey took her somewhere it was an ordeal. It takes a long time to get her loaded and unloaded in a car. She walks very very slowly. She’s even agreed to use a walker instead of a cane, which showed us how precarious it was for her to walk. She would apologize for taking so long, tearing up a couple of times at her helplessness. It broke my heart.
She got more and more weak at home. Stopped taking her “pee pills” because she didn’t want to walk to the bathroom so much. I think she was afraid of falling. Some ups, more downs, then we had to put her in a rehab facility to help her get her strength back.
In retrospect that was one of the best things that happened over the last couple of years. She was around other people, she got her strength back. When Steve and I stopped by to see her on our way back to Colorado from a trip to Alabama she told me that she wanted to stay there. I never thought I’d hear that.
She was too capable to stay in the rehab facility. But Michael did some research and got her on the list for a place in West Little Rock. She insisted on a lake view so they had to wait a couple of weeks.
Mom is now ensconced in her apartment. She has all her meals provided for her, which is great because she is an awful cook and wasn’t eating anyways. She has made some new friends, and toodles around checking on everyone. She is painting again and having fun. She likes to sit on her porch by the lake and nap in the sun.
This was not an easy process. There was conflict among us siblings. Miscommunications and anger. All of us wanted to do the right thing; none of us really know what the right thing was. My brother Michael really stepped up and found the place, made the arrangements. He handles the bank account and make sure the bills are paid. He is the chauffer for the myriad of doctor’s appointments. Tracey stops by everyday to see Mom almost every day. She and Terry took her to Tunica for Mothers Day. Together they make sure that what needs to be done gets done.
She told me today that she likes her place. She’s glad she is there. This time is a blessing, she is safe and at peace. She said “you know Michelle, these extra years have been a gift.” She doesn’t have to worry about being alone if she falls, or if she has another heart attack. She doesn’t have to worry about money, or if the roof needs to be fixed. I’m so very thankful that this all worked out the way it did.
She is 86. Marty is the miracle lady with several heart attacks, a hole in her heart and a pacemaker that doesn’t work anymore. I know her time on this earth is measured in months instead of decades. I wish I could see her more. I wish she didn’t hurt. I wish for so many things but they can’t be changed.
But I’m so thankful that we still have her and I can talk to her on the phone. I’m thankful that Keely, Steve and I had months with her while she lived with us in Colorado. And I’m thankful that her friends in Little Rock stop by to see her and take her to lunch.
My mom does not like getting old. I don’t blame her. It sucks. But she does know without a doubt that she is loved.

Michelle, Tracey and Michael

Summer Visitors


It’s visitor season at our house.   I love it.  Last summer we had a grand total of 12 days that we did not have someone staying with us.  So far it looks like we will have a bit more free time this year, but not much.

Keely goes to Little Rock to spend the summer with her dad.   We miss her a lot when she is gone, but it’s important that she get long stretches of time with her dad. It helps us because we don’t have to worry about dragging her along with us everywhere we go, or making arrangements for her to spend the night with her friends.   She goes to Camp Lake Nixon every summer and gets to spend her days swimming and doing camp things.  She has a group of friends and counselors that she reconnects with every year.  What a great experience for her.  In the evenings she gets to hang out with her dad and they do a lot of cooking.  Escargot, Mussels in White Wine, and Veal Zurichoise are the current favorites.  She for sure is her father’s daughter.

Back at the Ray/Cox B&B we are doing a lot of grilling and sitting on the deck in the evenings.  Sunsets are spectacular, and because of the lack of humidity we can actually stay outside a lot.  In fact most mornings and evenings a light jacket is a good idea because it gets pretty chilly.

Thomas Milbradt was a new friend that we met at an annual gathering of martial artists in Castle Rock known as The BBQ.   He is from Germany and training to be a policeman.  What a wonderful polite young man he is.  We hiked, white water rafted and had a lot of great discussions about every subject you can imagine.

The Brakes, our friends from Great Britain stayed for 10 days.  It is always so interesting seeing our country through their eyes.  I met them at a dude ranch in Arizona over 20 years ago.  They visited Arkansas several times, we did a trip to Cancun together and I’ve lost count of the times we have stayed with them in Wiltshire.  We went to Taos, did some shopping and a lot of eating, drove into the mountains to Ouray, and even took in a rodeo (that one was for Terry).  Terry and Steve are both big Louis Lamour fans.  We have a huge collection of Lamour books, Terry always had several with him to re-read.   Then he and Steve would get into discussions about them while Mandy and I rolled our eyes.

My daughter Kat stayed with us twice last year.  I saw more of her last summer than I have since she moved to Louisville.

I’ve known Carla Hazlewood for over 30 years.  She was a fellow student when I first started taking Taekwondo in the 1970’s.  She has been out to visit a couple of times.  Her last visit coincided with a visit from Heidi Mullins.  I also met Heidi through Taekwondo, she was one of my students, single and new to Little Rock.  We really hit it off.  Both women live  in Little Rock but had never met.  The three of us had a blast and now they are good friends and see each other frequently in Little Rock.  I feel like a matchmaker.

I’ve lost count of the times my brother Michael has been out.  He’s bringing his motorcycle again this trip and plans to leave it here.  I guess that means he is planning to come back?  He’s also bringing his fiancée Patty and will be getting married while in Colorado. How cool is that?

My “Asian Daughters” were out for spring break.  I wrote about their adventures in the Blog “Fear and Adrenaline”

Heidi was here last week with her boyfriend Kevin.  They were only here a few days but we packed a lot into the time we had.  Probably another blog on that subject….

Next week my nephew Paul (Michael and Kate’s son) will be out with three of his friends.  They have all just graduated from U of A Fayetteville and are using this trip as a graduation celebration.  Zip lining and rafting, hiking and camping are on their agenda.

Next out are Leslie Herrington and her daughter Anna Kate.  Again, another TKD connection and Anna Kate is one of Keely’s best friends.  They will be here for four days then will take Keely back to Little Rock with them.

Michael and his family arrive the next week.  The will be staying close to two weeks and we may have as many as six in that party.  That takes us until the end of June.

Will have a one or two day break then Heidi and Kevin are coming back in.  Not sure how many others will be with them, Heidi was sending out text invitations when she was here. I don’t know any of the invitees so that means we will get to meet some new people.   Could be as many as 10 so I’ll have to pull out the air mattress.

Next we go to Castle Rock for our annual BBQ.  We will cut that a bit short as one of Steve’s former co-workers and his family will be coming in on Sunday July 15 for a week.

After that, two weeks or so to ourselves and then we get our Keely back.  School starts and summer is over.

I love living in Southern Colorado where there are so many great things to do.  I love living in a house that allows us to have it full of visitors.  I love living with a man that enjoys having friends stay with us.

I love my life.

Holding My Dad’s Hand

While I hold my mom’s hand as she walks to help steady her, dad was never the hand holding type.  As he got older, he would use his cane, and then a walker, to get around.  He would reluctantly accept some help getting in and out of the car, but that was pretty much the limit of the contact he would accept.

 Last week I took Keely to see dad at the nursing home, the day after he was moved from home. He knew who she was, and reached over to take her hand. 

Keely holding Grandpa's hand
As we talked, Keely kept her hand on his.  That was the last time Keely saw her Grandpa.  I purposely kept her away as the process of death accelerated.  I wanted her to remember him as he was that day, frail yes, but still the Grandpa that she knew.


Each day as I visited, there were changes.  The last few days, he withdrew into himself, sleeping, or drifting in and out of concisions, I’m not sure which.  It seemed obvious that he didn’t know we were there. 

Holding his hand became a way for us to connect with him, to hope that he could feel our presence.  I could judge his progress on this short final journey by holding his hand.  I was amazed, that first day, at the strength of his grip.  He looked at me, squeezed my hand, we talked.

Holding my dad's hand

The last two days, his hand lay in mine; there was no grip, no strength at all.

Lying awake last night, images in my head of these last days.  My brother Michael, holding dad’s hand and gently wiping the hair off his forehead, tears streaming down his face as he looked at his father lying in the hospital bed.   I wish I had thought to get a picture, but that image will be in my mind for a long time to come.  Michael took the lead in taking care of dad these last years, exasperated by the cantankerous man that my dad was, he was still fiercely protective of him, agonizing over this process. I saw a side of my brother that I had never seen, vulnerable, yet strong in so many ways, doing whatever was needed to take care of his dad. 

My sister Anne-Marie came to my parent’s house almost every day.  Helping with dad’s care when he was still home, taking much of the burden off of mom. 

Tracey spent several hours yesterday with dad.  I was there for a while, we talked.  We cried.  It was so very obvious that the time was getting short.

Tracey holding dad's hand

She held his hand the entire time.  

One of the most difficult parts of this was watching mom with him.  It was hard for her, seeing him in the nursing home, watching the very visible decline in his body.  The first few days, there was recognition.  She teased him, he smiled. 

I don’t know if he recognized these were the last days with family.  We made the conscious decision not to tell him.  There seemed to be no reason to cause him agitation or stress. And really, what could words tell him that he didn’t already know?

I told him that Kathy had reminisced about him giving her a ride on the riding lawnmower, of hitting golf balls with him out at our farm.  He smiled.

I gave the message, from Kathy and David, that they said “hello.” 

What I was really doing was telling him goodbye for them. 

Then came the time I took mom to see him and there was no conversation, there was no eye contact on his part.  He slept.  He didn’t know we were there.   

Yesterday, his last day, she held his hand.  Talked to him.  As we were leaving his eyes opened.  She told him goodbye, that we were leaving.  She repeated it, louder this time.  For the first time in two days he looked at her, and he waved his hand goodbye.  Then he closed his eyes.

As we walked out, mom and I smiled.  He had heard his wife’s voice, responded to her.   

A few hours later he was gone.

As I look back, I realize that the last voice he heard, really heard, was my mom talking to him.  Telling him that she loved him, and goodbye.  How fitting is that.  The voice that he loved for sixty five years was the last voice he heard.  The last words “I love you Mike”.

Mom holding dad's hand