When the Landscape Changes

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My kitchen sink has a window to the back yard. The heart of the home. Here I watch the seasons change when preparing meals, cleaning up, completing the routine chores of daily life. We’ve lived here since 1999. We are the first owners, having moved into a row of similar “planned” development houses. Regardless, over the years, we’ve turned a house into our home.

This morning I hear the oxygen machine humming its rhythm above my head. It’s louder in the kitchen than in our bedroom, in fact we don’t even hear it in the bedroom, because we have the 40’ clear tubing snaked along the floor from Dave through the hallway and into Leah’s old bedroom. If we shut the door maybe we can pretend it’s not in use, but reap the benefits of rich, life-giving oxygen.

I think we’ve turned a health corner. He slept with the attached tube all night. He partook of machine oxygen on Friday most of the day. When he didn’t have it yesterday morning, he began to get dizzy. His blood pressure was rising. He clearly wasn’t feeling well. He almost fell as he went into the bathroom after he arose too quickly. I wasn’t in the room at the time. All I could say is, “that’s why you have the walker thing next to your bed!” Until now it has been used to keep the dog from getting underfoot, literally.

All the pills are beginning to go down poorly. They are upsetting his stomach. They are causing him to gag trying to get them down, reminiscent of his Hodgkin’s Disease chemo days when just anticipating a treatment made him nauseous. I’m sure he thinks the same thing, but I don’t dare remind him by asking. We cut the nonessential pills – vitamins and supplements – out of his daily regimen. He’s taking Tums to help. This ordeal seems to be settling down for now.

And then there’s the urinary tract infection… again. Apparently this is a common occurrence with a catheter. More horse sized pills five days, twice a day. No wonder his belly rejects all the pills.

I worry that I can be in the house but not at his side. “You will tell me as you need more help?” I asked him last night. He promises.

I heard the click-clanging of the aluminum walker against the bathroom tile floor during the night. He is using assistance to get around. Be safe. We both want your independence as long as possible.

Our landscape is changing. I see the yard is growing new grass compliments of the renewed effort this year. A family has stepped in with extra TLC to work in our yard. We’ve always been lucky to find good people to help us around the house. Their young teen is learning his work ethic and the nuances of business. His family literally digs in each week, weeding, trimming and packing up mower and tools. They go far above and beyond the contract for mowing the yard. Their love and responsibility to both their son and to us is amazing. The weekly visit brings hope that not every child will grow up entitled! It is as much their commitment as his. Looking outside to the yard is comforting to me in ways they cannot know.

The fence and side gate were repaired and three 4×4 supports replaced thanks to the talents of Dave’s son David and son-in-law Chuck. The reconstruction required a change so the gate itself was moved over closer to the porch steps. It just happened. I have to adjust. I can, I will, and I may even get to like it, but it is a change. Like Dave’s health, this was not my plan. I am not in control. It throws off my sense of symmetry, balance for a moment. I now must change the surrounding landscape to match. I am the one to adjust.

There has been a lot of clean up this week. Chuck hauled away the boards which had been neatly stacked in the side yard for at least three or four years! He hauled off all the yard waste from the tree trimming of last week. Leah and Scott made two trips to Goodwill, her truck loaded with a mixture of her past and ours. The plans to have a garage sale went wayside as the need to create space became the priority. There was a dump run, too. “Dump runs” were an adventure for Leah and her dad when she was young and we lived in a more rural area. She thought they were fun! Now I call on her to take the lead. Without the van even my occasional need to recycle cardboard requires a call for help.

All of this was in preparation for cleaning out Dave’s office at the college. He is officially retired Emeritus Faculty bestowed last Thursday as planned: 41 years at Evergreen; 49 years teaching. No proverbial gold watch, just a wood box, albeit beautifully made and inscribed, to hold the trinkets of his life, a container for us to safekeep the mementos of his career. The dinosaur pin goes in first.

I had to take some paperwork to the college a few weeks back. I hadn’t been on campus for years actually. That landscape, too, has changed. It seemed foreign to me. Dave’s office in the new “green building” was never his office. I associate his former office in the library as his college domain.  Since he moved to the new building in 2004, I have visited maybe twice. It was even smaller than his the previous office, which had been rebuilt into two offices during his time there. There was a big window wall (like sitting in a fishbowl) and a few shelves for books. Cold, naked. Not quite the warm picture of academia and scholarly work. There were so few bookshelves he never bothered to unpack several boxes after the move from the library. Now after 41 years, all of it had to be cleared out.

Six adult children make light work of a move. Add three trucks, an SUV, a van, a few spouses, a significant other, a child, and dog and the energy level rises in a good way. I am grateful as is Dave that they just took care of this task. Together, efficiently.

There were memories tucked away in his office, too. Some books were dispersed to new homes, a picture cube with five children frozen in their elementary smiles, a forgotten envelope with two frames of film of the young man who arrived in 1970. Boxes of books, hundreds of evaluations of student progress, 4” binders stuffed full, paintings, and some other odds and ends arrived among a flurry of unpacking the trucks. In a few minutes this past was put to rest in the garage. Even so, the garage has more floor space than in recent years. What a shame that I can’t even get Dave downstairs to see it, walk the yard, or feel the warmth of the sun beaming onto our front porch, to view the changing landscapes of our lives.

This has been an eventful week to retire Dave. Along with the physical changes of both the home and his health, there has been a great deal of life review once again. We are individually and together painting landscapes that includes the past and prepares for the future. And, like the seasons acting upon the scene, our surroundings will evolve and change, ready or not, giving us mostly moments that are familiar and comforting, but forecasting disturbances on the horizon.

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