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My dad called a few days ago while I was getting Bear ready for bed. My husband answered the phone and brought it to me as I struggled to force kicking legs into pajama bottoms. I tried to listen to my dad as I worked on Bear, but the reception was not clear and Bear was not compliant. I could tell that Dad’s voice had an edge of concern that he was attempting to hide. I had heard this tone before, and it had only brought bad news to me.

I left Bear with my husband so I could focus on my dad’s message. He had gone to visit my grandmother at the hospital where she was recovering from a broken hip, and when he arrived, he could tell that something was not right. Grandma could tell it too.

He didn’t offer much in terms of details, but he said that he was following the ambulance carrying my grandmother as it raced her to a larger city hospital about an hour away.

Five years ago, he called me in this same manner to tell me that they were rushing my mother to this same hospital after she began coughing up blood and having heart problems related to what we later learned was a systematic strep infection. At the time, he told me that the trip to the city was precautionary. I think that was trying to convince himself that this was true.

Fortunately, unlike with my mother, my father’s concern turned out to be justified but resolvable. My grandmother is doing as well as can be expected. She had two small strokes that were likely related to the fact that doctors had decreased the amount of blood-thinning medication she was taking due to her recent hip surgery. I have not yet been able to talk with her, but I have been assured that she is quickly returning to her stubborn, spit-fire self.

I worry, however, that the events of the past several years are beginning to break my grandmother’s resolve to keep fighting. Four and half years ago, my grandfather died. He and my grandmother nearly had been life-long loves, and for the last five years of his life, she was his primary caregiver as he struggled through the throes of dementia that robbed him of his memory and eventually his life. Before he became sick, she waited on his every need and desire, as was characteristic of many women of her generation.

After he was gone, Grandma didn’t seem to know what to do with herself. She struggled to find an identity independent of him. Even as she told my father that he needed to stop grieving my mother and move on – a sentiment that, as much as I love my grandmother, didn’t surprise me since she had never warmed to my mother’s independent personality – she could not do the same for herself. I once pointed out this discrepancy to her, as she shared her thoughts that my dad should leave my mother’s memory behind, but she could not – or would not – see the parallel.

We are all human. My mother was human. I am human. Certainly, my grandmother is human. And, as her granddaughter, I love her for who she is, and sometimes, in spite of herself.

A year and a half ago, my grandmother began experiencing severe back pain. Doctors told her that her only hope of recovery was to undergo a painful spine surgery. She had the surgery in April of 2010 and then spent the rest of the summer with an open wound. Several days before she was slated to go home, she fell in the middle of the night and broke her arm. This injury required more weeks in the hospital.

When she finally moved back to the small, farming community where I grew up, my father convinced her to move into an assisted living facility. Although reluctant to give up her perceived independence, she agreed and after several months, she seemed to revert back to her old self.

A few weeks ago, I traveled with Bear to my hometown, and my grandmother seemed sharp and healthy. She still struggled with mobility, but otherwise, she seemed well. The day after we left, she decided to sweep her own floor and broke her hip with the twisting motion required by the sweeper.

And now, strokes. My grandmother is clearly human, and her body is frail. Each illness and injury seems to lead to another. I hope and pray that she can pull herself out of this down-spiral and right herself to recovery.

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Contrary to my promise to do so, I haven’t updated my blog in a few weeks.  But, don’t worry.  It isn’t because I haven’t been writing.

I wrote a short story that, while still a work in progress, is a good first start and perhaps, something that I’ll submit somewhere someday.  I need more defined goals, don’t I?

Last weekend, I took Bear back to my hometown for the first time since March.  I am always amazed at how when I first arrive, my rural little hometown feels so foreign.  After half a day there, though, it begins to feel familiar again.  The first morning we spent there, I put Bear in her jogging stroller and took a twenty minute walk across town to visit my grandmother.  My hometown is flat with few trees in comparison to where I now live.  I reveled at how it was so quiet and peaceful that I could hear a car driving down the street three blocks away, and if I turned my head in time, I could clearly see it pass between houses.  As I walked, I could easily tell who was home, and even hear moms talking to small children inside their houses as I passed.  Sound carries easily there without the trees to soak it up and other sounds to drown it out.  On our walk back, I thought about how all of the familiar names on realty signs and inscribed into rocks in front of houses now belonged to my classmates rather than their parents.  Later, when we went downtown to shop, I was amazed how some people (mostly those from my parents’ generation) so enthusiastically welcomed me and how others (mostly those from my generation) looked at me like I was the prodigal son returning home and they were his brother.

On Sunday, Bear battled stomach issues that I am fairly certain can be traced to some mystery zucchini bread that a lady in a hometown clothing store gave to my grandmother with Alzheimer’s, who then gave to Bear while my back was turned.  There were a few exciting minutes that my aunt spent frantically digging pieces out of  my daughter’s mouth.  Bear spent most of the next day with some nasty diapers and had periods where she cried and beat on her tummy, crying “Owie!”  Her response reminded me why I work so hard to only give her food that I know will not cause her to react.

Yesterday, after several good days at daycare, Bear came down with a fever.  She also began using her new, favorite word “owie” indiscriminately, so while we knew that something was hurting her, it was impossible to tell what.   At first, she would pull up her pant legs and hit her knees and saying “Owie.”  Then, during diaper changes, she would say “owie.”  She would also open her mouth to say something, and a huge bubble of saliva would come out instead.  These symptoms, along with her fever, seemed concerning, so I called the pediatrician’s office and her allergist’s to see if he would call in a prescription for some compounded non-soy containing Tylenol-type medication.   Around 6:00 last night, Bear began acting strangely.  She couldn’t seem to keep her eyes open, and she was moaning softly.  This, of course, scared me, and I immediately took her to her pediatrician’s after-hours clinic.  By the time we arrived, her fever had reached 104.  Despite enduring a strep culture and a catheter to obtain a urine sample, we left without any answers. Her pediatrician promised that a high fever wouldn’t “boil her brains” but acted annoyed that her allergist wouldn’t let us give her generic painkillers that contained soy.  I was annoyed that he was annoyed, but mostly I was tired and sad that my daughter was still not well and that we didn’t have any way to help her.

Fortunately, Bear’s fever broke last night.  She has not felt well today, but the absence of the fever has greatly improved her spirits.  She seems hungry but doesn’t want to eat.  She continues to have strange drooling issues and to say “owie” when I change her diaper.  She has also started telling me that her hand hurts.  We think that she has Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, but until blisters start forming, we won’t know for sure.  She seemed happy to take a nap, and for now, is sleeping peacefully, and I am still waiting for a call from the compounded pharmacy that someone has made a painkiller that my little girl can safely take.  However, I am hoping that we’ve passed through the worst.

hydrangea, by Muffet on Flickr, Creative Commons.

I left work briefly today and took a walk through a neighborhood adjoining my office, something that I have never done during the three years that I have worked here. When I was pregnant, I would occasionally head outside and tramp up and down the sidewalk in front of my office in an effort to churn up some energy, but I have never headed beyond the sidewalk outside of my urban office, in most part due to the fact that the area has its fair share of crime. However, for late June, the weather is fairly nice, and I was in need of a little inspiration, which I always find outside.

Once outside of my office and across the busy street to the South of it, I discovered a community garden, which despite driving past it several times a day, I have never noticed the sweet, little triangular patch of green nestled in-between two highly- traveled streets. As I continued down the sidewalk, on one side I passed a neighborhood school with uniformed children playing basketball outside and on the other, a row of poorly-kept houses. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that outside of one, three cats on leashes were chained to the front porch. They stared back at me with wild eyes, and two of them had hopelessly wrapped their tethers around a tree. Aside from their constraints, which were obviously not well-suited for their cat natures, they seemed well-cared for.

The row of houses led to several recently-constructed condo buildings, which had sprung up a few years ago before the bottom fell out of real estate market. Outside, two young women lounged by a very blue pool reading. I found my real discovery beyond the condos, however, where the neighborhood suddenly morphed into a line of very well-maintained older homes built into a steep hillside. Instead of grassy lawns, most had trails of English ivy bordering the steep driveways that wound up one side of each home and behind either into garages or down into basements. Several homes had terraced gardens full of brightly-colored flowers and plants. I took in the blues and purples of hydrangeas and the bright oranges of tiger lilies with the green of the ivy and the pastels of each home. Large oaks lined the street, which had no sidewalk, and helped drown out the buzz of traffic only a block or two away. I could hear the sweet songs of birds! Along with the sunshine and light exercise, their songs eased my busy mind.

On the way back to the office, I thought about my grandmother. My dear, sweet grandma has been slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s, and despite the fact that both she and my grandfather are still living, we sold off most of their belongings this past weekend. Following the sale, I spent some time reading through a journal that my grandmother had kept when I was a young child. She wrote of tending her garden, which took up most of her backyard and consisted of winding trails, benches, fountains, statues, and most of all, tall plants that obscured the view of the house. She described how this garden and the nature she observed in it eased some of the pain and tension she felt as a result of a loveless marriage.

Her rough relationship with my grandfather has never been a secret in my family, and the marriage still exists, although now she sees my grandfather as the grumpy, old man who is her roommate, or sometimes, as the grumpy, old man who happens to be in the room with her as her perception does not always go beyond the present moment. However, her description of the solace she found outside, reminds me of myself. I always believed that the peace I found in nature came from my upbringing on a Midwestern farm and the hours I spent playing alone outside because I had no playmates nearby, aside from the cat and dog and horses and cattle. However, I found some of her words in my own mind and her truth in my own heart. As I returned to my office and passed back by the beautiful homes on the hillside, the modern condos with their blue pool, and the funny, little houses and chained cats, I felt better equipped to deal with the requirements of my day, just as my grandmother must have felt somewhat refueled to return to the battle that was her marriage.