Tuesday, December 29, 2015


It makes me sad; I can’t remember Christmas’s before, before our life was turned upside down.  I can’t remember what it was like before the strokes when Marty was herself, when Marty was in charge, when Marty brought her own brand of joy to the world.  I can’t remember.

We have pictures.  I look at the pictures and I recognize the faces, the decorations and the homes.  I see the moments in time, frozen,  the contented smiles of a family standing with multiple generations looking at the camera or sitting at a table or sitting around a piano in mid song or playing a game or unwrapping way too many gifts. 

I see the reminders of Christmas’s past but as time stretches I struggle to remember how it felt or how it sounded or how it smelled, the memories erode with time.  

I remember the traditions of going to Christmas Eve services early to get a seat for all; I remember opening family gifts on Christmas Eve and Santa’s gifts on Christmas morning.  I remember waking up in the dark and cold as a tomb basement in Dalhart or the kids whispering that it was time to get up and get at Santa.  

But, I have forgotten plotting Santa and meals with Marty, I have forgotten wrapping late at night, and thankfully I have forgotten the trauma of putting the Barbie dream house together and how Marty put all those stupid stickers on.  I have forgotten Marty’s embrace and the comfort of us as a working couple.

Daughter Erin and I talked the other day; she talked of missing some of the best parts of her Mother.  She misses the free flow of Marty’s thoughts and ideas; she misses the encouragement, the prodding, the cajoling, the spirited part of her mother.  She misses that mother daughter stuff that only mothers and daughters understand.

I sometimes forget how painful it must be for both Matt and Erin to have their mother with us yet have lost so much of who she was.  It’s marvelous for them to see her, to know she is still here with her mother’s love for them.  It’s painful to know that so many of the most powerful parts of her are gone.  Accepting the new normal is okay, accepting the loss of what was is hard all of the time.

Holidays are hard because so much of what we like about Thanksgiving or Christmas are the traditions, the memories of familiar acts on these milestone days, the connection to our own personal histories.  It’s hard to lose a part of your life, a part of your history; it’s hard to lose the personality (Marty’s) that provided so much energy and so many of the memories. 

The reality of our life and its evolution is not nearly as dark as it may feel every now and then.  We are making new memories, memories to hold on to, memories to guide us, traditions to guide us. 
Marty is often overwhelmed with the chaos of Christmas day but she still wants to go to Christmas Eve services at our church, she wants to sing, she wants to see our friends and she still wants something under the tree from Kindler’s, our friendly town jeweler.  And she still really likes to be with her kids and her family.

The truth is things change, life changes regardless of your circumstances, life changes because of circumstances.  As much as tradition is about the past and what used to be you can’t let the past or longing for what was impair your ability to enjoy the present.  Being present in the here and now was a constant refrain from my dear bride.  Someday I hope to be able to do that.

Christmas makes me want to go back to what was and I know that is dumb, it’s not possible.  What is possible is learning to build new traditions and new history.  What is possible is sitting next to Marty and holding her hand and feeling the warmth of her skin next to mine.  What is possible is watching this miracle of woman touch her children in ways she couldn’t have before the strokes.  What is possible is writing a new book of our life. 

Years from now I know we will look back at these days and be warmed by the memory of what was.
We do have warmth.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

We Got Caroled

We got caroled on last Sunday.  They came in the evening, dressed for Texas Christmas weather and stood at our door and sang at us, for us, with us.  I love it and so does my bride.

Our church, First Presbyterian in Waco, does this for Marty.  They get their merry band of song birds together and get in cars, vans and a bus and go to nursing homes, home bound folks and our house and sing.  It never fails to make Marty smile and when Marty smiles it makes me smile and I suspect it makes the song birds smile just a little.

We got a little Joy to the World, Silent Night, Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  The voices were strong and mostly in tune and Marty, who is a little self-conscious about her very being and her singing, sang with them, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”, joy to the world indeed.

Along with the adults and youth there were two young female children, Lily and Ella standing right in the doorway, right in front of Marty, right in her sight line through all of the songs.  They sang but mostly they did what one might call interpretive dance using their arms and legs to proclaim Joy to the World.

After the singing and dancing familiar faces came up to Marty and gave her polite hugs and touched her hand.  In case you need to know, she loves human contact.  The little girls, Lily and Ella stood there and then looked at Marty and said, “Can we give you a hug?”  Marty hesitated, I think a little surprised from the polite request and then said, “Sure.”

I moved Marty’s chair a little closer so these two beautiful children, these two gifts from God could get close enough to hug my wife, the woman who too often is overlooked because she is in a wheelchair, the woman some shy away from because of her brokenness.  

I watched these children; these amazing babies teach all of us a lesson in grace and acceptance as they innocently embraced Marty.

I love kids this age, they are so uninhibited, so full of very simple joy, so full of the happiness of life.  They don’t have hate in their heart; they just wanted to give a little love to a woman with a broken body. They don’t care that we have important people in our world saying hateful things.  They care about the moment, they care about dancing, they care about releasing their joy.

These children and millions like them are the reason we care when important people spew hate and they are the reason it’s important we call out the hatred.  These beautiful children are the reason I have faith that my fellow human travelers will know hate and will fight against it, these children are the sign that God is still with us even in the face of fear, anger and hate.

That Sunday we really were blessed, blessed by the people of our church who would give of their time, blessed by the music they made, blessed by the parents of these precious babies who came to our door, and blessed by the sweetness of youth as they made Marty feel right, normal and important for just a minute on a December Sunday.

Thank you Lily and Ella, you delivered a Christmas gift to a grateful husband and wife.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Many moons ago in a faraway land (Lubbock, TX) we had a beautiful Irish Setter named Tucker, as in Marshall Tucker, the band (I was a fan).  Tucker was an escape artist and after one such dalliance he came home damaged and needed a stitch or 20 to close a gaping wound.  Marty and I took him to the vet who started to sew up the gash.  As the vet started to sew up the gash I had to excuse myself because I got really light headed, I couldn’t take it.

Matt, our son, at 14 was hit in the shin by a rolling discuss which left a small innocuous wound.  That small innocuous wound led to a staph infection, two long hospitalizations, long term antibiotics and a huge open wound on both sides of his lower leg.  The wound required wet dry dressings and packing multiple times during the day.  I couldn’t do it, our 12 year old daughter and Marty could do it.  Rough tough Dad was a puss.

I’ve changed, I’ve adapted by necessity.  Since the first stroke I’ve been through every procedure with Marty where I was allowed, except for the extraction of a couple of teeth.  Even then I was there until they put the instruments in her mouth and then I stepped out, better than fainting, fainting is not a good look for me.

Marty was always an independent thinker and an independent actor who was never afraid or reluctant to tackle any issue or any task.  She studied issues, especially medical issues, and made her own assessments and her own decisions about almost everything.  She trusted her judgment and she was confident in her own intellect and ability to solve a problem.  The key here is she was an independent thinker.

She’s changed; she’s adapted by necessity; the strokes being the driver of that necessity.
We, we humans, see things, we learn things, we get better, we evolve, we adapt.  It’s what humans do and it’s pretty amazing.  You see it all of the time, people adapting to different work schedules, different climates, different diets, different economic circumstances and different basic survival necessities.    Human beings are amazingly adaptable……when we have to be.

When I look back I am amazed at how Marty and I have changed, how much our roles have changed, how much our very simple approach to living has changed.  It has been a sea change.

I look at where I am today and what I do today and I am blown away that I have managed to adapt as I have.  I am not who I thought I was, I am much more capable, I am much more adaptable than I ever imagined.

And my change is nothing compared to Marty’s adaptation.  She is not what she was, she no longer thrives on the problems needing solutions, she watches, she accepts others solutions, she complies, she agrees, she lets life flow around her as she silently watches.  

It’s not that she doesn’t think or have opinions or thoughts but Marty has accepted, she has found a way to live her new life.  She has adapted gracefully to what is and left what was behind and for those who have known Marty forever, adapting gracefully was not her strength.  

It is today and she is the most graceful, accepting and adapting person I know.

None of this is to point out how wonderful and amazing we are.  We changed because we had to, not because we are some amazingly resilient people.  We are just like you; we are just like the rest of the world.  You need to know you can and will adapt when the time comes, you will accept and change when the vagaries of life make it necessary, you will make life okay regardless of the circumstances.

All of us, yes you too, will someday in some way find that you are caring for or being care for, it is inevitable in a time and place where we extend life the way we do.  

I always doubted myself and my ability to adapt, to make the changes necessary when life kicks you really hard.  I didn’t change or accept easily it just kind of happened where one day you look up and things, when you, are different.

You will too.  It’s what humans do, we evolve into better humans.  You can count on it.