Remembering Peeps and Mom

Mom loved Peeps

Mom loved Peeps

This week will mark the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death.  It really was a miracle that she lived as long as she did, considering bilateral breast cancer (one side was actually ‘pre-cancerous’ but required a simple mastectomy, but the other side required a radical mastectomy), metastasis to her right lung, and metastasis to the right side of her brain.  Those are ‘just’ the cancer sites…she also had other cancer-related diagnoses including seizures that started well after her cancer treatment and dementia as a result of brain radiation.  The dementia was the hardest to watch. On March 13, 2003, she died after becoming septic from a urinary tract infection. She couldn’t verbalize symptoms very well, so dad didn’t know how sick she was until she began to have increased seizures and became unconscious during their winter away in Arizona. She had been ‘fine’ the day before, and had been with him at an art gallery.   Mismanagement (neglect) by the emergency room where she had been taken by ambulance (unconscious) took away any chance she may have had (they sent her home when she needed IV antibiotics- not pills and an elderly husband as her only caregiver more than 2000 miles from home)…but dad and I have to look at it this way: at least she didn’t end up in a facility not knowing anybody, and being impossible to care for at home. She survived 17 years after her last cancer diagnosis… I don’t know many people who have survived the all of the various cancers she had, especially back then.  If I remember right, her first breast cancer diagnosis was in 1981.  Things have changed a lot.

My mom and I were never all that close. For decades, I knew she loved me, but didn’t have a clue if she actually liked me. It was a hard way to grow up, especially when I was little.  As I got older (as an adult) and was able to imagine things from a point of view of someone in her situation (she had two newborn baby boys die within two weeks of their birth about 2 years apart  by the time she was about 25 years old), it made more sense that she couldn’t allow herself the luxury of being  vulnerable to more loss.  She was able to convey warmth to her students during the years she taught 2nd grade and later 4th grade and in the resource room at Rockford Christian Elementary School; they weren’t hers to lose; she could risk more of herself… but I never saw that degree of warmth.  I get it now.  She wanted me. She loved me. And she was terrified of losing me (confirmed by her mother).  It’s heartbreaking to look back at what she went through.  As a kid, I didn’t get it.  I just felt like she wanted me out of her way. I’m glad I was able to get past that as an adult, and feel compassion towards her.  She did the best she could most of the time.  I may not understand her reasons for some things, but I think most people do the best with what they are equipped to handle.  Add the loss of two newborns before her brain was even done growing, and more makes sense. That in and of itself would change her brain chemistry.

As mom’s dementia progressed, she had fewer and fewer things that she remembered and gave her some degree of pleasure. She watched the same movies over and over again, since she remembered them (and do NOT call  her while she was watching them, or she’d hang up on  you- something she’d never do in her ‘normal’ years).  She loved sweet stuff, which I’m told isn’t how she was when she was younger. I do remember her liking ‘Fifth Avenue’ candy bars when we went grocery shopping when I was a kid. She also was quite willing to take my Halloween candy leftovers (I didn’t like Baby Ruths, peanut butter taffy, or most marshmallow candy).  All I had to do was sort it, and give her my rejects- and she loved them.  During her dementia years, spice drops (gum drops) and Peeps were favorites. I made sure she had gum drops when she and dad visited me in Texas.

Peeps began making their marshmallow candies for holidays other than Easter, so I’d go to the store the day after holidays and buy mom a bunch of Peeps when they were half-price. They hardly weighed anything, so I’d mail them to her in Illinois from where I was in Texas.  She loved getting those ‘care packages’. Dad, however, was not all that amused by having to police them, since she’d eat them all at once if left alone with them.  This is the guy who would go all over town in July looking for pumpkin pie since mom thought it was Thanksgiving.  With the Peeps, he’d hear “I want some Peeps” multiple times a day until they were gone.  She remembered they were there…

Whenever I see Peeps, I think of her and the simple things that made her happy during her last several years.  As hard as it was to watch her slip away and become someone who was so unlike the ‘normal’ her, it was also so easy to make her happy.  I never felt I could do things ‘good enough’ as a kid- it may sound sappy, but I wanted to do something to make her happy when she had so little of her real self left.  For dad, it was hunting for pumpkin pie (and other goodies) during the off-season for whatever she had in her head that she had to have. For me, especially before I moved back home to help dad take care of her, it was gum drops when they visited, and Peeps to mail to her.  I don’t like Peeps at all.  But they do make me smile when I think of how happy they made her .  🙂

Peeps remind me of my mom

Peeps remind me of my mom

January 7, 1978… The Nelson Murders, Rockford, IL

EDIT:   This post is my most viewed post.  I’d like to know who is searching for this, and why (my guess is that it’s more “kids” who remember the Nelsons).  Please leave a comment.  🙂

January 7, 1978…. it was a clear, cold winter Saturday when my grandmother (and grandfather) walked into our house and asked me if it was my figure skating coach whose 6 children had been murdered, and found earlier that morning.  I froze.  I was just 14 years old (by a couple of months), and had no frame of reference to figure out how to wrap my head around what she had just asked.  It couldn’t be true, could it?  Ann’s kids had to be OK.  I knew  her oldest daughter, Jennifer, who was 13 years old. We saw each other at the skating rink on occasion.  We knew each other well enough to know where we knew each other from- and if we’d been thrown together with strangers we would have stuck together… so we weren’t close friends by any means. But I knew her.  I didn’t know her other siblings.  But I knew Ann. I adored Ann.

Ann Nelson had been my skating coach for a few years on and off, and more recently had become my coach for private lessons.  She was compassionate (something I didn’t feel much from my own mom, though as the years went by I learned so much more about how much she DID love me- in the only ways she knew how). Ann took the time out of her evenings to call me when I was babysitting to see if I was OK.  She stayed behind from a coaching and rink staff party when I fell and hit my head pretty hard during the Spring Ice Show rehearsals in 1977.  My folks were out of the country and I wouldn’t give anybody the phone number of the grandparents I was staying with (grandma would have freaked if she knew I got hurt on her watch- same grandma who broke ‘the news’ to me), so she made sure I was doing well enough to go home when  it was time for me to be picked up. She’d already called for any available physicians that happened to be at the rink that night to come and see me in the back room where they’d carried me (I’d been knocked out cold), and there was one there- so I’d been seen by a doctor. She also was a role model.  I adored her, and looked up to just about anything she did. She had been an alternate in ice dance on one of the mid-late 1960s  US skating teams.  I still have a photo of her and myself on my dresser from 1978.

After my head reattached to my body when my grandmother asked me if the kids who were murdered were my coach’s kids, I went into my bedroom and turned on the local radio station.  That’s all that was on.  It was true. Ann’s kids were all dead, and her husband, Simon Peter Nelson, had bludgeoned them with a rubber mallet and hunting knife.  Over and over, I heard about Jennifer-13, Simon-11, Andrew-8, Matthew-7, Rosie-5, and David-3  being dead.  At first nobody knew anything about Ann, or they weren’t talking about it, so I had no idea what had happened to  her.  I was terrified she was also dead.  Being only 14, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with losing anybody I cared about, and really didn’t know how to handle it all.  But I couldn’t stop crying.

The next morning was a Sunday, so the newspaper would be a bigger edition, and my best chance of finding out what information was available.  I found out that Ann had been in Milwaukee, WI after telling Simon Peter Nelson that she wanted a divorce. Evidently, he snapped and killed all of the children, and the family dog- a dachshund named Pretzel.  He then drove to the hotel where Ann was staying, and threatened to kill her, but told her about the kids. At some point, Ann called the police and told them that her husband had told her he’d killed all six of their kids, and they needed to get over to their home.  Reports that were going around  said that in order to identify some of the boys, they needed the footprints taken at their births to confirm who was who, they were so mangled from what their father had done…. what their f a t h e r  had done.  The idea that a parent could do such a thing was unthinkable. This was the late 70s. There was no 24/7 news coverage of family atrocities.  These things just weren’t heard of unless they made national news- and those situations were rare, and not in MY city. To people I knew.

I’ve thought about Ann so many times over the years.  I’ve wondered if she’s ever had some sort of peace to continue any quality of life. I’ve wondered if she did end up getting married, as it had been said months after the murders, around the rink.  I had taken lessons from her throughout the time up to and somewhat beyond the trial and conviction.  She had seemed like herself, but I can’t imagine the agony and heartache she must have felt.  The rink had to be sort of a bittersweet place; she was in a familiar place with people who cared about her, but her daughter- a promising ice dance skater- wasn’t there.  Jennifer’s ice dance partner was there, and seeing him had to be hard.  Yet, maybe the familiarity and kids who didn’t ask questions (or some of the younger ones didn’t really understand what had happened) were of some comfort.

It was during this time that I was being ‘groomed’ for ice dance.  My mom told me years later  that Ann had called her and explained that I could be on a national competition circuit path, but it would involve a lot more skating time, much more expensive skates, and that a parent be available to travel with me. Things were different back then.  Now, the coach is considered to be the acceptable adult to accompany the kid.  Back then, it had to be a parent or relative…and my folks both worked, so that wasn’t possible.  It broke my heart to not be able to spend more time skating, but it was what it was, and I survived …but I’ve never stopped wondering how Ann is doing. Where she is. If she’s been as OK as someone could be who had survived the extermination of  her kids.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to understand the magnitude of what happened much better, and really don’t comprehend such a loss.

When I was 14, I’d already been exposed to the kidnapping and murder of an adolescent boy in our city. About a year earlier… Joey Didier was on his paper route when he was abducted, and later found dead at a Boy Scout camp about 25 miles away- he was found while I was staying with my grandparents who lived relatively close to the camp. I remember it being dark when the news told of his body being discovered, and being out in the country  near that camp.  Then the Nelson Murders (as they came to be called) happened.  In my adolescent brain, that meant that adults either snatched kids and killed them, or that parents can get mad and kill their kids.  It left a huge impression on me as well as most of the kids in Rockford, IL.   Around here, it’s one of those ‘where were you when?’ events to those in the skating community, or who were of the same ages as those who whose lives were stolen.

My folks didn’t really seem to understand why I was so upset- but I think it was more that nobody knew how to deal with that sort of thing.   It’s just  not in the Parenting 101 Manual- ‘How to Help Your Kid Deal With Parental Murders’ isn’t in the index.  I’d heard of murders among adults- but never anything where a parent wiped out the whole family of kids.  It was scary, as well as incredibly confusing.  Add to that the loss of my coach, when she eventually moved away after the trial (understandably), and I was upset for several years, though I learned to shut up about it.  But it never went away.  I still remember it every year, 34 years later.  Since moving back here, and having access to online petitions, I sign all  protest petitions that I know about when Simon Peter Nelson comes up for parole.  The city still reports those parole dates on the evening news.

I don’t know if Ann Nelson (or what she changed her name to, though it was rumored that she became ‘Elizabeth Johnson’, marrying the man she’d been divorcing Simon Peter for) is still alive. She’d be about 72 years old now, as she was 38 at the time of the murders and trial.  It’s very possible she’s still out there.  Unless her heart physically broke.  I’ve always wanted to tell her how much of a positive influence she’d been when I was younger, and how much I appreciated the time she spent with me, helping me out when I got hurt, and also  being encouraging when I was going through adolescent ‘stuff’.  I wanted to let her know that I’d thought about her, and prayed for whatever sort of healing one can get to in that sort of incomprehensible loss.  I wanted to let her know that the lousy, hurtful things that were said about her (like why did she leave the kids with ‘him’- as if she had any remote inkling that he was capable of such devastation) weren’t representative of everybody, or even most people.  Mostly, I’d want to let her know how indescribably sorry I was she had to go through that horror, and reach out to her- now that I’m an adult.

It’s been 35 years tomorrow.  I still remember how I found out as if it were yesterday.  I still have the newspaper articles somewhere, and that beloved photo on my dresser.   I don’t know how to ‘put this away’ for good- or if that’s even possible.  I do know that I wish the best for Ann,  wherever she is, and whatever her name is now…and that those lovely eternal kids have been able to rest in peace.

For those doing the searches about this, please leave a comment … I’d like to know where all of the searches are from, and what the connection and/or interest is.  I have more searches for the murders and Ann than any other blog topic I’ve written about.

Update:   Simon Peter Nelson died on June 18, 2017, awaiting the decision on his 19th parole request.   He died in St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, IL, having been moved there  5 days before his death.  The initial cause was “natural causes”.   I cried when I found out.   He caused SO much collateral damage when he CHOSE to kill his own children.  Every kid old enough to understand what had happened was afraid that mad parents kill kids.  I’ve thought of Ann so many times, and have had the photo of her and myself on my dresser for 39 years (and have no intention of moving it).   My prayers are with her tonight.   As they have been many nights over the decades.   I hope this gives her some type of ‘release’.  ❤ 

UPDATE:   I recently found out that Ann passed away from ovarian cancer in 2014.  She was still married to the same man- so for about 36 years, she was with someone she loved, from all info I have received.   I’m glad she was able to have some stability after such a horrifically chaotic event in 1978.   May she RIP.  ❤

Mourning the Old Me

Disability of any kind is a thief.  It takes away being considered as valuable as other humans. It steals identities (my existence WAS being a nurse). It robs people of a sense of purpose and value.  It is a constant reminder of what was.  And, no matter how hard I try to figure out some way to still be that younger, healthier (though the health stuff started decades before my body finally pooped out), and active person, my body says ‘nope- can’t do it’.  I’ve had to adjust to a new normal- and I haven’t been that good at it. I have days when just getting from morning to bedtime is a struggle emotionally and physically.  I miss my old life.

I do realize that I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. My body is essentially intact (I’ve got all four limbs, and they operate moderately well). I can still think, though I do get a bit foggy at times. My sense of humor is intact. I have a decent home (apartment). I love my dog- crazy as she is ❤  I have my doll collection, gemstones, and books.  I’ve got a great computer, and a lot of cable TV channels.  But I’m not ‘whole’ when my body is broken down and examined.

I look relatively intact, which is great- but it also gives the impression that I’m ‘fine’.  What people don’t see are the endless days of chronic pain from fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease (most of spine), bone spurs on my spine, osteoarthritis, and chronic headaches.  Methadone and Norco don’t give much relief.  I had a neck injection today (steroids and numbing medicine); it lasted an hour.  People don’t see the dysautonomia symptoms (though they might see my ice vest that I have to wear to avoid passing out in public when I get overheated- which happens in any environment over 55-60 degrees).  Indoors with the heat on is horrible- I can’t go to appointments or to anybody’s house without being packed in ice.  Nobody sees the nocturnal temporal lobe epilepsy, or the chewed up cheeks  and funky ‘hit by a truck’ feeling I get when I wake up after them.

Nobody sees the  struggle to just get basic chores done.  Going to the grocery store is agonizing, and I’m slow, so I go in the middle of the night. It’s cooler (still wear the ice vest), and fewer nasty people are there to sigh loudly, in what sounds like disgust, as they try to get around me. I stay over to the side as much as I can- but at night, I don’t have to deal with them.  Getting things in from the car to the kitchen is very painful. I’m done for the day after that.  I get paper goods and cleaning supplies mailed from Walmart.

People don’t see that getting dressed is a careful dance of getting the clothes on and not losing my balance.  I don’t ‘bend’ well.  Socks are a major problem.  Now, with this crazy thing going on with one of my neck discs, using my left arm is getting harder. And I can’t use it for moving or carrying things as well.

My apartment needs to be thoroughly cleaned, but it hurts way too much for me to get after it with any sort of real productivity. I can get a small area done here and there, but not what I ‘approve of’, and not like I used to get done.  My kitchen floor is disgusting by the baseboards.  I’ve decided I will do six inches of it at a time with a Mr. Clean Eraser.  I have things I’d like to get donated to charity, but I can’t move the boxes.  I need help, and am hoping that the people from a church who agreed to help will pan out.  I’m hoping.  A lot.

Looking at me, I look ‘abled’.  If I move, it doesn’t take long for someone to see that I’m definitely limited, and some things are just not possible anymore. It bothers me every day.  I want to be more useful. I want to be of value somewhere. I want to be missed if I don’t show up.  I want to have something someone else can benefit from (nursing skills).  I want my old life. It wasn’t perfect, but I was functioning at a level that kept me employed.  Knowing that the last place I worked at found me more of a liability than an asset  hurts (they had to call an ambulance at least 10 times in about 2 months at the end). They had nothing I could do within my limitations.  Being unconscious isn’t good for a resume’.  I had a good reputation as a nurse when I was in Texas.  When I moved back here, the dysautonomia and seizures got too bad.  I wasn’t worth anything as a nurse.  But I’ll always identify myself as being  a nurse. I keep my license current.  I got that license 27 years ago.  It’s still mine.

And yet, I try to look at what I have. I’m not homeless (which I probably would be if I had to rely on Social Security alone).  I pay around $500/month (MONTH) in Medicare premiums and co-pays- but that’s better than nothing. (Medicare is not free by a long shot).  But, I don’t have much leftover for much ‘fun’ stuff.  This month, I got some good bread- and I’m so happy to have it.  I’d love to get more fresh produce on a regular basis, but it’s not possible. But I get by.  I’m not eligible for the $133.00/MONTH that food stamp recipients get… how are people supposed to eat ‘lean’ foods  on that?  Healthy stuff is expensive. I’m trying to get blood sugars straightened out after what chemo for leukemia did… So I do the best I can.

I miss what was.  I have days when accepting this ‘new’ normal is really hard, and I don’t do it well.  But, it’s what I have to accept- and I’ve got to figure out how to be of value in some other way.   I believe that God has a plan for all of this- I won’t pretend I ‘get it’ yet. But I do have faith that for some reason, my life is what it is- and that I can be used to help others. Or it would be in vain.  I won’t go there.  I’ve survived too much to just be some joke. I want to be able to help people who have been through or have similar stories. I want what I write about the rape I survived to be of some value to someone else who has been too scared to talk about what happened to her.

I have to really accept that I can’t do what I used to do, and just figure out ways to do what I can to continue living independently, and with relative quality of life.  I’ve got the dog- she helps a lot.  And I do have people who care about me. I really don’t have social contacts- though I’m rarely ‘ok’ enough to meet someone somewhere.  I do have much more to be thankful for than the ‘disasters’ that have come to be no big news when they occur.  I watch the news, and realize that I’m fortunate.  While it’s not a competition, my life is worth living, even though I’m not ‘intact’…my challenges are still valid reasons for frustration- but in the long run, I could be doing a lot worse.  Some days  I remember that more than others. ❤

 

A Summary Of High School

I’ve been thinking about this on and off, and I’m sure there’s more rattling around in my thick skull than I can fit in one ‘basic’ length blog, so I’ll start with the basics !  I went to a school that was, at the time, a school where over %70 of the kids went on to college. (Now it’s a pit, from what I’ve heard). There were many opportunities for advanced placement classes, and because of the number of kids in school, a very long 10-period day to ensure all kids had the chance to get the minimum 5 classes in each day- at least during my first two years- then I think it dropped to 8 periods in a day and I was expected to keep busy in all of them to get ahead. My dad was the principal of that high school. That wasn’t so bad on some levels (ride to school each day, didn’t have to carry my books home on foot, there if I needed lunch money), but on the other hand, I never knew who actually wanted to be my friend, or just wanted to get some message to my dad. I’ve got yearbook signings that tell me to “tell your dad….”.  That was never received well. My suggestion to those folks was to go talk to him themselves.

My freshmen year, a couple of things stand out.  I started that year when I was 13 years old. I was always younger, as my birthday is in November. I was used to that. The second thing that happened that year was the murder of my figure skating coaches’ six children by her husband on January 7, 1978 (Google: Simon Peter Nelson).  I had no way of knowing how to cope, and the overall message of that whole thing was if parents get mad at each other, kids can die.  I’ve never stopped wondering how my coach managed to carry on with life. I saw her a few times after that when she returned to the rink; then she sort of disappeared months later. Word had it that she’d changed her name and moved away.  I could understand her needing to leave, but I was a young teenager, and really felt connected to this coach. She’d call me when I was babysitting one of my ‘regular’ kids to see if I was ok. On the ice, she’d joke around and show me adult attention that my mom wasn’t capable of doing. She was a role model. I missed her deeply. I had absolutely no life skills to help me cope with all of that, and didn’t know where to go for help.

Another part of my freshmen year involved the residual effects of a couple of bad concussions I’d gotten in eighth grade. I’d fallen off of the uneven parallel bars early in the year, and in the spring, during rehearsal for a skating show, I landed hard on the ice…that one was bad. I’d landed directly on my head- no ‘butt’ hitting first, from what I was told. My folks were in Brazil, and I refused to give the people at the rink my grandparents’ phone number (grandma would have been hysterical worrying).  Anyway, I’d begun having some nasty headaches, and what have since been diagnosed as complex partial seizures. But at the time, the testing available didn’t show anything wrong, so I was told to quit complaining. So I just shut up, but still hurt, and I was still having times when I felt spacey.  I felt completely misunderstood. And alone.

My sophomore year was relatively mellow.  I did meet the first guy I dated for any length of time, and had a lot of fun when I was out with him. We spent time on the phone in the evenings, and most of our dates involved doing outdoor sports. He also taught me to drive his Audi Fox in his church parking lot.  We’re still in contact, thanks to reconnecting on FaceBook. My grades that year weren’t too bad.  I had started dabbling with over the counter cold medications to numb the pain from the murders, and my chronic headaches.  If I looked spacey, chances are I was taking very legal, unsuspected drugs. I had also been told  I no longer liked skating…really?  I LOVED skating- but that was the way I was told that lessons were over.  I later found out that my coach and another person at the rink had approached my mom about intensifying training to get into the national competition circuit.  I would have moved into the rink if someone would have allowed it.  Another loss.

Junior year was a train wreck.  I was taking over the counter medications fairly regularly. Babysitting money bought them, and since they were legal, nobody thought to ask about them. Plus, I was known as a ‘good’ kid.  I was still not doing well in dealing with the murders, and then my grandmother died in October. She’d been sick for about nine months, and happened to die when my folks were in Florida looking for a winter condo. My other grandparents were staying with me when I got the call at school  to call my uncle at my grandfather’s house before I left school. That was kind of weird, but I complied, and was given the news over the phone in my dad’s office. The assistant principal (and a friend of dad’s) saw me, and drove me home.  I got on my bike and took off for a while. I just wanted to be away from pretty much everyone. This was the grandma that I’d stayed with for 1-2 weekend nights each month since I was a baby, and most Christmas and Easter vacations when my folks travelled during elementary and junior high school years.  My grades weren’t good after that, and since dad got my report cards before I did, there was no minimizing the damage. I was miserable.

That year, I’d started with 8 full periods of classes because of drivers’ ed (no lunch break- my mom always thought that missing meals wouldn’t kill me).  One of the English teachers who had hall patrol on the hall where my locker was knew I didn’t look good, and did a depression screening. I flunked. She went to my guidance counsellor, who went to dad.   I was allowed to drop physics, since I had to get my drivers’ license, and had my science requirements done.  I got in trouble for complaining to the teacher… I hadn’t approached her. She had approached me.  I knew to keep my mouth shut about how I felt about anything. That had been made very clear.  I didn’t have anything dreadful to say, but  I was told that because of dad’s job, things could be taken out of context, and that could be bad. So, I shut up as best I could. The depression didn’t really go away, but at least having a lunch break helped with the exhaustion, which did help overall.  Since I had to drop physics in order to be able to function that year, the plan to graduate a year early was screwed up. I’d taken US History (gag) during summer school to get it out of the way- now it was just a wasted summer.

Senior ‘year’ was just more time to be served before getting released early for good behavior.  I finally got out of there at the end of that first semester.  A week later, I was sitting in classes at the community college.  They were basically time-killing classes- philosophy and more of the hated US History. I was headed to the University of Illinois in the fall; the credits would transfer.   I also worked part time at a dollhouse and gift store- that was fun.  I’d given up the over the counter medications. They hadn’t done anything for me, and I was too chicken to try the ‘real’ stuff. I was doing better, but not enjoying much.

During the time in high school, I’d been involved in various clubs- creative writing, American Field Services (foreign exchange student sponsors), track for a brief time until I was asked to run during a meet- I was afraid I’d fail, so quit, and I think that’s it.  I was involved in any foreign language trips that were offered (usually to the Milwaukee -Wisconsin- annual ethnic festival…those were fun)…otherwise, my time was spent babysitting, and going to church activities and choir practices.  I did have a few friends from school with whom I did some things outside of school, but most of my ‘social’ friends were from church.

I did NOT want to go to the graduation ceremony, but wasn’t given a choice. I hadn’t been in class for 4 1/2 months, and life had moved on, but I had to go. My dad handed me my diploma, which was sweet, and there were a lot of cheers and clapping during that moment (now, I appreciate that much more than I did then). At the time, I was just glad it was over.  I think that the murders and my grandma’s death probably had a whole lot to do with why I was so NOT amused by high school.  Nobody really gave me a bad time about being the principal’s kid (aside from the message requests, and those were from people who wrote them in my  yearbook, not talking to me face-to-face). The teachers were OK- nobody treated me any differently, which would have been a nightmare.  I’m still in contact with my Algebra and Geometry teacher.  We’ve stayed in contact over the years.

I hear about how high school is supposed to be the best years of someone’s life.  I hated it.  I’m liking each ‘new’ decade much more than the last one. I’m so glad there isn’t some high school equivalent later in life. I’d drop out.  I’m not a social person. I hate the fake interactions.  I much preferred working my butt off as an RN for the 20 years I was able to work.  Doing something for someone who is going through a rotten time is much more fulfilling than anything in high school was. At least in my experience. I’m glad there are folks out there who enjoyed their high school years.  God blessed you 🙂

Being Adopted

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but haven’t really known where to start.  I still don’t, but I just got done watching the movie “October Baby”. The storyline isn’t anywhere close to the circumstances of me being put up for adoption, and yet there are things that I think go through the heads of most adoptees. At least while we’re young.

For clarification purposes, let me throw this out there: I differentiate between my families in the following way- my ‘real’ mom and dad (parents) are my adoptive parents- the parents I grew up with and knew from the beginning. This also applies to the rest of my family- my adoptive family is my real family. But, my biological family is just as important in different ways. My birthmother (who I address by her first name) is very dear to me. We had written contact in the mid 80s, and then first talked on the telephone on October 30, 2010.  We’ve talked regularly since then, and she has visited several times; we’ve both been amazed at our common likes/dislikes and interests. I’ve had various forms of contact with many biological relatives. One of my bio-mom’s cousins (I think that makes her my first cousin once removed) has been a very close friend (as well as my cousin) since we met during my first Christmas after moving to Texas in 1985.  

I ‘always’ knew that I was adopted. My parents never hid that fact, and it was essentially a non-issue. My mom used to read a book to me called “The Chosen Baby” that explained adoption to young children in a very positive way. My family never made an issue about me being adopted; I was just one of the kids. (On my dad’s side, I was the only grandchild; on my mom’s side, I am one of twelve grandkids- I’m # 7).  Several of my parents’ friends had also adopted kids, so adoption was just a ‘normal’ part of my life, and the lives of many people I grew up around.

First Birthday !

When I got older (teens) my mom and dad told me that if I ever wanted to find my biological mom, they’d be supportive. When I was 19, in the midst of some intense emotional stuff, it was recommended that I make contact. Through the adoption agency that handled my adoption, contact was made after just two phone calls by the guy at the agency. My birthmom and I wrote for quite a while, and then life was happening, and we didn’t have contact for many years. I understood that she had other things and people to consider, and while she NEVER cut me off completely, she needed some time  to sort through stuff that was stirred up.  While I missed having contact, I absolutely understood that things were much more complicated on her end of things. I  respected the need for time and space. In some strange way, I  ‘got it’.  And, I was also going through some things and needed some time to sort through those things, and to grow up a bit.  I now think that the time without contact allowed for us both to be ‘ready’ when we first talked and then met. 

When I was a young kid and into my teens, I did wonder about my birthmother.  All I knew is that she had gotten pregnant while she was in high school. Pretty standard story (at least from my end of things). I knew that she’d gone on to college, and that was about it.  I always wondered about siblings. I grew up an only child, and dreamed about having brothers and sisters.  I wondered if my bio-mom was OK.  I wondered about that a lot. I wondered if she was happy. I wondered about my biological father as well, but I think the maternal bond is stronger, regardless of any actual personal knowledge of the birthmother.  I  sometimes wondered  why I’d been given up, even though I knew she was still in high school.  I wondered if she’d wanted me, or just thought of me as a major inconvenience that just happened to come along before abortion was legal. I wondered if she cared about my biological father.  Since meeting her, I’ve had these questions answered, and I’m relieved with what she’s told me.

As far as anything ‘deeper’, there were times when I felt like I wasn’t meant to be, though my parents wanted a baby very badly. They’d lost two newborns within two weeks of their births during the 4-5 years before they got me. When I’d see happy scenes on TV, when someone had just had a baby, I imagined the day I was born as something that was a relief when it was over.  When I was going through rough times, I sometimes wondered why I hadn’t been aborted (legal or not, people were still having them).  I did have dark things go through my mind, but in the end, I know I’m around for a reason…I’ve survived way too much to have been a fluke.  🙂

I’ve been asked if I ‘hated’ my birthmother for giving me up for adoption. I’ve talked to pregnant teens who were relinquishing their babies, and also to people who were just curious, and the answer is an absolute “NO”.   I could never hate her.  I could never be ashamed of her. I could never think that she was ‘bad’ for getting pregnant. I could never imagine what it was like for her, going through a pregnancy knowing she was going to have to give the baby away. I could never judge her for the decision to put me up for adoption…sometimes people just don’t have any other choice- for whatever reasons.  Those involved in that decision thought it was the best thing to do- and since I wasn’t in their situation at that time, I have no frame of reference to judge my birthmother. Being an unwed pregnant teen in the early 1960s was judgement enough. Even when I was in junior high and high school in the late 70s and early 80s, I remember people sort of gasping when they heard about someone being pregnant and unmarried. The message was clear- and I can’t even imagine how hard that had to be to live through.

There were times when I wondered where she was.  When I was at the University of Illinois, I did wonder if she was any one of the thirty-somethings I saw walking around town. Or if she was even in that city; I knew I’d been born there.  I wondered if I’d know her if I saw her. Or if she’d know me. Sometimes I wondered if she were alive, or if something had happened to her. I wondered if she’d ever seen my birthfather again. I wondered if she’d like me.  I wondered if I looked like her.  I wondered a lot of stuff.  There was a ‘hole’ from not knowing her, and ultimately about myself, and who I was …where I came from.

I understand why I was given up for adoption. I feel much more badly for my biological parents than I ever did myself.  I grew up in a ‘good’ home, and was given a ‘normal’ life.  They had to give part of themselves away.  I ended up with two families; they lost their child- though they both went on to marry other people and have their own families.  I’ve been able to talk to my birthmom about anything related to my birth and adoption, and that makes me incredibly fortunate.  I don’t have any other frame of reference than being an adoptee.  That’s my ‘normal’.  There are many things I won’t write about, out of respect for privacy for my birthmom.  But I’m lucky. While we don’t have a traditional mother-dauther relationship, I can’t imagine my life without knowing her.  🙂

When Forever Breaks

In my nearly 49 year old nursey brain, I know that nobody stays on this earth forever. I’ve seen so many people die, I can’t count them all and I feel badly about that. I do remember some individuals that I’d gotten particularly close to, who had been at the places I’d worked for quite a while,  or who died from something uncommon. But for the most part, they were ‘just’ really sweet people whose bodies had given out.  I do remember feeling that their absence would be incredibly sad for their families and friends.  I spoke to many of them, and sometimes I was the one to give them the news. I always hated those phone calls.  Nothing good comes from a phone call in the middle of the night from a hospital or nursing home.

As I was growing up, I had the incredible fortune to be sent to summer camp for one week each summer to Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, WI.  Starting when I was 8 years old, and getting ready to start 4th grade (I was young for my class), I went every summer until I was 15, and getting ready to start my junior year of high school. I met some really neat people, and a few of them left lifelong impressions. When I got to work there in the summers on the ‘summer staff’, I was thrilled. The summer before my senior year in high school, freshmen year of college, and between the spring and fall semesters in college (1/2 of that summer), I spent up to three months working at camp- loving every minute of it. It was my spiritual home, and I learned more  about the love of God through Christians there than anywhere else. I still consider it the place where God became real to me.

I grew up in a solid church. The people there were very nice people, and there were several who were living examples of God’s love- but camp was different. I grew up with a mom who didn’t show much affection. She loved me (it took decades to really understand that), but I didn’t ‘feel’ it. As a kid, I didn’t know if she even liked me. It was all about her own ‘stuff’, and had nothing to do with me, but as a child, I had no frame of reference for what her life had been like- just what I saw in how she related to me.  She had lost two babies a couple of years apart, from the same newborn disorder, and she never even got to see them after they’d been born. That all happened a few years before I was adopted by her and my dad.   The death of a child who was never allowed to bond with a mom  does something to a mom. The bonding isn’t only for the baby. I get that now. But as a kid, I just wanted to feel that I mattered to someone, somewhere. I know my dad loved me- never questioned that. But I needed something different, that I didn’t get from a distant, aloof mother.  I got that for entire weeks at a time at camp.  On summer staff, it was 24/7 for up to three months.  Right or wrong, camp was extremely important to me feeling like my existence mattered.

I guess that’s why the death of a core member of Timber-lee has hit hard. I never really imagined camp without her. She was the constant person year after year- and she made kids feel like they mattered.  On summer staff, I met other people who made me feel like my existence was a good thing, but when I was really young, and into my adolescence, camp is where I really felt like I wasn’t ‘irrelevant’ (not sure what a better word would be), and this one woman was there each year. Camp didn’t exist in my mind without her.  With her death, my frame of reference has been broken.  I know I’m kind of old to still be hanging on to camp memories, but this place had that much of an impact.  It formed a big part of who I am because of the acceptance and understanding I felt there. It’s hard to explain.

So many people have come forward to talk about how Mary Kay impacted their lives. Many spent much more time with her than I did, but there are others who were ‘just’ campers or summer staff members who got the same genuine care and concern from Mary Kay- it’s just how she was.  There wasn’t anything phony about her, and kids can figure that out in a heartbeat. Kids crave adult acceptance. They need that adult to look up to and emulate. They need someone who thinks they are good enough just being a kid.  Those are crucial things to help them along developmentally, as they become their own persons.  And Mary Kay was there every year since 1972, loving every kid (and summer staffer) in a way that most people don’t have the skills and gifts to do; Mary Kay was special.

I don’t mean that I grew up in a vacuum at home. My mom (now deceased) was a ‘good’ person, and had a successful teaching career. Her students felt she was a great teacher, and many loved her. My dad worked hard, and provided for us; I never lacked a good place to live, clothes, etc.  He always had my best interests in mind, even when I didn’t realize it. He’s the person I’m closest to now. There were some key adults when I was a kid that sort of ‘took me in’ emotionally.  But camp was a block of time where I was immersed in love and true Christian living. I thrived on that.  I couldn’t wait to get back to those week long camps where I’d be in a cabin with 5-6 other girls, and a college age summer staff counselor; it was like a week long family based on the love of Jesus. It doesn’t get better than that.

On summer staff, I was surrounded by all sorts of Christians who were also  there for the kids. It was a chance to give back, but I often got so much more than I felt I gave (I worked in the nature center for most of my time on staff- I got worms for the fish and fed rats to snakes, along with doing various nature-related activities, often with a 6 foot boa constrictor wrapped around my waist). Those interactions went on to help me survive some really dark times. Camp formed the core of my beliefs (as did my home church, but it wasn’t the same). It’s something I pictured in my mind as unchanging- however irrational that may sound from someone who will be 50 years old in just over a year.  The core of my beliefs won’t change, no matter whose physically present on earth, and yet there’s a shift with Mary Kay gone.  I’m not sure I can explain it well.

Summers at Timber-lee Christian Center

I’m so glad I was able to reconnect on FaceBook earlier this year, and see Mary Kay and her husband, Greg, at a gathering at the camp this past July. It was the first time I’d been back to Timber-lee in 27 years.  There were changes, but that welcoming, feel-good feeling is still there. I believe it’s a supernatural blessing that presides over the people and property associated with that amazing place. I have never found any other place that immediately brings back the good memories like Timber-lee does. It’s mightily  used by God for so many things, and it touches people’s lives in ways that are for forever.

I’ve been so happy to reconnect with other Timber-lee summer staffers. It’s impossible to explain those summers to people who weren’t there.  I will miss Mary Kay deeply.  But I’m so thankful that I’ve got the memories of her TO miss. She and Timber-lee will be connected in my mind forever.  But now there’s a new frame of reference for Timber-lee moving forward. The ‘old forever’ broke. But I know that in the ultimate forever, it’s all good.

The Why of Loss

I remember when a dear friend of mine died unexpectedly a few years ago, I couldn’t get past the question ‘why?’.  She had been through several complications and surgeries from a knee replacement, coupled with her longterm steroid use for rheumatoid arthritis.  Her muscles, tendons, and tissues were weakened by those steroids that she had to have in order to treat the arthritis.  When she was found dead one morning on her daughter and son-in-law’s floor, I couldn’t comprehend it. I had talked to her the night before, and she sounded great!

I had talked to her nearly daily since she’d moved in with them in another state, to be closer to her grandkids (she was so excited!). I had talked to her daily from each of the rehab facilities she had been in following the various surgeries.  She wanted a nurse’s input regarding some of what was going on, or for me to explain how things work in nursing and rehab facilities (one of which was a kinda creepy). She had done well during the various phases of her surgeries for the knee issues, until another complication set in. When I talked to her the night before she died, she asked me to call her the morning, as she’d be at home alone. She was perfectly safe doing that even with her cast. She was someone who just got it done. But she said she’d feel better if she knew someone was going to check on her- so I told her “no problem”.

When I called several times that next morning, and got a busy signal, I knew something was wrong. The house phone had more than one line. One line should be open.  A few hours later, her daughter called and confirmed what I already knew in my gut. She was gone.  It had apparently been very sudden, as she was next to the bed.  I couldn’t grasp it.  It still bugs me sometimes, but I understand that she didn’t suffer.  She’d been through so much.  At least the end wasn’t painful, like the years of rheumatoid arthritis had been.  I still miss her like crazy; we’d been neighbors, and while we hadn’t known each other for that many years, we had near daily contact during the last eighteen months or so.

When my mom got sick during her winter with my dad in Arizona, I was livid at the treatment she got (or didn’t get). The emergency room in Sun City West had blown her off. She had been brought in by ambulance, unconscious after a seizure- and they couldn’t get blood samples to find out if she had some sort of systemic infection (sepsis)- but they got an IV in. Most competent ERs get the blood from the IV site before they hook it up to fluids (if fluids are started- which they were). They got a urine specimen, that showed a bad urinary tract infection, which along with the altered level of consciousness should have screamed urosepsis (when the bladder infection gets so bad it gets into the bloodstream) and the need for admission to ICU for IV antibiotics.  That is SO basic, and yet it was ignored. She was sent home with my dad on antibiotic pills.  She was semi-conscious and they sent her home on pills (the home they were renting).  It took three people to get her into the car on the hospital end- they didn’t care how she got out of the car at home….with my 71 year old father as her only caretaker.  He found some friends to help, but he shouldn’t have been in that position. Period.

My take on the whole Arizona ER situation is that they saw my mom as some disposable dementia patient who had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ request IF she was to the point of needing resuscitation. But her heart hadn’t stopped. She had a treatable problem.  She had been with my dad to an art museum the day before. She still enjoyed things, even if just for the moment- but in the eyes of those medical ‘professionals’ the hospital people, she wasn’t worth the time. The hospital had been full; several people were waiting in the ER for a room. But the greater Phoenix area has many, many hospitals. A competent ER doctor would have sent her to another hospital, and that would have been appropriate. Instead, my dad had to make arrangements to fly her back to Chicago  after a few days of those antibiotic pills (crushed in applesauce) to make her just well enough to fly. When I went to help get her off of the airplane, the flight attendant told me that dad had to hold mom’s head up for most of the flight back. He’d left his car in the parking lot of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, and flew with what he had on his back. The original plan was for me to pick her up with a family friend on this end of things, and dad drive the three days back. But the airlines wisely required that dad fly with her.

It’s a good thing that dad was with her, since he never would have made it back from Phoenix before she died. She was admitted to the hospital as soon as we got into town from O’Hare (airport near Chicago- for those outside of the US), and was dead within 48 hours.  Gone. I’ll never know if she would have had a chance IF the hospital in Arizona had done the right thing.  They took that away from us.  But, she also didn’t end up getting even more demented and lying in a nursing home, not knowing anybody.  I’d moved back from Texas just 3 1/2 months earlier to make sure she stayed out of a nursing home as long as it was physically possible for me to help dad keep her at home… and then she was dead.

I think about a 90+ year old lady who had been admitted to a nursing home I had just started working at in Texas. She had developed  kidney failure after a severe bleed in her gastrointestinal (gut) tract. The blood loss was so bad that her kidneys didn’t get enough blood to keep them functioning. The family decided that she was not going to get dialysis- the only thing that would keep her alive. She was admitted to the nursing home not knowing her own name or why she was there. This was a lady who had been living on her own, in her own house, doing her own yard work, etc.

Her life had changed in one single day. The aftereffects of that day lasted the rest of her 34 days. She got to the nursing home 17 days after the bleeding started. She left the nursing home a couple of weeks after that, following continued deterioration, and readmission to the hospital (and a physician who didn’t return calls to nursing homes; he was a problem).  Without dialysis, her body couldn’t even get stable. Her legs leaked fluid from the loss of proteins in her system, causing pools on the floor under her wheelchair, for the brief periods of time she tolerated being up. And her skin became fragile, and ‘broken’. The really sad part of that lady’s story is that her family decided that they’d like to profit from her death, and held the nursing home (four of us who worked there) responsible- even though they were the ones who refused the dialysis (and I understand why they made that decision- it would have been a miserable existence for someone who didn’t understand why it was happening- and getting a shunt into her blood vessels would have been a nightmare of torn vessels from the low protein levels). The doctor was never named in the lawsuit; he also didn’t help our defense attorney (provided by the corporation that owned the nursing home).

I was one of the people sued for wrongful death. To a nurse, that’s like saying I killed her. The lawyers had absolutely NO interest in the truth, or even the entire story- they just wanted some way to make money. Period. I felt like I was being accused of murder. I took care of that woman the best way I could; she was dying when she got there.  There was division  in the family about whether or not to sue- and nobody ever visited or called when I was on duty during the day, so I never even met the person who initiated the lawsuit.  What that lawsuit did was erase most of what made that woman who she was– an independent elderly woman who was amazingly strong and intelligent, and reduced her to a lawsuit.  The lawyers eventually settled, which angered me. I was ready to go to court. After a grueling seven (7) hour deposition, I wanted to see it through. But lawsuits don’t work that way- they just destroy people on one side, and issue a paycheck to someone on the other side (and their lawyers).  When there is some evidence of absolute negligence or malpractice, that’s one thing. When someone dies because their body breaks down, and someone wants to blame someone for it, that’s something else. 😦

Lousy things happen. Sometimes, there is some nice explanation, and it’s somewhat expected, even though it still leaves a sense of shock and deep, deep loss.  With each of the three examples above, I have to look at one thing: at least it wasn’t worse.  My friend could have ended up in a nursing home for life dependent on people to help her with basic mobility, her mind intact- that would have crushed her independent spirit.  My mom could have also ended up in a nursing home, oblivious to anybody or anything around her for years– at least she still recognized people up until 36 hours before she died. And dad and I were both with her- he wasn’t on the road, and I wasn’t stuck here waiting for both of  them to be able to get here, unable to have those last days with her.  With the lady in the nursing home, well, her situation was pretty bad all the way around. And it was made worse by the displaced grief and anger of at least one family member,  and questionable intra-family dynamics. She will always be associated with ‘the lawsuit’– not a sweet lady who had been changed by tragic and unpredictable physical disease.

I can’t pretend to understand why God allows some things to happen. I can understand why things fall apart from a medical standpoint. When one thing is going on, it’s usually pretty straightforward. When there are complications and coexisting problems, that makes it easier to understand in my head, though my heart has trouble catching up. I do know that in God’s timing and purpose, all things work together for good.  That doesn’t take the pain away, but it does help me realize that there is a much bigger frame of reference for things than my human brain can comprehend.  God has it under control- and He’s with me when I do or don’t understand why some things happen.  Sometimes it’s just so hard not to want to be able to make sense of it all….and some things just don’t make sense.  Except to God.