Monday, May 31, 2010

One of Us Really is Smarter

I ain’t no saint; which in our marriage is a bit symmetrical because neither is my wife, Marty. We have loved and fought through multiple years, through multiple states and continents. One of us was always right. Our longest running disagreement is over which of us is really smarter. We agree one of us is, we just can't agree on whom. I know but I'm not telling.

Some of our fights were just stupid, some were inane, and some were life changing. Some of the stupid ones really are amazingly dumb. The stupidest being the time I got mad at Marty for almost telling me where to park. Yes she did, she thought it, I know she thought it and I was absolutely positively completely right to call her on it. Uh-huh.

Beyond the whole love, soul-mate thing Marty and I have stayed together all of these years for any number of reasons. We are both incredibly stubborn, we are both very passionate in our beliefs and our marriage has been one of our passions. We haven’t always been successful in taking care of each other or our marriage but we would never, ever give up on it.

I know because I tried one autumn night at the close of the millennium. I was working in Dallas most of the time; I was gone most of the time. I was emotionally and physically tired, I was grouchy, and I was at my limit. Marty was too. She hated her job, she worried for her parents 500 miles away and we were on the cusp of having an empty nest. She complained and cried way too much and about her job one too many times and I just lost it.

That Saturday night I said things that I think all of us have deeply imbedded in our brains but know better than to voice. I was insulting, I was degrading, and I told her I wasn’t sure we needed to stay married anymore. I’ve completely blocked the words from my memory because of the guilt but I remember Marty’s face and eyes when I said I didn’t know if we should stay married.

She was shocked, she was shaken, her face was pale, angry and amazed all at the same time. In all of the years we had been married, in all of our fights, in all of our disagreements I had never said what I said that night. I said it because I was tired, angry, fed-up and I thought I meant it. We quit talking that night and slept in separate rooms.

The next day was Sunday and I had to go and teach my daughter about God’s love in Sunday school. I remember feeling this immense sadness and an overriding sense of hypocrisy as I talked to the 16 and 17 year olds about God. Somehow Marty, Erin and I managed to sit through the church service and all I could feel, besides wanting to weep, was this feeling of what have I done. I just felt wrong in so many ways.

I don’t know how we got there but after church Marty and I drove to a small park close to our house. This I remember, she talked about how she didn’t want a divorce, she didn’t want to be a part time parent, she didn’t want to be the estranged parent at graduation or the first wedding, she didn’t want to be the other grandparent and she didn’t think I wanted that either. My gut churned and I knew I didn’t want to live that life either.

We talked sporadically the rest of the day, not much really. We had both talked and said way too much anyway. In the ensuing days, weeks and months I came to see the mistakes I had made, I came to understand I had been part of letting our marriage start to wither away from neglect and fatigue.

We went and talked to the right people and they helped repair part of the damage I/we had done, not just that night, but over the previous couple of years. It took Marty months before she began to trust me again, something that had never before been an issue. It took Marty having the strokes for her to really believe I would not abandon her. Now she knows my commitment to her.

One Saturday evening about two years after our big blow out Marty and I met with the right Reverend Jimmie, his wife and one very close friend in the sanctuary of our church. The lights were low, it was pleasantly quite and soft sunshine slid through the stained glass windows. Marty and I stood facing each other and once again pledged to love, honor, and cherish each other. We talked of respect, stubbornness, pride, commitment and love. We promised to once again be partners for life.

I will always believe Marty’s stubbornness, her willingness to forgive, her humility, her foresight and wisdom saved us that day. She reminded me why I loved her, she reminded why I married her, she reminded me who I really was and who I really wanted to be. I will always be grateful.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Every Now and Then

"I'm pitiful", Marty stated, "I'm pitiful," she repeated, looking straight at me as she sat in her wheelchair. We had just moved to the living room from the kitchen and she was waiting for Erica to transfer her to her recliner. She kept looking at me and asked, actually it was more of a statement, “don't you think I'm pitiful?"

I looked back at her and said very simply, "No, absolutely not. What makes you pitiful?"

"I can't get out of this chair" she said.

I've heard it a couple of times since she broke her right arm, she has felt pitiful, she has felt completely and utterly helpless. It really blows when she says it. It sucks even more because if she says it, if she gives voice to it, she really feels it. Every now and then the reality of our world settles in on Marty. Every now and then I see the reality of our new normal hit her between the eyes. I understand it because; every now and then it happens to me.

Most days, most times I look at Marty and I see my wife. I see Marty's eyes, I see Marty's hair, I see Marty's lips and her hands, I see all of the things that are my wife. I simply see the person who is the mother to our children and the person who knows me best. Most days I see a woman I chose to marry, a woman I chose to love, honor, and yes, obey, of course obey with Marty.

But, like Marty, every now and then I see the bruises on her arm from the blood thinners, I see the splint on her left arm to keep her hand from curling up on itself, or I see the brace on her left foot to stop the foot drop. Every now and then I see the wheel chair, I see the confusion in her eyes, I see the constant headaches, I see the strokes, I see and feel the broken mind and body. Every now and then I see what casual observers see, I see a woman who has been abused by a god awful disease.

What I never see, even every now and then, is pitiful. Do I feel bad for Marty, do I feel sorrow for my loss, do I feel pain for her loss, do I feel anger? Yes to all of that, but never pity. She doesn't want it, she wouldn't stand for it and pity would just make her feel worse.

I can only imagine her sense of frustration, her sorrow, and her anger. At times it must be almost overwhelming. I think, every now and then, it manifests itself in, "I'm pitiful." She can't care for herself, she can't do the simplest things for herself, she can't do something as easy, as day-to-day as sit in her recliner without someone taking her and moving her. I suspect I would feel pitiful too, and I suspect if the roles were reversed Marty would hate that for me, just as I hate it for her.

After she said it I got up from my chair, walked to her wheelchair, bent down to kiss her cheek and said, "What am I about to say to you?"

She looked up at me and said, "You’re going to say you love me."

"Yes indeed, I love you very much."

She raised her cheek for another kiss, kissed my cheek and said, "I love you too," she paused, "a lot."

The beauty of brain damage is pitiful never stays very long. As quick as it came, it was gone; it really is just every now and then.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What a Grandson Should Know

Noah's coming to Waco. It's our grandson’s first visit to the Heart of Texas; it's his first visit to our house in Waco; it will be the first time he gets to meet many of our friends. He's coming to a wedding, which should be very exciting. I know Marty and I are excited. Yes, Marty gets excited about Noah. She loves her children but, she loves Noah the most.

Don't get me wrong in any of this. We are grateful for many things. We are glad Marty is still with us and cognizant enough to recognize happiness, small and great. We are glad and grateful we have the resources and capability to care for Marty in a way which makes her life better, which prolongs her life, which allows her to find moments of happiness and satisfaction. We understand it could be worse.

I understand our relative good fortune and the blessing Noah is to all; I really regret what Noah missed in not knowing Marty before she had the strokes. I fear Noah will grow up and will only know and remember his Grandma Kinard as the sick old lady in the wheelchair. Knowing and understanding what he and his future brothers and/or sisters and cousins will miss causes me sadness. That's part of why I write this stuff, so people who didn't know Marty before she was sick can understand what we all miss.

What I want Noah to know about his Grandmother is what I think Marty wants him to know. I want Noah to know how really smart Marty was, what a wonderful mind she had before strokes broke her brain. Marty holds not one, but two advanced degrees, she excelled at academia, she was a master learner. She was one of the best problem solvers I have ever known; she could almost always come up with solutions, some of which were reasonable, but she always had a thought or opinion, about everything.

Marty was an incredibly verbal person and her thoughts and comments were not necessarily bound by decorum or polite society. She saw things differently than many, she felt things more than some and she was effusive about all of it. Basically, I want Noah to know how really smart and unique his Grandmother was.

I want Noah to know that Marty was an amazing Mother. I want him to hear about the Mom who helped Matt put together a battery powered, paper Mache shark for a school project and had scratches from the chicken wire they used to prove it. I want him to hear about the video tape she helped Erin put together for her school presentation about being a physician. I want Noah to know about the time Marty threw Erin a Halloween birthday party and how she wrangled a co-worker and her husband to be gypsy psychics and how they used a walkie-talkie so she could feed these faux gypsies information about each of the kids. We all laughed for days as the kids were aghast that these strangers knew so much about them.

Noah needs to know that Marty was an excellent teacher, that she taught physicians to be better teachers and coaches. I want Noah to know how Marty gave speeches and presented seminal papers and made a difference in the lives of people who save lives. I want Noah to understand the impact Marty had on people and how people would come to her to talk and how young girls from church would seek her out for direction and assistance and advice on life.

Mostly what I want Noah to understand is that his Grandmother was an amazing woman. More importantly I want him to understand she still is an amazing woman. Marty’s will to survive when surviving seems impossibly hard, her drive to improve when improvement comes only with concerted patience and sweat, and her desire to think when the simple act of thinking requires tremendous concentration and effort overshadows all of the rest of her life.

I want Noah to understand that what Marty has done throughout her life is exceptional, but her life the last five years has been nothing short of amazing and while she may look like the broken woman in a wheelchair he needs to see what I see and I what I everyday is a hero.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When Plans Come Together

For the most part, the plans of last week moved from theory to reality. We had to make a couple of minor adjustments, buts what life without some minor adjustments? In our life, minor adjustments are easy and frankly expected.

We went to the lake with our caregivers in tow and met daughter Erin and parents Larry and Bettye Lou at our house. On Friday Daddy Larry and I had the pleasure of catching a number of fish while in the company of an illustrious Richland Chambers guide, Cory Vinson, with`. We caught a mess of sand bass, some big hybrid bass and a couple of catfish just to top off the morning. It was a fine morning followed by a big rain in the afternoon. This was a classically good Texas day.

Brother John's schedule and daughter Erin's migraine were the only hitches in this particular plan; they missed a regular fishapoolza; so sorry to you both. Marty was in good hands at our house in the company of Renae and my Mom, so Dad and I enjoyed a wonderful morning on the lake slaying dangerous fish.

The next plan was for pictures with our family and our extended family of caregivers. Our grandson, Noah, showed up right on time. He came in dragging along his parents and Lyle, Erin's boy. We rested Friday evening so we would all look chipper for the photography session. I'm not sure I could get enough sleep to bring beauty but I tried and to quote my mother, "you just aren't ever going to look better than you do right now." Once again Mama speaks truth.

I've been working with Marty on her picture smile. She actually kind of gets into it after a while and starts showing her pearly whites with a smile that's somewhere between laughter and a grimace. It's when her eyes smile, when her eye brows lift, when the corners of her mouth turn up just a bit at the corners that you really get to see Marty, that you get to see the Marty I know. I hope some of the pictures found her.

Lyle's sister and brother-in-law found the lake and, while very hot and sweaty for some of us, the picture taking was quick and painless. Unfortunately, we were sans Nikkie, who was felled by a migraine (a veritable migraine epidemic this weekend), but Renae and Erica were there and Renae almost smiled for one of the pictures. Marty's best smiles came when we started talking about breaking wind; she loves fart humor, but who doesn't?

Marty, as expected was a rock. She was a tired rock, but a solid, cooperating, agreeable rock. As it turns out she was, is a bit sick. Our last sputum sample indicated a pretty substantial upper respiratory strep infection. We knew she had an elevated white count (infection) and she had already started what we hope is the appropriate antibiotic before we got the strep diagnosis. So my rock, in addition to being a sold, cooperating, agreeable rock was a sick rock.

All in all our plans moved smoothly from the theory stage, to hypothesis, to reality. We got to do some things we enjoyed with people we enjoy, very cool. We had to adjust, we had to handle a couple of minor catastrophes, and Marty, as she so often does, pushed through her fog, pushed through her illness to enjoy some simple acts of living. If you watch her, if you understand what she does in spite of, you will learn; through her living, she really does have this amazing effect on you. At least she does on me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Planning to Plan Plans

We’ve made some plans. We are planning on meeting our kids and all three of our caregivers at our lake house for a photography session. We have a new Lyle, a new Noah and a new Erica since our last family photo and it’s time to update and the lake seems a great locale for the pics. As it happens, Lyle’s sister is a pretty accomplished photographer so, bingo, picture time.

We have other plans for June. My niece, Kate, the pending Presbyterian preacher, is marrying Lee, the Liverpoolian, we plan on going to the wedding and some of the other assorted affairs. It should be quite the soiree with me sweating (it’s June, it’s hot and I sweat) and Marty humming (she’s a hummer).

We actually have even more plans. At the end of June we are planning one of our quixotic voyages to Dalhart to see Marty’s mother. This time we hope to have our new Lyle and our new Noah, along with their associated family members, fly out to meet us. Marty keeps saying the kids can all fly to Amarillo and we can pick them up there. I keep saying, nay nay, if we get all of those people they will want to stop for bathroom breaks and junk like that, no thanks, we can make better time on our own and that’s what epic trips are about, making good time.

Before Marty got sick she was great about making plans and was constantly looking to make some. Not me. For me, making plans equaled making a commitment and I wasn’t always very good with commitments, especially if it meant taking time away from work. I thought way too much of my work self and was much too involved with keeping my daily routine uncluttered. Marty was okay with making wild plans, a lot of plans and if we could do them, great, if not, she would make more plans.

Circle back to today and I’m the one who must make the plans. If we are going to do anything I’m the guy, I’m frankly the only plan guy. Karma does have its way with us. I’m not only the originator but the facilitator and the logistician.

I do all of our planning with the clear understanding of our current limitations. We live in a day-to-day world and plans are just that, plans. They are all theory until we do them; they are things we want to do, things we would like to do, they are often just hopes.

Marty’s daily health, Marty’s medical needs, Marty’s doctor appointments, Marty’s reasonable limitations are the deciding factors in what plans become reality. If she gets sick, we change plans, it just has to be that way. We are fortunate that all of our family understands our daily reality, that’s how we can miss a Thanksgiving at the last minute or how we can spend a son’s birthday at the hospital or how my Father can find a last minute substitute for our Masters Golf tournament trip. I hate all of the last minute changes, especially that Masters thing, but a broken arm seems to take priority.

It’s not in my nature to be flexible, I like to know what’s going to happen, I like to feel in control, and I prefer to know if and when we will be able to do something. This whole living day-to-day and taking things as they come is a struggle for my brain, it often just doesn’t compute very well. It seems so easy, living day-to-day rolls so trippingly off the tongue, but for some of us it ain’t such an easy task. I know I’m happy and more satisfied with life when we can just take plans as they come and deal with the day as it gets there.

In the grand scheme of things, we really are thrilled to still be able to plan and do things together, even if it’s always kind of up in the air. It’s funny how things work out, that’s exactly how Marty always wanted to live.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marty Is A Smart Aleck

Over the last couple of weeks we have been moving stuff, doing some minor remodeling and rearranging. We had made Marty a home in Matt’s old bedroom in the back of the house close to the master bedroom. What we euphemistically called our office was in the den on the opposite end of the house.

The den/euphemistic office was the bigger of the two rooms and at some point one of my interior designer advisors, either Erin or Sarah, suggested we move Marty back to the bigger room. My first reaction to this was, “are you out of your ever lovin’ mind. That office is a mess and it will take years to do that.” After the first couple of days of carping, it actually all began to make sense and we started the multi-phase project. I love doing projects in phases, it makes them sound more important and sort of draws out the entire process.

In our relationship Marty has always been the brains of our outfit, I was the muscle. I could help plan the time lines or give input into the overall process but Marty was the detail maven, the idea person and ultimately the decision maker. She was clearly in charge of interior changes; actually she was in charge of the outside too, she would just play me to make me think I was.

Since Marty’s strokes I have been in charge of, well, everything. It was a job I thought I wanted, I thought wrong, it really kind of sucks. I’m not particularly adept at details and I am just a little color dysfunctional. Any changes involving color or arrangement have the real potential for disaster.

This brings us to the latest updates to the house. Marty has watched all of the stuff I have had done to the house with great interest. I see skepticism in her eyes. To my credit I have used the same painter she found five years ago and the same colors of paint she selected and painted on the walls herself, years ago. How could I go wrong there?

I think she likes the floors we put in; I suffered through figuring all of that out on my own, though I did solicit her opinion to the extent she can.

I found myself with Marty the other day in her new room as we were still setting up the room for her. I asked her how she liked this and how she liked that with pretty much the same response, “fine.” She seemed reasonably satisfied with how things were coming together. I told her I was going to start bringing stuff in from her old closet to her new closet and I asked her what she wanted to do.

Marty said she would just stay in her new room and watch as I carried stuff in and put it away and, “then tell you what you are doing wrong.” Of course she said, “I will tell you what you are doing wrong”, my mind flipped back to the past, back to the working dynamic in our relationship, I was the brawn, she the brains.

I laughed at her comment, not at her, she laughed with me, knowing and understanding the smart aleck remark she had made. She and I both relished the familiar feeling of her wit, her humor. It felt like our life outside of our new normal. It happens occasionally; every so often pre-stroke Marty comes back and visits, and pre-stroke Marty is almost always manifested by a smart ass remark.

Those kind of remarks from Marty invariably make my day, even when I’m the butt of her jokes; actually, especially when I am the butt of her jokes. It feels normal, and while we accept our new life, normal, every now and then, really makes me smile.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

They Know and Still Love Us

Mothers, Moms, Madres, Mamas’ or Maws’ are the life givers. They carry you inside their bodies, willingly accepting the abuse to their own bodies. They give birth to you, they wash your face, brush your teeth, teach you how to tie your shoes, sit through really bad band concerts, bake in the sun cheering you as you sit on the bench at games, cry when you graduate and rejoice when you finally leave. They are Mothers and Mothers keep the world alive.

The story goes that the day after I was born the nurses at the small hospital in far west Texas where I was born sent the wrong baby to my Mother and sent me to the wrong Mother. My Mom knew something was up and pointed out the mistake to the nurses. Fortunately, the mistake was immediately corrected. The telling part of the story is that my Mother “just knew”, she “just knew” she had the wrong child in her arms that day.

That’s part of the charm, the mystery, the power of Mothers. They “just know”. It’s why as children and even adults we behave ourselves. Forget the whole moral center thing, it has to do with Mom knowing, it has to do with Mom’s having this special intuitive power of knowing if you are doing well, if you are doing right, if you are doing in a way they would approve and be proud. It’s just one of the things my Mother taught me and I saw repeated with Marty, Mother’s know.

As I grew up, before I went out into the world and after, the one thing I knew for sure, the one thing I always carried with me was that my Mother loved me. It was never in doubt. In spite of what I did or didn’t do, I knew my Mother would take me back, I knew my Mother would love me. It’s just one of the things I took for granted with her and I have seen repeated with Marty, Mother’s love unconditionally.

I know I was fortunate. I know not everyone had my family experience. I know I never had to worry about my Mother’s love; there has never been any doubt in my mind that my Mother loves me and always will. Even in the worst of my adolescent angst I knew at my core, my Mother would always love me. Even as I grew and struggled for maturity and independence, I knew I could always step back and find my Mother’s love. Even as I had my own children, my own job, my own life and the constancy of our contact waned, in the back of my mind, I knew, I felt, I was confident in my Mother’s love.

It’s what I hope Matt and Erin, our children know, feel and experience. Even as their Mother struggles on a day-to-day basis to live her life, even though her cognition is diminished, even though her energy is all directed to simply getting through the day, her love for them is something that is palpable, constant and very real. The strokes have not diminished her love and her passion for her children.

Mothers made us who we are, they gave us life when we had none, they gave us understanding when we were not worth understanding, and they gave us love when we were unlovable. It’s been amazing to grow and understand all of this of my own Mother; it has been inspiring to watch Marty as she passed these lessons to our children. It has been intensely rewarding to watch as Matt’s wife Sarah passes on the same unconditional love and acceptance for Noah, and I know, because of her Mother’s love, at the right time Erin will do the same.

Our Mothers, good and bad, are why we are all here today. We are forever intrinsically linked to them. I’m really glad my Mother and I have both lived long enough for me to grow enough to understand and say this to her.