On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Archive for August, 2021

Meeting Dobby | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 31, 2021:

This column is dedicated to Judge Wayne Wolfe who passed away early last Thursday morning. I didn’t know him very well, but I knew him well enough to know that he was a man who loved the Lord, his church, his family, and Rains County. The only animals I saw on his Facebook page were cattle, so a story about a dog might not be his favorite, but maybe he would relate to Dobby, a character from the Harry Potter stories who was willing to give his life in the service of those he loved. It’s true that I didn’t know a lot about Judge Wolfe, but this Facebook post from someone who knew him well says all that needs to be said: Uncle Wayne made doing the right thing seem easy even it wasn’t.

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Kent and Stella are visiting his family this week, so if you’re a regular reader, you know what that means. David and I are staying with Spike, the Great Pyrenees who chose Kent and Stella several years ago to be his family. Shortly after his arrival, we became Spike’s official dog sitters when his family travels, and now we’re more like a step family to him.

We’ve been through a lot as he grew from a willful, energetic puppy who required a strong leash and quick hands to control his wandering ways. But like most of us, Spike has become a bit heavier, a bit more settled, and a lot more fond of the air conditioning than of running in the fields. When Stella contacted me earlier this year to ask us to save this week, we expected to spend a restful week – except for the part where he stands at the window and barks at the coyotes at 3:00 am. But things have become a little more complicated since then.

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Back to School | by Linda Brendle

Back to School | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 24, 2021:

Back-to-school week made me feel older than usual this year. Maybe it’s because my grandson is a senior, and my granddaughter is entering 7th grade. To emphasize their maturity, their first-day picture was taken in front of his car as he prepared to drive his younger sister to school. His own car? He just learned how to walk!

All of the returning student pictures on Facebook didn’t help matters. Many of them were of children I worked with in AWANA at church, and some of them were moving into their first college dorm room. I couldn’t help but remember those heart-rending moments when I cut those final apron strings myself – and my “student” will hit the half-century mark on his next birthday.

Aside of reminding me of my age, back to school has reminded me of how very much school has changed since I was a student. One picture showed a new fourth grader pulling a wagon full of supplies toward the school. I checked the supply list for Kindergarten in Rains ISD, and there were 29 items on the list if you include the extra items for boys and girls. The list included, among other things, 4 boxes of crayons. Not the generic 8-count box, but 4 of the 24-count boxes of the big-name crayons. Are they planning to color the entire building before the end of the year? It’s no wonder there are drives to help families who might otherwise have to choose between buying supplies or shoes.

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Happiness is a Country Breakfast | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 17, 2021:

Big country breakfasts weren’t part of my childhood. Mom joined the work force when I started school, and with everyone in the family leaving the house for different destinations at different times, our morning meals usually consisted of a quick bowl of corn flakes or an over-well egg and a piece of toast that became a fold-over sandwich to be eaten on the run.

However, on Saturday mornings, Mom sometimes cooked breakfast. It wasn’t a real country breakfast because we never had gravy with our biscuits, and we didn’t waddle away from the table after having consumed several days’ worth of calories, carbs, and fat. But waking up to the smell of bacon frying was a real treat. And occasionally Dad would fix breakfast for dinner. Nothing elaborate – usually oatmeal and cinnamon toast – but special nonetheless.

A regular breakfast hasn’t been a part of my life as an adult either. My son wanted bacon, cereal, powdered sugar donuts, or some combination of the three – and his father’s breakfast consisted of Dr. Pepper and cigarettes. David would love to have a big breakfast every day, but cholesterol and weight issues make that a bad idea for both of us. For most of our life together, breakfast has been cereal with something more substantial thrown in for a special treat now and then.

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Kids in Church | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 10, 2021:

There was a time when children were to be “seen and not heard,” especially in church. The only thing I was allowed to do in church other than sit quietly and listen was lean against one of my parents and take a nap. Since I have always been able to drop off to sleep any time I get still, that was never a problem for me.

When Christian was born, we attended a large church in Dallas that had Sunday School for children only. The classes were during the worship service, so I didn’t have to worry about his behavior for the first few years of his life. By the time he was around four, we were living in Garland and began attending a smaller church. A Children’s Church might have been available, but I was a bit over-protective, so I kept him with me.

He was no trouble. First, he knew what was expected of him and second, he was easily entertained. I carried a plastic bag of cereal – non-crunchy if possible – and a special notebook that was saved for Sunday only. Christian was an early reader, and he enjoyed the children’s puzzle section from the Sunday comics. I cut them out, pasted them into the notebook, and gave it to him when he got wiggly.

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Preface of A Long and Winding Road – Read It for Free!

A Long and Winding Road is on sale through Tuesday, August 10. You can read the Preface here for free, or you can buy the entire ebook for 99 cents at https://www.amazon.com/Long-Winding-Road-Caregivers-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00LDV3W50.

PREFACE

2004

Thursday, September 9

Change

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee:
 he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 55:22

There it was—a dump truck, coming straight toward me on a road with no shoulders and no place to go. The Department of Transportation’s motorcycle safety course teaches you to look where you want to go, and the bike will follow your line of vision. That would probably have worked, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the truck. Instead, the world around me abruptly shifted into a slow motion action sequence with a one-sentence caption that crawled across my mind: You’re going to die.

Avoiding a collision should have been easy: slow a little, push a bit harder on the  right handgrip, and then swing back into my lane My adrenaline-drenched muscles were tensed for fight or flight, though, so easy wasn’t happening, and I leaned hard into the curve. With a death grip on the throttle, I revved the engine, straightening my trajectory and sending the bike straight into the path of the truck. The right footrest screeched against the asphalt and gave way under the weight of the 700-pound motorcycle. I pulled my left leg up toward my chest; rubber crunched metal as both the front and back wheels of the truck hit the bike.

I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know if a heavenly hand reached down and plucked me off the bike or if I tucked and rolled, bouncing up at the end like a gymnast after a tumbling run. The next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of the road, surrounded by bike parts: a headlight; the footboard, where my left foot had rested; and various, unidentifiable bits of chrome.

The bike was a blue 2002 Harley Heritage Softtail that I called the Blue Angel. She was beautiful, loud, and had chrome in places where most bikes don’t have places. When I rode her, I was powerful and beautiful and shiny, just like her, and I rode every chance I got. Now, she was lying on the side of the road with a trail of broken bits and pieces behind her.

In a daze, I wandered over and said to no one in particular, “I guess my riding days are over.”

My husband David was leading the ride. Out of sight around the next curve and deafened by the roar of his pipes, he was unaware of what was going on. James and Peggy, our neighbors and riding buddies, were bringing up the rear. James pulled up beside me and made sure I was still breathing before speeding away to catch up with David.

I watched him until he was out of sight, and then I sat down in the weeds to take inventory. Unlike my Angel, I was bruised and shaken, but not broken. My helmet was scraped, and the visor hung from one snap. There was a slight cut on the bridge of my nose from my glasses. My left foot hurt, so I took off my boot to check the damage. I didn’t find anything major, but my instep was swollen and turning blue, so I put my boot back on before my foot outgrew it. My elbows were skinned, and the length of my right thigh stung from road rash. A dull ache on my left hip presaged a huge bruise—but I was alive.

Peggy and the truck driver had just dragged my bike out of the path of oncoming traffic when an Arkansas Highway Patrol car arrived. The next few minutes were a blur of activity. I watched it all from the cocoon of numbness that surrounds you after a traumatic event. I answered questions when they were asked and signed my name when it was required, but mostly I thought about what had just happened.

I had been following David like always. He rides a black 2000 Harley Road King Classic. As we had been winding through the trees and hills on a beautiful two-lane road, I’d felt good, enjoying both the memory of David’s compliments about what a good rider I was becoming and the elegance of his riding style. Even after a couple of decades as a civilian, he still had his military posture, and he looked almost regal in the saddle. He had pulled ahead of me a bit, so I had given the Angel a little more gas—a little too much as it turned out. I had gone into a right-hand curve a little too hot and swung out just over the yellow line.

If I could just hit the rewind button and take that curve one more time.

Once the formalities were done and the shiny, twisted remains of the Angel had been towed away on a flatbed trailer, I climbed onto the buddy seat of the Road King. I was once again riding two-up behind David, leaning against his back with my arms around his waist the way I had the first time he took me riding when we were dating. shrunken caravan rode off in search of a place to eat dinner and lick our wounds.

Sitting on the back gives you time to think and pray. I thanked God for His mercy, amazed at what I had survived. I also asked why it had happened and if my riding days were really over. The only response I received in those moments of quiet meditation was a sense that I’d know when it was time to ride again. So far, I’m still riding two-up behind David.

Back at the condo, I took some pain reliever and soaked in a tub of hot water to ease my aches and pains. The pills and hot water worked on the physical woes, but they did nothing for the shock and horror of the images in my head, images of that truck coming toward me again and again. I joined the rest of the group in the living room and snuggled up next to David, looking for the warmth and comfort of his touch.

I was beginning to relax and unwind a bit when the cell phone rang. A flutter of anxiety made me catch my breath as it rang a second time. Only a few people had that number, so when it rang, it was usually serious. My first thought was of Mom and Dad who were over two hundred miles away.

In the fall of 2003, Dad had a mysterious neurological infection that landed him in the hospital for two weeks and in a rehab facility for three more. With her world turned upside down, Mom had an emotional breakdown, so she had stayed with us temporarily. She had delusions that Dad had died or run off with another woman, and when she saw him at the hospital, she called him “Mama.” Their snug two-bedroom house was not her secure little nest without him there, but she was afraid to be anywhere else.

Trying to meet their needs without neglecting my job or my husband did a number on my world, too. My neat, orderly little life turned into a chaotic mess. My perfect daughter, superhero alter ego took over, and I flew to the rescue.

I was the only one who could get Dad to eat, and I was afraid if I didn’t show up at the hospital three times a day, he would starve to death. I also spent hours with Mom, trying to calm her fears and cure her insecurities. This was when I experienced my first close encounter with the caregiver’s secret fear that it was my sole responsibility to see to the welfare of my parents. I thought that if I did everything right, my parents would get well and things would go back to normal. If they didn’t get well, it would be my fault.

After several months, Mom and Dad had both recovered from the trauma of his illness, but things had changed. They were back in their own home, but I still dropped by every day on my lunch hour to say hello and check on them. The yard on their little corner lot had been, at one time, well-tended and frequently admired by neighbors and passersby, but now it was unkempt, brown, and weed-choked. The hedges that had once been neatly trimmed now sprouted wild branches in every direction.

Inside was worse. The smell of unwashed bodies greeted me at the door, and the sigh of Mom and Dad sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, waited for me in the living room. The books and crossword puzzles that used to occupy their attention lay forgotten on the coffee table, along with piles of unbalanced bank statements and unpaid bills. The pantry and refrigerator that had once been stocked with fresh, nutritious food were either empty or filled with pre-packaged meals and snacks or leftovers that looked like a science experiment gone bad.

“What did you have for lunch?” I asked.

Each looked to the other for a response.

“I don’t remember.”

“You did eat, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know. I think we had a sausage biscuit around ten o’clock.”

Answers to questions about medications and doctor’s visits were equally vague. I reluctantly began to research care options, arming myself with as much information as I could. Eventually, some decisions would have to be made.

Not today, though. Today was supposed to have been a good day. We were on a motorcycle adventure with our neighbors, spending several days exploring new scenery and finding the curvy Arkansas roads that are like a Disney World thrill ride for bikers. The morning was beautiful, a perfect start to a day of forgetting about the real world for a while. Unfortunately, the day wasn’t so perfect after all.

When we stopped for a mid-morning rest, David whipped out his cell phone and called his buddy Roger, also a biker. Knowing Roger was at work, David greeted him with his usual taunt, Hey, man, where ya’ at? This morning, though, Roger had news. Delta Airlines, where David had worked for sixteen years, had announced that the DFW maintenance hangar would close and relocate to Atlanta in January. David was only fifty-six, too young to retire. He could relocate, but I wasn’t sure if I could work out a transfer with my employers. Starting a new career wasn’t appealing to either of us. Plus, what would we do about Mom and Dad? Then there was the truck, and now the phone was ringing.

The phone rang a third time, and I picked it up with a trembling hand.

“Hello?”

“Linda, this is Mary.”

Mary and I were running buddies before I met David, and we were still closer than she and her twin sister. She explained that she had received a panicked call from Mom.

 Mom had asked her to go check on Dad. He had gone to my house to pick kup the mail and feed the dogs, and he’d been gone for long enough that she was worried.

My heart was in my throat, unable to decide whether to beat wildly or stop altogether.

“Are they okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mary, “but you need to know what happened. When I turned onto your street I saw emergency vehicles in front of your house. The EMTs were huddled around Elmer. A passing neighbor found him lying unconscious on the sidewalk and called nine-one-one. By the time I arrived, he was awake, but he’s refusing to go to the hospital. I think you should talk to him.”

“Okay,” I agreed. My hand was shaking so badly I could hardly hold the phone while I waited for him to come on the line. “Daddy, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I don’t need an ambulance.”

“Maybe you could let Mary take you to the ER, just to be sure everything is okay. Would you do that for me?”

“Okay. I don’t see any need of it, but if it will make you feel better, I’ll do it.”

After I hung up, I sat with my head in my hands, feeling like I’d just been hit by another truck. As I fought back tears, the caregiver’s guilty mantra taunted me: I should have been there.

Mary called back a couple of hours later. “Linda, I took your dad to the ER. They didn’t find any real damage, so they sent him home. I’m going to spend the night with them and check on him periodically.”

He made it through the night with no further signs of injury. A later check with his doctor showed no major damage, either, but he has not been quite the same since. None of us have.

Blessings,

Linda

Kitty’s Story

Fallen Angel Salvage

Tatia’s Tattoo

Mom’s Long Goodbye

A Long and Winding Road


Winding Road is 99cents

EBOOK SALE: 99cents through 8/10/21!

The story of the chaos that happens when four people, two of whom have Alzheimer’s, spend seven weeks touring the southeastern U.S. in a 40-foot motor home.

A reader says: This book was honest and real, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. Reflections on all aspects of her life were insightful for anyone, regardless of whether or not they are a caregiver.https://www.amazon.com/Long-Winding-Road-Caregivers-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00LDV3W50

Kitty and Her Elephant | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 2, 2021:

Kitty has a collection of toys, most of which remain stashed in a lower section of her “condo” where I put them to avoid sucking them up in the vacuum cleaner. Occasionally, she’ll find a stray jingle ball and play a game of feline soccer, but these bursts of activity are short-lived and usually followed by a long nap. The one exception is her elephant. It is a three-inch square pillow made of yellow felt with two side flaps, a two-inch cord, and a small stuffed tube representing ears, a tail, and a trunk respectively.

The elephant received a cool reception when he first arrived on the scene several Christmases ago. The leopard-spotted fish was the reigning favorite at the time, but when it went missing under a piece of furniture or behind an appliance, the elephant took its place. Fame is fleeting, though, and when a new blue lamé fish appeared, the elephant was pushed aside.

The new fish was attached to a two-foot stick by an elastic cord, and Kitty sometimes enjoyed chasing it around when David or I bounced it in front of her. However, the #1 game was walking back and forth through the house with the fish in her mouth and the stick trailing along behind, especially through the kitchen. At least we knew she was coming when we heard the stick dragging across the ceramic tile. The stick also made it harder for the fish to hide under or behind things, but apparently it jumped off the bed into the crevice between the footboard and the cedar chest once too often. Disgrace followed, and the elephant reappeared.

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