What Greater Gift Than Love? Grief and Honoring

 
 

I’m so sad. More than I ever expected. I have never professed to be the animal lover of our family. But I have gotten especially close to Scout, our tiger kitty, in the past several years. He’s been my cuddler and nudger out of bed. Today, we had to have him put down. He was 16 years old and was the best companion our family could have asked for. He was dropped off at the end of our driveway shortly after his birth with a very bad eye infection. We got him healthy and he’s been that up until a couple of years ago. You are going to be so missed, Scouty. Thank you for loving us so much.

 
 
 
As it’s been the past two blog posts writing responses to the five prompts from A Chronic Voice’s Linkup Party for People with Chronic Illnesses, July 2020 has found me completely changing what I was going to write about because something else is heavy on my heart. 
 
The past couple of weeks have been ones of loss for my family.  First, my Uncle Bill who was a surrogate father and now our Scout, our silly tiger kitty for the last 16 years. Today, I write from grief that comes from deep within. 
 

 

BOTHERING

Every morning as if he could tell time, Scout would hesitantly (at first) nudge his wet nose into my ear, purring like a little motor. The morning routine was started.  I then, rolled over, pulling the covers closer to covering my face, but often leaving one arm out above my head, hand dangling.  He’d get a bit more persistent, butting my hand over and over with the top of his head. 

 
As of late, that isn’t enough to get me fully awake. I roll over again.  So now, he knew he had to get tough. Scout would leave my head and walk over to my nightstand, knocking one item off at a time. First, he would paw my little statue of the Eiffel Tower I had actually bought on Kel and my 25th anniversary trip to Paris. I would hear the metal slide, slide, slide until it plunked to the carpeted floor below. He would then come back to my head, purring into my ear to see if I was going to get up. I had begun to ignore this first attempt, so he would go back to bat the next item to the floor.
 
Kelley and I feigned being bothered by this morning wake-up, but really it was nice knowing we were needed and not forgotten. 
 

 

DEMANDING

It was my 40th birthday, and the kids were outside playing with the balloons from my party. There was a tiny little orange dot at the end of the driveway. The cars zoomed down our street not even noticing that a kitten lay helpless in the gravel. Andrew and Chelsea, 15 and 13, were outside with the neighbor kids when they heard a tiny mew demanding to be heard. They walked nearer to the end of the drive, with the feeling that there was something that needed their help. When they reached the orange fuzzball, they found Scout, eye glued shut from infection.

“He can’t be more than two weeks old,” my husband said as Chelsea cuddled the shivering kitten in her arms.

“Can we keep him?” Andrew asked, the longing in his blue eyes. He knew that we traveled too much to have a dog, but he was hoping that we’d allow them to keep the kitten. Kelley looked over at me with a Well, what do ya think? look, and I shrugged. “I guess…, but you guys are going to have to take care of him.”

 

 


NOURISHING

As Scout grew, he became more and more a person. His wacky personality was a favorite of conversation. He got a bit chubby, loving to eat like he did. However, he was also very energetic and athletic. A few times a day, he’d stampede through the house like an orange streak, zipping up the stairs then back, skidding across the kitchen floor. He’d chase his own wily tale as is the snake-like thing eluded his every move.

One of his most incredible feats is when jump to the highest banister in the house, defying death as he hefted his belly up onto the balance beam. Our three-story home had an open banister from the top bedroom level to the living room. Scout made like a drunken, clown on that highwire beam above. It was amazing that he never fell!

In addition, Scout nourished each of my children’s hearts. He gave love to each of them. Scout made sure to sleep with each kid equally during the night. He’d cuddle one and then leave to cuddle the next. Chelsea and Andrew each felt that he loved them best of all.

 
My husband and son brought home Willow,
a black long hair kitty, a few weeks after we
found Scout.  The two have been together ever
since.  Willow is going to need a lot of extra
loving with his cuddle buddy gone.

 

TOLERATING

I’ve never been a “pet person”. My little sister loved animals much better than humans, she still does. Me, while I may appreciate them now and again, an animal just isn’t going to win my heart. So, for me, having an extra being to care for was just one more responsibility to this full-time working mom’s life. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Scout, it was more that I saw him as a chore on my to-do list.  And so, for many years, I was just tolerating the extra work of scooping out his litterbox, cleaning up the hairballs, or filling his food and water dish.  I didn’t really consider myself one of his companions or he mine.

The years went by; Andrew and Chelsea got busy with their adult lives. Little Scout wasn’t on their minds as they moved out to college and the lives beyond our home. Kelley and I filled the food and water dishes. Kelley changed the kitty litter. Scout began to lay on Kelley’s legs every night as he sat watching the TV. 

 
Little by little that lovey fella became my buddy, too. When I was down and out, laying in bed and feeling lonely due to a Fibro Flare, Scout was always nearby.  His warmth often eased the pain in my gut as this was a favorite place for him to lay.  
 
In the past year, as I began to get stronger, pour Scout was getting thinner and thinner. We tried special food and medicine, feeding him both morning and night.  But, after we got back from our four-day trip this past week, we knew he couldn’t keep going on as he had been.
 
 
My aunt and uncle had just come
home to Michigan from quarantining in Arizona, 
so I made this video for him of 
me playing Take Me Home, Country Roads.

 

 

TELECOMMUTING

The last time I saw my Uncle Bill was two days before he passed.  He was lying in a hospital bed in a facility that cares for the elderly.  His mind and body were giving away to dementia.  He had stopped eating.  He kept his eyes closed.  
 
I arranged a Skype call with the activities director.  She brought in her iPad.  Seeing his drawn features and closed eyes, I knew it would be my last time to see him.  I had practiced most of the quarantine on the old wooden ukulele my aunt had given me.  It had been his.  He told us, kids, the story of when he would go and play the old tunes for his mom and the other residents.  Even when his mom didn’t know him anymore, he said she recognized the songs.  And so, I played Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver.  It was hard for me to make it through without crying.  Uncle Bill never looked at me, but he did grab at the iPad and pulled it closer to him.  All I can imagine is that he wanted to let me know he heard.  I told him I loved him.  And then I asked the nurse to make sure to play some upbeat music.  He loved music. 
 

Grieving and Honoring

And so I grieve.  But, I do know that I loved both my uncle and my Scouty well.  And, I know that they loved me.  This is what it means to live FULLY.  So, I will allow myself to feel the pain of losing them both during these last weeks.  I honor our connection through my memories.  I will continue to practice the ukulele; it sits in the corner of my living room. Uncle Bill, his smile, and music will remain a big piece of my life. I will think of Scout every time I begin to wake, honoring him by living each day with uncompromising love and honesty. 
 
Those of us who live with chronic illness know what it means to mourn loss.  Those of us who have dared to love, know what the ache when we lose those we’ve let into our lives. “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.”-Helen Keller
 
 
 

The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice link-up. This month, the topics were searching, hoping, traumatizing, honoring, and responding. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at July 2020 Linkup(scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).

 

Thank you for visiting my blog today. 

 

 

 

Thank you for visiting my blog today.  I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned.  Thank you for your understanding.

Sharing is caring-as my granddaughter tells me:)

Keep Reading:)

FULLY Engaged Grandparenting Despite Living with Pain

 
 


Being a grandparent is one of the biggest joys that anyone can have in life. Being able to spend time with a new little love can knock your socks off when it’s been years since you last spent extended time with children. However, if you want to spend time with your grandchildren, you need to be the best you can be. Your time and your effort put in are both going to shape your grandchildren in the future – your role is key!

There are some ways that you can be a fantastic grandparent, but the key point here is that by being yourself, you are already fantastic. Your grandchildren will love spending time with you, as long as you are taking care of yourself. Chronic pain coming from Fibromyalgia can steal away special moments with your grandchild if you haven’t found ways to manage it.  

 
Two years ago, I was overwhelmed by the symptoms of Fibromyalgia: constant, roving full-body pain, deep within the muscles and joints; utter exhaustion making any action seem herculean, and thick brain fog making my thoughts and language disjointed.  I’ve come a long way since that time, finding my way due to the help of a multi-disciplinary pain management program such as the one at Sound Pain Solutions.  Mine involved a pain psychologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and pain medical doctor, through working together, guided my journey through education on mind/body connection with how I can rewire my brain to help manage pain.

 


 

 

 

My wellness journey over these past two years has been fueled by my desire to be with my granddaughter and to be active in her life.  My current protocol using Low Dose Naltrexone, full-spectrum CBD, meditation, Yin Yoga,  swimming, taking walks, and being mindful to take breaks to rest both mind and body are allowing me to be fully engaged as a grandparent. 

 

Related Wellness Journey Posts:

The Benefits of Being a FULLY Engaged Grandparent

 

By being able to get my FM symptoms managed and able to be more predictable and present, I am now the grandparent that I want to be.  The benefits of the time my husband and I put into our granddaughter are innumerable. (As a granddaughter who was close to my own grandparents, I know first hand how that relationship guided my life, making me strong and self-confident.) Research has shown that the connection is reciprocal.

 

1. Reduces depressive symptoms in both

2. Grandparents (GPs) can give exposure to experiences and ideas that otherwise might be limited.

3.  GPs give a first-hand understanding of family history.

4.  A close connection helps grandchildren develop pro-social behavior.

5. GPs keep mentally sharp, active, and live longer when regularly interacting with their grandchildren.

6. Creates a deep unconditional love for both.

 

 

 

How to Be a FULLY Engaged Grandparent

 

Communicate: To be the best grandparent, you need to communicate with the parents – ie, your children! You need to ask them their rules, their routines, and their wishes for their children so that you can play them out, too. It’s polite to ask your children what they want for their children, even with your years of experience! You may have been a parent for most of your life, but it’s time for your children to make their decisions. If you want to make sure that life runs smoothly, you need to go with their wishes. 

 
 

  Dark haired woman, blond young girl, and bearded man all wearing sunglasses

My husband and I had the opportunity to really

 get to understand my son and daughter-in-law’s

parenting goals and style when they lived

with us for two years.  We have great respect 

for how they are raising our granddaughter.

They, in turn, have come to fully trust

that what we do strengthens and enhances

growing our little girl. We stay in constant communication,

even while she’s with us via text, photos, audio clips, and videos.
 
 
 

Be Silly: Grandparents are great for baking and gardening and cuddles, but there is nothing wrong with a little silliness, too! You can have all of the fun with none of the responsibility, and you get to hand the sticky, glittery, jelly-filled children back to their parents at the end of the night! As the silly, fun grandparent, you can always get the attention and love from your grandchildren, and the memories you’ll make will last you a lifetime.

 
 

 

Young girl  with hair in messy bun, wearing a headlamp & using an magnifying glass
My husband and I take our granddaughter’s lead. 
Her imagination astounds us.  
Here we are dressed ready to catch “Greenie,” 
the mischievous, naughty, super-villain that seems
 to plague our house and yard.  
I used to hate role-playing and make-believe, 
but now, I find acting like a kid with her 
to be invigorating. I watch in amazement 
as I see her thoughts percolating
 behind her ever animated, blue eyes. 

 

 

Love Your Limitations: When you’re grandparenting in pain, you only need to honor your limits and respect the pain you’re in. On bad pain days, choose activities that involve more reading together, movie nights and cuddles, and on good days you can get down on the floor and play with the train set. You don’t have to choose to feel guilty for respecting your limitations. You can teach your grandchildren a little patience and teach them about you at the same time.

 
Grandmother cuddling granddaughter on a couch
With my husband and I both retired, we often tag team.  When I’m getting worn out, Bapa might take her for a walk to the garden to visit the white frog she’s named Ghost who lives in the rain barrel there. Or he may take a snooze when she and I are doing a craft or playing a game.  But some times, especially when she spends the night, we have to let her know we need to take it easy.  We love watching kitty vs balloon videos on YouTube, read books, or watch a good movie on Disney+. (It’s also a great excuse for extra snuggles!) 

 

 

Don’t Worry About The Mess: Those grandchildren of yours are going to step into your house and leave it a paint-covered, glitter-bombed showroom. You can love the mess or reject it, but the best thing to do is embrace it. The house will be loud once more, and that’s exciting!

 

 

Blond haired young girl wearing fairy costume
When our granddaughter leaves, we often joke
as we look around the house
that the miniature tornado has hit; toys and dress-up
outfits are strewn everywhere.
Our new dining room table has glitter embedded
into the wood grain. There’s a bit of nail polish on the
chair, but you know, we don’t care. It’s just
evidence that we have had a wonderful time together.

 

 

We, grandparents, are lucky to have the chance to know our grandchildren. We have the opportunity to be fully engaged when we are with them (even more so than parents who have all the responsibilities that go along with parenthood). However, some of my friends don’t have the luxury that my husband and I have because their grandchildren don’t live nearby. Thank goodness for technology. It’s worth buying a special set up so that you are able to talk to them with video regularly. During the past few months of quarantining due to COVID-19, people are getting creative ways to use video chatting: 10 Activities to Make Family Video Calls Fun for Kids.

 
 
I’d love to start a whole section of blog posts on FULLY Engaged Grandparenting. If you have any stories, activities, suggestions, tips to being a FULLY Engaged grandparent (especially if you are also dealing with a chronic illness that can be an obstacle), I’d love for you to share them with me either in the comments section or by sending me an email (see contact me).
 

 

 

Thank you for visiting my blog today.  I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned.  Thank you for your understanding.

Sharing is caring-as my granddaughter tells me:)


Keep Reading:)

What’s a Full Life? Quest to Living FULLY Despite the Pain

Gazing into the night sky always brings
a sense of wonder and reflection for me,
What is it that I’m aiming for?
 What exactly do I mean by living FULLY?
There was a serenely clear, winter night sky this past Sunday in Michigan.  My husband and I dashed through the chilly air to soak our aching bodies in the hot tub looking over the lake. As we sat down, we tilted our heads to view the brilliant stars through the pine trees that looked like they’d been painted on the deepest of black canvases. (The free-to-use photo above, while beautiful, does not capture the large, bright stars from that sky.) We sat there in still, hot water so that the jets’ noise did not disturb the serenity.  This is a FULL moment that lingers in my memory as I write this.

As a FULL life Draws to a Close


Last week, I spent in Arizona, with my husband and his mom.  I tease him because her first name is Katie (and so is mine).  His response to the “momma complex” insinuation is “Her name is MOM to me!”  

We flew from cold and snowy Michigan (19o F or -7o C) to sunny, blue skies of Sun City, Arizona where she has lived for half of her life. It was a Christmas present, us coming for a visit and taking her to a play.  However, it ended up coming at a particularly sad time.  Her baby sister passed away two weeks before, leaving Katie the last of her nine siblings. 

Talk of what now and the future of her finances, home, possessions came in and out of our thoughts and conversations all week. Talking about the past, her life with Ed and their children in Michigan, her life with Paul and his children in Arizona, memories of her sisters who all had moved to Arizona one after another, these all have made Katie’s life FULL. So many stories, experiences, troubles, joys, and accomplishments in her nearly 83 years of life. 

While thinking about a life coming to a close is not comfortable, I have come to think that it must be talked about with those we love.  Reverie and reflection are gifts for all those who take part. These memories link us to one another, the past to the present to the future. The hurt and the happiness, the hopes and the fears, the weakness and the strengths are all things we share and can learn from.


Boxes FULL of Life


One thing Katie asked me to do is to help her go through the photos she had gathered, loose within several boxes stored in her cupboards. There were hundreds and hundreds of photos. Many very faded and most not labeled for who, where, or when. I’m doubting many had been seen beyond the one time after shuffling through the stack out of the developer’s envelop.

I’ve always been the curator of family memories.  I inherited my mother’s photos, then my grandmother’s photos, then my father-in-law photos, and now I’m organizing my mother-in-law’s photos so that her children each get these special moments in time. Going through photos makes me think of all these moments that so often we don’t even recognize as important.  Especially in this day and age when we snap photos constantly, never to be printed or even viewed by anyone.

When I was an impressionable teen, I watched the iconic play Our Town by Thorton Wilder. If you’ve never seen it or read it, it’s a must in my opinion.  In the scene after her death (spoiler), the main character Emily says, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” With the response from the Stage Manager a very raw but real, “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.” This hit me hard at the age of 14 and has played again and again in my thoughts as the past 42 years have scrolled past. 

So What is a FULL Life


What is it I’m aiming for in this life with fibromyalgia?  Just to have less pain? No pain? To have energy and clear thinking? To have accomplishments? Money? Fun? Tastes? Travels Experiences? 

I have come up with this and am putting it down here for me to remember: A FULL life, KATIE, is to REALIZE your life WHILE you’re LIVING it. (As much as humanly possible.)  While I won’t have a photo to capture Sunday night’s perfect starry sky, or of the ache in my heart when my daughter tells me she’s struggling, or the joy I have when my son pulls me under his wings for a hug, or the love I have when my husband reminds me to grab my coat as we leave the restaurant at which we just had a wonderful meal and conversation, or the warmth of my granddaughter’s hand in mine, or my mother-in-law’s eyes as she lovingly looked through her precious memories, I can stop at each of these times and see, touch, hear, smell, and feel, taking a moment to recognize this FULL moment-full of life whether happy, sad, good or bad.

Despite the Pain or really WITH the Pain


I am living a FULL life. Truly realizing and experiencing each and every moment as much as I am able.  The work I’m doing, through meditation, therapy, yoga, writing, etc. is helping me to be more aware and more reflective. Next week, I’m starting a special type of therapy to help those with complex trauma, EMDR.  I hope to bring my past difficult moments that gave me many qualities of strength into perspective, reframing them for what they are-a piece of this FULL life. Living FULLY with the pain and everything else in-between.


I wish for you a FULL life, too.  What does that mean to you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Thank you for visiting my blog today. 
I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.
However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes 
I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned.
Thank you for your understanding.


Fibro Festivities: Keeping Family Traditions

My husband and granddaughter putting on the first decorations.

I have always been devoted to family and all things that make us a unit.  As a kid, I ate up my grandmother’s stories of her childhood.  I relished in her tradition of baking Christmas cookies (20 or so varieties), giving each of her six children’s families a box full.  I cherished, even then, the gathering of all my aunts and uncles and 30 cousins at my grandparents’ home to enjoy a wonderful meal full of loud banter, the grown-ups at the “big” table and we kids next to them,  at the long row of lined up card tables. We would wait patiently for the adults to finish eating, my Uncle Dave and Uncle Fred purposefully torturing us by getting a FOURTH plate full of food. I can still play the 4-D movie of all us kids sitting on the floor as one present was passed out at a time for us to anticipate opening.
These were very special moments when the worries of the daily grind vanished into laughter, peppermint, and wonder. 

I hold the memories my grandmother stitching each of us a handmade Christmas stocking and organizing us cousins to sit around her dining room table making tree ornaments (both of which we still put up each year). This to me, is the most important part of the holidays.

I made a digital version of my grandmother’s Christmas cookie recipes.
Click this link to view them: Grandma Sherwood’s Christmas Cookies

I find that family traditions, passed down from one generation to the next to be the tie that binds.  However, as I lie on my bed writing this, a headache trying to bloom and my body worn out from the bit I did this morning (yoga and snowplowing), it’s easy to let things go because they seem extra or too much.  But, the part of me who is determined to live FULLY despite the ever-growing list of symptoms of Fibromyalgia can’t give up on these cherished moments.

Grandma Sherwood’s handmade stockings circa 1990.

My store-bought stockings with glitter paint pen names added circa 2015.

However, they really aren’t extra.  They are essential.  They are our core-connection to the past and to the future. And so, I (along with my helpful family) make sure that the decorations go up, that some cookies are made, that the music is playing as we put up the tree, our Christmas letter (anyone still do this) goes out, and that favorite foods that only come out at this time are made.

Grandma Sherwood’s made ornament circa 1975.

Our granddaughter’s made ornaments this Thanksgiving.

This time last year, I was at my worst.  My family picked up the slack and made sure we did at least a smidge of everything.  They put up the decorations one day and surprised me.  I had just come home from was what was to be my last week of work and the living room was decorated. (I had planned on just having the tree.) We made cookies, albeit they were ready-made dough versions that we added a bit of holiday icing or festive sprinkles.

And so, I gently approach this Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving (which my daughter hosted at her house-a new tradition), we got our tree put up with the lights.  We waited until Saturday to put up the decorations (they came over for pizza and helped us).   My husband wrote the family letter (I have to admit, he does a great job). I will print them and get them into the cards to mail hopefully this week. As for gifts, while I actually love shopping the local vendors, I’m giving myself a break and purchasing online to be delivered to our house and giving money.  This next weekend, we will make a few varieties of cookies, just the family favorites.  I will enlist the help of my daughter and granddaughter.

The danger for me is overdoing it and then not enjoying the actual time with my family.  And so, this Christmas (my first feeling more like myself than last year), I will continue with traditions but on a lighter scale.  The heart of the traditions I experienced as a child will be there, giving my present family precious memories to guard and pass along.

This weekend we made a gingerbread house using a storebought kit. 
All the fun, less of the work.

So, for now, as my head decides to continue down the path of pounding, I will take a rest. Listening to my body, following my needed protocols for wellness, and asking for help are how I will keep the traditions alive and be able to enjoy them this Christmas.

What is important at this time of year that you just aren’t willing to forgo?  What have you had to “lighten” or limit?  What are your strategies to enjoy the holidays?

From my family to yours, 
May you enjoy this season, cherishing the moments that make it special with those you love.