This has been a year, and not just because of covid.
Last spring, Art had a lot of pain in both his legs radiating from his back. He spent several months dependent on a walker or a wheelchair. His neurological surgeon could tell by the path of the pain that he had at least six pinched nerves in his back. Art had a laminectomy, a day surgery, on June 11. We arrived at the hospital at about 10 a.m. and returned home 12 hours later. Already the pain was much diminished.
It was a successful conclusion to a careful process. Art had two pre-surgical consultations. Art’s son Peter, a nurse with orthopedic experience, went to the first conference with us and wrote up a summary of the visit for the rest of the family. Art’s son Jason went to the second consultation. Jason and his wife Kalei and son Kaleb lived on the main floor of our Brier home, and we knew that family would need to be watching out for us after the surgery. We had extra help during the first three post-op days from Art’s sister Mary, Linda’s sister Alyx, and Peter. It is great to have multiple nurses in the family. As it turned out, Art followed Peter’s suggestions more readily than he did his surgeon’s, especially in the area of pain control.
Between February and June, Linda was the caregiver and cook, the errand runner and shopper and laundry doer. Linda was the one who hauled Art up off the floor after the half dozen times he fell. Linda was the one who ordered a “help” button, who loaded and unloaded the walker or wheelchair every time we went anywhere in the car. It was a long, grueling time, made tougher by pain in Linda’s hip.
Linda had been diagnosed in May with severe degeneration of her right hip. She, too, had two consultations followed by a day surgery on August 20 to replace the worn-out joint.
By the time of Linda’s surgery, Art was up and about, using mostly a walker as he regained his strength. And Linda had a walker. We rearranged our living area so we had enough room for both walkers to move around. We laughed about our “dueling walkers," but both of us were more than ready to get back to our regular lives.
Now, in December, the wheelchair and both inside walkers are in the storage shed. Art uses a walker or a cane when he goes out; he also rides his e-bike around our Tucson neighborhood most days. Linda uses a cane or trekking poles when she goes out. We know these things take time to heal. Art is way more patient than Linda.
So, here are the gifts of 2021:
- We have excellent medical care and great surgeons.
- Our children have all been supportive of our challenges.
- We lived for six months in our new daylight-basement apartment, and we got to furnish and accessorize it exactly to our taste. When we get home in May, we’ll be making some changes that Linda wants. Art doesn’t care, except he’d like to sit on something more comfortable than a sleeper sofa while he’s watching TV.
- Linda did major decluttering of boxes in the garage - brought downstairs by Jason’s family when they moved in two years ago, or taking up space for years or decades because “you never know when you’re going to need something”. She gave away or donated nearly 100 items from those boxes, from scarves to kayaking gloves to camping gear.
- Linda went through several memory boxes. She read the letters her father had written to her grandmother during World War II, then recycled them. She read the letters she had written during college to her mother - mostly saying the same thing: “I’m really busy and behind in my classes; I’m dating this guy; I need some money”. Those letters got recycled as well. She read the letters her mother’s father had written to his wife, back in the 1920s, when he was on the road for work, and then sent them to her oldest cousin. She read the cards and letters from a man she’d loved between her marriages, and her journals from that time. When Linda was finished with all the reading, her heart was full and she was grateful for her life, but more than ready to let go of the past.
- We got to witness the fine job Jason and Kalei have done with their son Kaleb, our grandson. He was so helpful, taking our recycle stuff to the bin on the curb when neither of us could manage it; bringing us slices of pizza and delivering our mail. For almost every task, Art rewarded Kaleb with beef jerky, and Kaleb laughed each time. Jason and Kalei, too, were patient and loving during the times we needed extra help. Having them living upstairs was an unexpected blessing.
- Kaleb has a hamster named Ricky, who made so much noise at night that Kaleb kept him in the laundry room. One day Linda saw the hamster and felt sorry for Ricky, so she bought a running wheel for Kaleb to put in the cage. It worked so well that Ricky now lives in Kaleb’s room. Grandma scored!
- In September, Jason and his family moved to a house nearby with more space, and in October Linda’s son James moved in. He will remodel the upstairs in exchange for rent. It is very good to have our children close by
- Once back in Tucson, we found an inside handyman and an outside handyman who do the “honey do” things. We have enough money to hire the work done, and Art is willing to let the jobs go.
- Linda has read to Art nearly every night for the last 25 years, before we turn off the light. We’re grateful that we can download books from our Washington library even when we’re in Arizona.
So, we’re elders now. There are some things we can no longer do. We’re probably finished with ten-mile hikes, and walking miles on cobblestones in old European cities. But we’ve done those things, and remember them. Besides, there are gifts given to elders as well: the ability to listen, to appreciate the things close at hand, to remain calm in the midst of the chaos of the world.
The gratitude continues.
May your holidays be full of peace.