Dad’s Words of Wisdom

50th anniversary Bert and Frank

During the summer of the year 2000 my parents sold their home in Leander, Texas and moved to San Angelo, Texas to a new home which had been built next door to my sister Christine and her husband’s home. Dad was 80 years old at the time and in apparent good health. Mom was 76 years old, though she would never have admitted her age. Mom had a number of health problems. Mom’s knees gave her a lot of pain and her memory and ability to communicate were growing more limited as the years passed. The doctor later suggested that mom had had a number of small strokes; each of the strokes stole away her memories bit by bit and limited mom’s ability to function. The move to San Angelo would be a blessing for mom and dad, as the house was smaller; there were no stairs to use and the closeness of Christine would offer help when necessary. Dad was also complaining of the difficulty of driving in Austin, where they did most of their shopping and frequently ate out. They had lived in the Austin area for more than 20 year,s but traffic was increasing with the increased population.

My husband and I visited mom and dad in their new home some months after they had moved in. We were pleased with my parent’s new lifestyle and looked forward to many visits. I drove to San Angelo by myself for the next visit – a drive of about 200 miles. It had become obvious to me that mom was no longer cooking. Besides mom and dad’s usual morning breakfast of cereal and milk, their everyday lunches at a local restaurant had to supply their nutritional needs. I knew that I could help in this area. 

My plan was to make a visit every couple of months. During my time in San Angelo I would cook meals that mom and dad enjoyed and freeze individual servings which could be taken out of the freezer when needed. In addition, I would be available for chores which mom was no longer doing – things like defrosting the freezer or cleaning the refrigerator or even vacuuming or gardening. It later became obvious that Dad was taking care of the vacuuming and perhaps even doing the laundry. Movement was difficult for mom due to the pain in her knees. Because of the onset of dementia, surgery for mom’s knees was not an option.

Mom and me

During one of the visits mom and I were seated at the breakfast room table having lunch. Mom looked at me and asked me how I could leave my husband for so long, how could he manage by himself and didn’t I miss being with him?  I replied in as simple a way as I could, telling mom that sometimes Larry and I would do things separately, and then we would have new things to talk about when we were back together. Mom seemed confused by what I said.

My dad was standing nearby and heard the conversation. Dad could see that mom was troubled by what I said, so he offered a few words of his own. Dad said, “your mom and I are old. We know that we don’t have that much more time left to be together, so we want to spend all the time we have left with one another.” Mom seemed satisfied by what dad had said. I was surprised by dad’s words as it wasn’t usual for my dad to express such deep and emotional thoughts. Now thinking about his words brings tears to my eyes.

Dad was right about the time that he and mom had left together. Dad lived only a couple more years during which time he was quite ill and unable to help his wife. Mom lived on another three years after dad’s passing, always asking for him, unsure of what had happened to him, no matter how we tried to comfort her.

Mom and dad had been married for 58 years when the breakfast room conversation occurred. Now that my husband and I have been married a little more than 50 years, I understand a little of what my dad was saying. Living together for such a long time makes us dependent on one another. The thought of being on our own is frightening to us. Over the years of a marriage living tasks have been apportioned to one another, almost without thinking about it. 

After dad was gone

The sight of one another’s face in the morning, the voice of the other person, even the usual things that we do for one another would be difficult to live without. In my parent’s case, they had truly become one person. They had fallen in love with one another so many years before, and the love they had for each other had only grown to where being without that love was unthinkable.

I know that mom and dad are together once more now and for all eternity in God’s Kingdom of Love. My sister Christine and I had experienced something strange and wonderful after mom’s passed away, which we believed was a sign of their being together again. A few years later I saw both mom and dad together at Jill’s bedside in the hospital when Jill was gravely ill. My family has gone before me. I am trusting that someday I will be with them again.

The Time I Saw Love

My life has been filled with love from its very beginning. I had wonderful parents who loved me, sisters, aunts and uncles and many cousins who showed me love. I have a loving husband, daughter and grandson. There were even times when strangers were loving to me. I had experienced love, but I had never “seen” love.

My husband, daughter and I had traveled from our home in Texas to visit relatives during a summer vacation many years ago. We stopped in Indiana to visit my husband’s relatives and had a lovely visit, meeting Larry’s extended family for the very first time. Then we traveled on to Pittsburgh, where I was born and had lived for the first 14 years of my life. Most of my dad’s family still lived in the area. We usually stayed with Aunt Rose while we were visiting, as she had a spare bedroom to share with us.

The Storyteller

One Sunday afternoon during our time in Pittsburgh, we visited with Uncle Tony, my dad’s older brother, and Tony’s wife Mary. There was a celebration planned and many relatives were invited. I don’t recall what the purpose of the celebration was, but then my family didn’t need much reason to celebrate. Anytime a group of relatives got together was a reason to make coffee and bring out the cake and cookies.

In my mind’s eye I can easily recall the setting. Uncle Tony and Aunt Mary had a very small home, but one that was filled with their love. There were two bedrooms, a bath and a small living and dining area. The kitchen was also very small and led out to Uncle Tony’s famous vegetable garden. Most of the adults were sitting in the living area –  the children – our daughter included – were seated together in the dining area working a puzzle or playing a board game. Aunt Mary, Aunt Rose and Prudy, Mary and Tony’s daughter, were preparing the coffee and treats.

Aunt Mary

At one end of the room, in his recliner, sat Uncle Tony. There was a small fireplace between his and Aunt Mary’s recliner. Across the room, on the sofa, were Aunt Jennie, one of my dad’s sisters, and her husband Uncle Gasper. I think Prudy’s husband, Mel, was there in the room as well, though I cannot be sure. My husband Larry and I were seated across the room either on chairs or on a smaller sofa next to a TV.

We were all enjoying one another’s company, talking about everyday things, about our trip from Texas and our life there, when Uncle Gasper spoke up and asked Uncle Tony to tell a particular story. Uncle Tony, who was a retired police officer, was our family’s storyteller. From the funny to the frightening and even to the sublime, Uncle Tony had a story for every occasion. We all enjoyed listening and laughing with Uncle Tony as he wove his stories. The story Uncle Gasper had asked to hear again was one that I had heard often, though after so many years, I don’t remember what the topic of the story was.

Gasper and Jennie

Everyone listened with rapt attention as Uncle Tony retold his story. And as the story progressed, Uncle Gasper would ask questions about the characters involved. Tony and Gasper had known each other for many years, so I am quite sure that Gasper had heard this particular story many times before. But Gasper’s interest in the story, his attention to what Tony was saying and his “drilling down” into the motives of the characters delighted and surprised me. I remember thinking to myself at the time that I was witnessing “love”. The respect and kindness that Gasper showed to his brother in law, Tony, was so vast, so impressive, that it could only have been love which was born of shared memories, respect and the years that they had known each other. I was awestruck and speechless.

We all laughed together with Tony as he finished his story. The coffee was hot and the cake was ready to eat. The party ended after everyone had enjoyed the treats which were provided. Though most of the participants have now passed into God’s kingdom, I will never forget that moment in their company when “love” was made visible in a small and tidy home on the Northside of Pittsburgh.

A beautiful answer to a prayer

(Even though the date on the post is October 2019, it was written shortly after Jill’s death in March of 2019.)

Yesterday was a difficult and yet beautiful day. I went to the nursing home to collect some of Jill’s things. John went later in the day to sort through Jill’s clothes and leave most of the clothes for the other residents. He wanted to pick up a small refrigerator which had been in her room and some stuffed animals which he had given her. While I was picking up the items in the nursing home, members of the staff stopped by Jill’s room to tell me how much they enjoyed Jill. They spoke of her kindness to them, of how often she complimented people for their service to her. I drove away from the home further enlightened about this woman who had been my sister for so many years, but whom I apparently didn’t really know. I wondered how I could be so blind to her true character.

Larry and I were to meet with the funeral director at Gabriel’s at noon yesterday to arrange for Jill’s cremation and to have a private viewing of her body. Jill’s friend John had asked for a viewing, since there would be no funeral and no embalming. The funeral director told me when I first contacted him that they would wash Jill’s body, place it under a blanket, but it was not a public viewing which would have necessitated embalming. When I saw Jill’s body I was relieved of my anxiety for she looked so at peace and much better than she had in the nursing home those last days. Even Jill’s hair was no longer grey but a soft brown. I knew that the funeral home had not dyed Jill’s hair, so why the color changed I do not know.

As Larry and I drove up to the funeral chapel, we noticed three ambulances parked just outside the doors. I knew that the scheduler of the service which had driven Jill to her dialysis and hospital visits would be there at the funeral home, as the scheduler had asked if she could come to view the body and say “goodbye”. This woman had spent time with Jill while she was in the nursing home and hospital during her last weeks. Another lady would accompany the scheduler – she was the business development manager, who sat with me that last day when Jill passed away. The lady waited with me after the funeral home was contacted and until the funeral director came for Jill’s body. I was grateful and honored that both ladies wanted to come spend a little time with us. Erin came from work, and John, Jill’s friend, also came along with two friends who had known Jill for quite a few years. The two ladies, Jill’s friends, drove in from Kingsland.

Once Larry and I entered the chapel we noticed almost a dozen people waiting for us to arrive, as the funeral home will not permit anyone to view the body until the family gives permission. All of the EMT’s who had driven Jill to her appointments over the last year had come to say “goodbye”. These same folks had visited Jill in the hospital and nursing home, sometimes coming after their shifts were complete to keep Jill company – I learned of this in the nursing home. The EMT’s and their scheduler all spoke of how much they enjoyed my sister, how her courage and “feistiness” and kindness had touched them. Once we entered the room where Jill’s body had been laid, the group stood around Jill speaking of their interactions with Jill which had made them laugh or impressed them.

I had prayed the day after Jill died that God would send me a sign that Jill had “made it safely home”. The astounding events of yesterday have encouraged me and brought tears to my eyes. My sister, I am sure, is “safely home”. Thanks be to God for His goodness and His mercy to my sister and to me.

 
 

We are like children

I have been so disturbed lately. I read all the news of what is happening in the Church. I don’t know what to do. What happens, I question, if the Church veers away from the path which Christ set out for us? What happens if the Church is changed by those who flaunt His laws and have become a law unto themselves? Where do I go? How will I know which path to follow?

Watching the movie “Full of Grace” the other day, I can’t quit thinking of what Mary said to Peter near the end of her life – it is just a movie, yet the words ring true to me. In the film Peter was confused as he knew that Christ had left him to lead the Church. Peter doesn’t know which path to take; there are so many questions and problems. Mary says that the answer is simple, that Christ left Peter in charge, because of Peter’s simplicity. Jesus has already “blazed the trail.” Peter’s task is to follow. It is not Peter’s task to lead, to make a new path. He must simply follow His Lord.

The Catholic Ladies Book Club is reading a book on St. Therese entitled “The Way of Trust and Love” by Fr. Jacques Philippe. St. Therese discovered, or perhaps re-discovered the path of love. I have been thinking about this book as well this week. How do I emulate St. Therese? How do I gain her peace? I am confused by so many things.

This morning as I was waking up all of this was on my mind. I said my little morning prayer to the Lord – “I offer You this day. May my thoughts, words and deeds bring glory to Your Name” – when I thought of Aunt Rose – this was a surprise. Aunt Rose was a simple woman of great faith and love. Aunt Rose simply followed Christ. Aunt Rose simply loved those whom God put in her path. Aunt Rose was full of joy. She loved the simple things like going to her senior club, playing bingo, taking Aunt Mary and cousin Prudy out to shop and lunch. Aunt Rose didn’t worry about the right path – she knew she was already on that path. Aunt Rose was following Jesus.

God sent me thoughts of Aunt Rose this morning to light my path, to give me courage andauntrosecropped confidence and peace. I am to do what Aunt Rose did – be at peace, and simply love, in all my little chores, those whom God has given me to love. I am not to worry about the decisions of others, of where they might try to lead the Church. Christ is leading His Church – even if it goes off the path, He will lead it back.

As her life was ending Aunt Rose told us that she wanted to live, that she would fight the kidney cancer which was attacking her. But if the time came when it was obvious that the fight was lost, it was okay, said Aunt Rose, for Aunt Rose knew where she was going. Aunt Rose didn’t worry that the Church was on the wrong path, that the leaders were making mistakes, that some weren’t following Christ themselves.

Thank you Aunt Rose for following Jesus, for showing me the way. That is all I am asked to do. Like Peter, I am only asked to follow, for Jesus knows the way.

My Little Unimportant Life

Fall in New Hampshire – watercolor F. McDonald

As a child, I thought I would be special – and I was. I had a good mind; I was able to learn. My body was healthy and strong. I had a good education and lots of opportunities to become whatever I wanted to be. I had a loving family – not only parents but extended family. I was taken care of with adequate medical care, good food, a warm place to live and sleep. In short, it was perfect.

I thought I would make a difference in the world, as most children dream. Whether it was in being a teacher, a scientist or an artist, I believed that I would succeed. That didn’t happen. So what got in the way and does it matter?

I married and had a daughter. I became a stay at home mom, volunteering in the community, occasionally substitute teaching, learning how to paint, displaying my paintings and now and then selling one or two. I pay the bills, manage some of the family finances, do the taxes. I learned how to write well, to program a computer, to build websites, to work with photoshop and indesign so that I could do online publishing. All good things, but they don’t count as success, not as the world sees success.

Mom and dad moved to San Angelo, and I helped care for them. I continued to communicate with my sisters, helping them when it became necessary. After mom and dad died, I handled their estate, portioning out money and possessions as they wanted. Then one sister died and then another, both unexpected. Then there were only two of us – the youngest and me, the oldest.

The youngest has always had health problems and has never been good at handling money. I became a care giver of sorts, a solution when she couldn’t pay her bills or needed visiting in hospital and nursing homes. After a few years the youngest sibling died.

How does what I have done with my life show success? It is not success as the world knows it or admires it. My life is little and unimportant in the world’s eyes. I will never be famous. No one outside my small circle of friends will ever repeat my name. No one will ever say to another, “I knew her when”.  When I die and am buried, only a few will care.

But I am at peace with all that. I believe that I have used my abilities to learn and to grow, though I might have learned more. I have taken care of my health, although I could have done better. I have loved those who were given to me to love, perhaps I could have loved them more. I have prayed for them, helped them financially and emotionally when I was asked to help. Though my “career” isn’t what I thought I might choose for myself when I was young, it has been useful to others. And I have come to believe it is what God chose for me. I don’t know why – somehow, perhaps I fit into His plan. Maybe someday I will know how and why.

Being little, being unimportant to the world is okay for me right now. In fact, it is more than okay. It is perfect. Thank You Heavenly Father for choosing the absolute best for me.

Board of Pardons and Paroles – page 3

At Thanksgiving after my dad’s brain surgery, I drove to San Angelo to cook the meal and celebrate the feast with my family. Dad had lost a few pounds since the surgery, but he ate well and was happy. When I next visited at the beginning of January, dad had lost a significant amount of weight and was bedridden. I was shocked and frightened. After conversations with Christine, special food was bought for dad – a liquid food which is given to those who are having difficulty digesting their food. It didn’t help – because TH was pouring it down the toilet.

After reading over all the notes and testimonies that I collected about that time, I have a suspicion that TH wasn’t just not feeding dad, she was giving him diet pills. TH had shared some diet pills that she had used with Christine, as she knew Christine was trying to lose weight. TH said the pills worked wonders and caused a rapid weight loss. Christine never took the pills and eventually turned them into the police after TH was accused of elder abuse.

If dad was bedridden and not eating, he would have lost weight, but not at the rate he had lost it. He was taking medication which caused excessive sleepiness – trying to end the panic attacks. With a lower metabolism and lack of movement, the weight loss would have been slower than I witnessed.

By the time dad died the medication would likely have cleared his system, so that no trace would be found at the time of the autopsy.

Marissa Avila reported to the police that TH brought outside medications into the home. We know that TH changed the medication schedule, giving mom some of her pills during the day to cause her to sleep more. She also had brought lorazepam into the home to cause mom to sleep. What else had she brought into the home?

Board of Pardons and Paroles – page 2

I awoke this morning, well, I had been thinking of this last night:

Most of us can almost but not quite understand a crime of passion or rage. We have all been angry at someone – really, really, angry. Most of us shouted, screamed, cried – maybe even wanted to strike that person we were angry with. Someone may have even killed the person he/she was angry with. But what about a crime that is methodical, planned and carried out without emotion? What if a person slowly and with malice, withheld food and water from someone until that person died? What if that person sedated and over medicated the victim so that he could not relate what was happening to him, even giving the victim medicine (diet pills) that had not been prescribed? What if that person hid what she was doing from all those around her? What do you call that crime? What do you call that person?

That is what happened to my dad.

——————————

Dad had his eleven hour surgery in June. TH was hired in July. When I first visited my parents after TH was hired, it was difficult. I tried to be friendly and accepting. I tried to see the other person’s point of view. I tried to be helpful. I questioned TH about her experiences, offered to make her lunch, talked with her. The first thing she told me was that she had had a brain tumor. She then related how she had “died” during the surgery, which was interesting to me. I asked her if she would like to talk about the experience, but she declined. A little voice inside my head suggested that I ask to see her scar, but then I thought that might be intrusive. That one voice inside my head could have changed everything, if I had just listened to it. It would have suggested that this woman was a liar.

In that opening conversation, this woman learned something about me. Namely, I wasn’t like her, that I had a conscience, that I wouldn’t push someone to reveal something that they were hiding. But why did she tell me that she had similar surgery? To express her knowledge of what dad was experiencing? To cause me to trust her?

In the remaining 10 months, everything fell apart. No matter how much Christine and I did, no matter how hard we worked, we could not control the situation; we could not help our dad.

There were signs along the way, but we “trusted” this woman who was killing our father and hurting our mother. Even when we saw the signs, we couldn’t put them all together. Because I had made this woman “my friend” or so I thought. I played into her hands, as did Jeannie. As did the physicians who thought the woman knowledgeable and competent. No one could get past the “caregiver” title.

When a visiting nurse wrote her supervisors that she suspected abuse, nothing was done about it. No “heads up” was given to us. Not until another caregiver tried to quit because she couldn’t stand what was happening, did we know. And then we acted – but it was too late.

I had a clue which I failed to follow – several clues along the way. Why did I let myself be taken in by this person? Why did I not do something, anything other than what I did?

Board of Pardons and Paroles

I was contacted this week for a phone interview with the head investigator at the Board of pardons and paroles. I had sent a letter asking that TH not be released. I have printed out as much relevant information as I thought I could use, but this morning I thought that I would write a few notes to help me remember what I want to say.

Maybe it is best to start with how this all began. In 2000 mom and dad moved from Leander – just down the road from my home, to San Angelo. Dad was concerned that driving in Austin was getting to be too much for him. So with Christine’s family’s help, he purchased a lot next door to Christine and had a smaller home built for them. Over the course of several months, dad sold their current home in Leander and moved their belongings to the new place in San Angelo, which is about a three and a half hour drive from my home.

Larry and I had purchased a condo in New Hampshire as a summer getaway and spent a month or more there at various times during the year. After mom and dad moved in to their new home and we were once more in Austin, I drove to San Angelo to visit. It was obvious that dad needed some help. Mom was in the early stages of dementia and her knees were bad. Dad and mom went out to eat every day for lunch, since cooking was out of the question for mom and dad was overwhelmed by doing everything – his work and moms. I decided that I could help by visiting every couple of months and preparing food for them, freezing the food in small packages. In this way dad and mom would have a varied diet and dad would still have the food he loved to eat ( he wasn’t happy about eating out all the time), as I cooked the way mom did. Mom didn’t eat that much, especially in the evening, but the food I prepared were things that she would eat. In addition, if there were other tasks that dad thought needed doing, like cleaning the refrigerator or chest freezer, small gardening chores or cleaning, I could also help with those.

Dad had been diagnosed with a small meningioma several years before they moved to San Angelo. The neurologist told dad that the tumors were slow growing and given his age, would not be a problem. The doctor was incorrect. Within a couple of years of moving to San Angelo, dad was taken to Austin for brain surgery. The meningioma had grown so much that dad was unable to think correctly, focus on what he was trying to do or even walk unassisted.

My sister Jean came from San Diego to help care for dad after the first surgery. Jean was a retired nurse whose specialty was in neurosurgery. Dad recovered quickly. The doctor felt that the tumor would not return. The doctor was incorrect.

Within two years – in 2004 – the tumor had returned with a vengeance.  Dad was scheduled for an eleven hour surgery to remove the tumor, again in Austin. After the surgery dad would need radiation therapy to kill off any further part of the tumor which might remain. Mom had continued to decline, physically and mentally. It was apparent that my sister Jean, who was now disabled, could not adequately care for both mom and dad. Since we had promised our parents that we would care for them in their own home, we would need caregivers.

Christine had met and spoken with prospective caregivers in the course of her employment at Billy Boys Fine Cars, a note lot in San Angelo. One of those women was Thelma Huichappa. Christine had spoken at length with TH, had done a criminal background check on her, and knew the woman to be prompt in her payment on the car she had purchased from Billy Boys. She may have been the first caregiver hired by Christine – that I do not remember exactly.

At the time TH was hired, Jeannie was still living with our parents and helping care for them, although she was scheduled to return to San Diego within the week. Christine had been designated as Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney for mom and dad. Christine had been a “money manager” most of her adult life and lived next door to mom and dad. They trusted her implicitly. Over the course of mom and dad’s remaining years, Christine handled their finances, spoke with the doctors and managed their care, bought their groceries and medical supplies. She also interviewed, hired and fired caregivers.

Of course there were disagreements with the course of care for our parents. No family ever agrees on every item. But Christine was in charge, and even though she was younger than me, I was determined to be of whatever help that I could be. I drove to San Angelo at least once a month – sometimes more often – to help care for our parents. Christine often had me take one or the other of our parents to the doctor, pick up groceries, medical supplies or medications, and of course, I continued to provide cooked meals. I would usually stay at my parents home for 5 days before I returned home to Georgetown.

The philosophers bench

There is a new program this week on EWTN called The Philosopher’s Bench. Two philosophers – Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard are talking. Yesterday they spoke of C.S. Lewis and Tolkein and how their works transcend reality and point to the Infinite. At one point in the conversation, one of the two said “Evil tries to destroy the bonds which God makes.” I couldn’t help but think about my family’s experience with the murderess. She tried to destroy the bonds of love between mom and dad and between my sisters and me. She succeeded somewhat between the sisters, although she could never separate Christine and me. This woman had let evil take hold of her and worked to destroy the family love which was so strong. It took a long time after dad’s death before the bonds that God made began to be formed again.

Now that Jean and Christine are gone, does that mean that God holds those ties together between us?

On a side note: I have tried to be a sister to Jill, as I am the only one she has left. She is difficult to communicate with. Maybe it is that she doesn’t know how. I ask about her health and try to comfort her. When I tell her that I have been ill, there is no such conversation on her end toward me. Her lack of conversation or seeming concern about me makes it hard to continue to communicate with her.

A new way of thinking about something

I read the following this morning and realized that what I had done for my parents was not done just out of duty, as I had thought before. That it was done out of love.

“Think about those times in your life when you have felt inspired to do something really great. Where does that inspiration come from? The Holy Spirit. God inspires us to do great things with our lives.” – Dynamic Catholic meditations for Lent

So it must be that even though I was not going to Church, God was still in my life encouraging me to do what was right and good. When I read that line, I started to cry. All this time I thought that when I decided to help mom and dad, to drive to San Angelo every month, sometimes more, that I was just doing it because it was a duty of a daughter to a parent. I have never given myself that thought, that pat on the back, that I was doing it out of love for them. When I helped Christine with their care, when I allowed her to be in charge, it was out of love for them. There was a sense of responsibility, I know, for God has commanded us to “honor our mother and father”. I have known that I loved them, but I never allowed that thought to enter into the picture, as though I was immune from loving, as though loving as a reason for doing, shouldn’t be in the picture. How very strange!

And I do think that my helping my folks, even though the outcome was not as we anticipated, was a “great thing”. It was a difficult thing to drive there, to spend time there. It was not an easy thing. All the little things we did from the little note cards that would allow mom to speak the words dad needed to hear, to the little gifts for mom, to the greeting cards every week – those were all great things suggested by the Holy Spirit, who inspires us.

When I refused the offer of a pill when I was first pregnant, that was a great thing too. I was so scared, and yet somehow I knew to let God be in charge. And look what wonders He has given – a beautiful daughter whose presence was a defining point in my life.

Heavenly Father, even though I refused to think about You, You were still thinking about me, still loving me. You are such a Wonder!

“Come, Holy Spirit, I invite you into the very depths of my being. Lead me, guide me, coach me, encourage me, and challenge me. Direct me in all things. Teach me to become a great decision maker, so that in every moment of every day I can choose what is good, right, noble, and just. Amen.” – Dynamic Catholic