Now and Forever

Convertible 2

June 2014, two men struggled to get Mark into our friends convertible, but it was a great ride and memory now. 

In just one moment, our life’s journey took a drastic change and now I can’t help but relate our life as before or after April 27, 1991. In my mind it’s like I have two filing cabinets, one holds memories of before and the other after the car accident. Much love is contained in each cabinet, however the two different lifestyles did changed our relationship. The one constant is as Carole King sings, “Now and forever, I will always think of you.”

I still miss the way things were in my before cabinet and enjoy reflecting on the files contained there. I have to smile at the possibility of my mind embellishing those twelve years of memories, because most of the files hold an easier and happier way of life.

Anniversaries have a way of making me reflect. Because it will be twenty-five years in just a few days, I realize my married life after the accident cabinet holds more than double the files of my before cabinet. To lift my spirit I’ve set my sights on writing about the positive aspects contained in my after cabinet, which I consider blessings.

I’m glad Mark and I survived the accident which could have taken both of our lives. I’m grateful our children weren’t with us when it happened. At the young ages of seven and eight, they appeared to be more resilient and accepting of our new lifestyle than they might have been if they were teenagers at the time. Their childlike belief that all would be well kept us working towards their expectations.

I’m thankful the accident happened before we moved instead of after. I’m grateful for the advice and insight of others to stop the sale of our home. This unfamiliar road would have been so much harder had we been attempting to get settled in a new house while seeking new friendships. I appreciate the love and support we felt from our Sandy neighborhood. The benefits of Mark returning home to a familiar place surrounded by familiar people proved to be immeasurable, especially with his short-term memory problem.

There are unexpected advantages to Mark’s memory issues, such as not recalling the pain and length of time in rehabilitation. I believe his poor short-term memory has saved him from depression. He is fun to be with and works hard to accomplish things which used to come easy. His example of patience, endurance and the constant expression of appreciation encourage me to do and be better.

We’re fortunate Mark regained consciousness after three months of being comatose and remembered the most valuable things in life—faith, family and friends. He retains his determination and quick-wit. He enjoys making people laugh and reminds me that bringing happiness to others brings joy to oneself. He teaches me what’s most important in life and encourages me not to worry about all the other stuff.

I appreciate of the wonderful people we’ve met since our accident and their positive examples. They are mentors who give me strength, courage and faith that I can succeed in my caregiving journey. I’m grateful for all those who have shared a part of their stories as guest authors on Uniting Caregivers.

We’re happy to live in a wheelchair accessible home which provides comfort and conveniences, making our life easier. We’re fortunate to share our home with my parents who are willing to help in every way they can.

We’re lucky to have friends who love and encourage us. Friends who made our move to Draper easier. They welcomed and helped us feel comfortable right from the start. We moved just five years after the accident and we were still adjusting to a new way of life. Their warm reception and support made our new pathway bright.

I’m privileged to have parents and siblings who are generous with love and service. We’re blessed they live close by and we can call on them at any time. If possible and needed, we know they’d come at a moment’s notice to assist in any way they could.

I’m fortunate to have the acceptance and love of Mark’s family and although they live in other states, we know of their concern and care for us. I’m thankful for cell phones, email and social media, which bridges the distance and keeps us connected.

I’m blessed to be a part of a large extended family where cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews are involved in our lives. We cherish our relationship with each one and I’m grateful for their love and loyalty to family.

Looking at all these files of blessings, I realize our life has turned out just as it should for our own personal growth. Our journey may have taken an unthinkable turn on April 27,1991—one I wouldn’t have chosen, nor expected or could have prepared for. However, joy is found in the after the accident cabinet. I believe happiness can be now and forever because Mark is a part of me and I will always be with him.

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Who is the Real Caregiver

“I’m not sure who the caregiver is in this marriage,” Neils said in part 1 of his story, Dancing with Class.

In his part 2, he explains in more detail some of what she does for him. “Her gentle prodding, encouragement and constructive criticism is the gas in my tank. She is the light in the tunnel, the gentle whisper in my ear, my tease, my best friend and motorized mentor who runs over my toes when I get curmudgeonly.”

“Judith has never given up. She always listens to people’s stories and encourages them to fight on.”

I loved Neils closing remark, “My part as a caregiver is insignificant compared to what Judith offers. So, I ask again, who is the real caregiver?”

I  wholeheartly relate and have written about it myself in three other articles.

IMG_0333I’m a full-time caregiver and occasionally I’ve been asked, “Who takes care of you?” Well, I’ll tell you…

Mark is my caregiver. He may not be able to make a meal or do the physical chores of housekeeping or yard work, but he does care about me and gives me support by waiting patiently for me to complete a task before taking care of his needs. He also lifts my spirits with humor, companionship and good times. Being with him is a pleasure. I love his wit and sense of humor. He also gives care through letters, expressing love and appreciation. These letters mean more to me than if he were able to give me flowers.

My parents are my caregivers and have been my whole life. Even though they are well into their eighties, they give me and many others lots of care through meals, visits and sincere interest in what is going on in my life, along with any help or assistance I may need.

My siblings are my caregivers and they too have been my whole life. They are all busy with their own lives and children, but they make time to check up on us. If I ever need anything I always know I can call on any one of them. It’s wonderful to feel the love and support of family!

My children are my caregivers. When they were small it was wonderful to feel their love and admiration. They were sure I could fix anything and no one was stronger. As they grew, experience taught them differently, but their love kept me going. They are my strength and what motivates me to do and be better. Their care is different now they are busy adults and no longer dependent on me, but I still feel their care and love and it means a whole lot to me.

My neighbors and friends are my caregivers. They give with listening ears and a caring heart. They give understanding, support and friendship. They are observant for what they can do to help without me asking for it. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who are anxious to help. Many times in the winter my snow is shoveled off my walks and I have no idea who did it.

My church provides caregiving. Not only do I find comfort and solace in my church activities, but my association with people there has led to friendships and an organized volunteer program where two people come twice a week to help Mark with his exercises.

So I just have to say, I’m one lucky caregiver. I’m supported by a lot of other caregivers who probably don’t think of themselves as caregivers. But I know they are and I know I couldn’t do my caregiving without them.

If you care and you give, you are a caregiver. If you drive someone to an appointment, prepare a meal, watch children, or go shopping for someone else, you are a caregiver. You may think you’re just doing what anyone else would do—but anyone who helps is a caregiver.

Thank you, Neils, for reminding us of the many acts of service which are considered caregiving.

Who’s your caregiver? Feel free to leave your recognition in the comment square.

My related articles:

What Makes a Caregiver

Six Traits of a Caregiver

No Foolin’, You’re a Caregiver

A Blessed Life

As I look over my life, which is far from perfect, I recognize how fortunate I am. There is nothing like having a birthday to remind me of how grateful I am for parents who not only brought me into this world, but made many sacrifices to give me and my siblings a blessed life. I honor them today as I share a revised version of My Home Delivery, which I wrote last year.

Mom & Dad (2)My parents were married in 1950 and had their first child, Michael (Mickey) sixteen months later. The following year my sister Rosanne was born. Living with two little children in a one bedroom apartment was hard and crowded. Mom and Dad saved their money to buy a lot for a new home in Murray, Utah in 1953.

Since Dad was an excavator and owned a construction company with his brother, he did most of the work including the foundation, septic tank, concrete and framing. He did hire a plumber, electrician and brick mason for their red brick home. By today’s standard, it was a modest, three bedroom, one bath home which Dad did all the finish work on. They were able to move into their new home about nine months after they started building and just before their third child, Donny’s first birthday, in 1956.

A few years later Mom was expecting their fourth child. Since the new baby would need the bedroom my brothers shared across the hallway from our parent’s bedroom, they decided to finish two bedrooms for Mickey and Donny in the basement. The new bedrooms were the only finished area in the basement, but on the opposite end of the basement was a beautiful rock fireplace. They bought a black and white television and put a throw rug by the fireplace with a second-hand couch and also used folding chairs to sit on to watch T.V. This room would later be finished as the family/entertainment room.

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Mom, Dad, Mickey, Rosanne, Donny, Barbara sitting around rock flower box in front of our Murray home.

On Saturday, June 6, 1959, my mom’s parents came for a visit and to take Rosanne home with them for an overnight stay. They did this often, taking turns with each grandchild. After they left, Mom started having strong contractions so Dad called the doctor and told him they were on their way to the hospital. Because of the pain, Mom struggled to walk to the back door towards the garage. Dad rushed ahead to drive the car out of the unattached garage closer to the back door in hopes to make it easier for Mom. When he got back to the kitchen to help her to the car he realized her water broke and the determined baby was already on its way. He ran to the phone to call the doctor again and heard the television downstairs. Panicked, with only a stairway between my parents and the two young boys, Dad hollered down the stairs, “No matter what, you boys do not come up these stairs!”

Mickey, age seven and Donny’s fourth birthday in just three days, paid little attention to the hustle and bustle at the top of the stairs. Seemingly more interested in the television than the arrival of a new baby, it was easy to obey their father’s order.

By the time the doctor got to our home I had already arrived. What an entrance for a nine pound baby! I wish I could remember it… What I do remember is being referred to as the “kitchen baby”. Sometimes I was amused at the thought of coming into the world in this unusual way, but other times I was completely embarrassed.

Dad had always teased Mom during their four pregnancies that he had delivered lots of calves on the farm, so there was no need for a doctor. I guess I was listening. I’ve always had lots of faith in my Dad’s abilities. However, he stopped saying that after my birth.

I later learned the home delivery resulted in a three day stay at the hospital and I came home on Donny’s 4th birthday. I don’t believe I was his only present that year, but he always made me feel like I was his best present.

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Dad holding me with handsome brother, Don in the left bottom corner.

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Dad holding me with Rosanne and Mick on the front porch.

I’ve always considered myself a daddy’s girl and Mom often said I had Dad wrapped around my little finger because he was there for my birth. I was the only child out of their five that he witnessed because at the time fathers were not allowed in the delivery rooms at the hospital.

Twenty-two months later Mom delivered one more baby, my youngest brother, Steven. Because we were the closest in age we shared the upstairs bedroom for several years and had lots of fun playing together. See Siblings by Chance, Friends by Choice.

Me at two years old loving my stuff animal.

Me at two years old loving my stuff animal.

In my elementary years while we were on vacation at Disneyland, I vividly remember begging my dad to buy me a big stuffed animal. “Dad, think of the money I saved you by being born at home,” I pleaded.

“You were the most expensive child!” He replied. “At the hospital I had to admit not one, but TWO patients. You were considered contaminated by being born at home so you were not allowed in the nursery. They kept you in isolation for a few days, which was an added expense.”

Not only sadden by the fact I wasn’t getting the large stuffed animal, I was shocked by his reply. I previously thought I had saved my parents from the whole hospital scene and therefore was some kind of super hero. After all I had been called the kitchen baby by family and friends. Wow, what a blow this information was to me and an indication that I didn’t really have my dad wrapped around my little finger after all—at least not this time.

Now that I’m older and have gone through child bearing  and raising myself, I appreciate what my folks went through to get me here. I even feel a little guilty for being so impatient and determined. These traits I’ve carried throughout my life and they’ve loved and supported me anyway. They are the most giving and caring parents and grandparents I know. I’m blessed to be able to call them Mom and Dad. It’s been a wonderful life, thanks to them!

Working with Ricky

Over a year ago, Life with Ricky was written by Judy Coon and published on Uniting Caregivers. At that time, her friend and co-worker shared with me a story he wrote for a school assignment in August 2010. With his permission I share parts of his story with you. 

Written by, Tim Gray

Ricky Cromar

Ricky Cromar

At 1:00 p.m. Monday, Ricky Cromar picked up his worn, green Coleman cooler and heads for lunch. By the time he arrives, 25 or so warehouse workers have packed the break room. To reach his final destination, Ricky had to walk down a long narrow hallway past the conference room and call center, bend around two corners, a couple of restrooms and a flight of stairs. Along the way he had to open two closed doors and limp through one that was already opened.

Ricky can’t count the 150-yard trek or compare it to the miles he often walked alone as a kid. But now as a 61-year-old man with Down syndrome, Autism, and Alzheimer’s, it’s quite a trip. Especially when one leg is a few inches shorter than the other and you’re going blind.

“Here you go buddy,” Janelle says, as she places Ricky’s oversized red University of Utah jacket around his shivering shoulders and rocking body. Ricky doesn’t say a word as he flashes an exaggerated grin of gratitude at the twenty-three-year-old shipping supervisor. She’s accustomed to making her way around the 125,000 square foot warehouse and doesn’t mind the 300-yard round trip back to get his jacket.

For those that come in contact with Ricky, it’s a reminder to be thankful for the ability to do the things he struggles with daily. For many, his accomplishments are an inspiration. For Ricky, who often displays pride in the things he does, the walk just gets him where he’s going. Today, like most days, Ricky eats quietly alone. When he needs assistance, or an extra snack, there are plenty of helping hands. But the ones he depends on most are attached to Judy Coon, his sister and primary caregiver for the past 15 years. Judy is the bookkeeper for Pro Star Fulfillment, a shipping and handling firm for infomercials. She shares a 480-square-foot rectangular office with Ricky and he sits at a black metal desk next her.

While Ricky eats, Judy usually shares lunch with Layne, her husband, who is also the V.P. of Pro Star Fulfillment. They generally eat in his office, which is just around the corner from the break room. While they are both involved in Ricky’s care, Judy clearly has the lion’s share.

In a lineup of seven siblings, Ricky is the second oldest, Judy is third. She took the job as full-time caregiver about a year before their dad died in 1996 and eight years after their mom passed away. Growing up, Judy never thought much about Ricky’s condition. “He was my older brother and has just always been there,” she says. Judy would pay him to do her chores, including the dishes. She would then drive him to buy hamburgers, a major passion of his, which started their bond together. As an adult, Ricky still cleans up the kitchen all the time for Judy.

Before work Judy rides a bicycle 30 minutes, which is about the time it takes Ricky to choose a shirt from his closet. As he has developed Alzheimer’s, most things take longer and are often clouded with confusion. He is wearing gray jeans, rolled up the same six to eight inches his mother rolled them up for him as a child and as an adult. That’s Judy’s job now, along with helping Ricky perform other personal care activities most people take for granted, including electric shaving.

Before Alzheimer’s, Ricky was incredibly organized, especially how he placed pants in his drawers and how he hung shirts in his closets. They were all color coordinated. Now Ricky’s drawers are in chaos.

Earlier today, Judy and Ricky made lunch at home together. It’s something they do on days they don’t have to be at work early. “Rick, do you want one sandwich or two?” Judy asks. “Two,” he says, unaware he is flashing a peace sign. Judy gently hands him four pieces of bread she baked,  which Ricky carefully lays out on the oval wooden kitchen table. Sitting down, a careful exercise itself, he spreads peanut butter slowly on one piece, going well over the edges. Unhurried, he spreads Welch’s Grape Jelly on two pieces and puts the bread together, but not very straight. Judy lets him eat them however he makes them. Ricky deliberately places the sandwiches into a plastic container and then into “Box,” the nickname he gave his Coleman cooler. Next, he methodically puts a Yoplait chocolate raspberry yogurt into the cooler. Pop-tarts, one chocolate and one blueberry, are today’s dessert and a Minute Maid drink completes the meal.

At 1:49 p.m. Monday, most of the break room has cleared as the warehouse employees have returned to their work stations. As Ricky finishes the walk back to his office, he stands bent over his desk with a clouded look of concern. Ricky’s chair is missing. Jared borrowed it while he was gone, but Ricky finds it in good hands, sitting next to Judy. Ricky has an hour for lunch. He made it back before his time was up.

“Good lunch,” he mouths, with a wide-grin and raised eyebrows, like he just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. It’s an expression he displays often at Pro Star. Judy understands what he is struggling to say and smiles back.

Judy gives Ricky daily jobs at work, including stuffing DVD’s into small white containers that will ship to customers looking for long-term healthy weight loss. Ricky is also in charge of shredding files, one of his favorite assignments, but he spends much of his days coloring with the same steadfast concentration he displays making his lunch. Jared Starling, CEO of Pro Star, personally delivers a $15.00 check to Ricky every two weeks for his hard work and Ricky lights up.

Ricky takes tremendous pride in his work. Craig Faux, corporate sales manager for Pro Star , wrote, “When I have something going on that is causing me stress or an issue I need to think through for a minute, I go see Ricky.  He stops, but only for a moment, shakes my hand, shows me what he is working on, smiles at me, then says he needs to go back to work. I always feel better when I leave.”

On Tuesday I will share more from Tim Gray’s story.

 

Siblings by Chance, Friends by Choice

Siblings & I

Back row: Rosanne, Don , Mick                           Front row: Steve and I

Everything I learned about being a friend I learned from my younger brother, Steve. He’s my first and dearest friend. We’re only twenty-two months apart, so honestly, I don’t remember life without him. I can’t imagine we’d be closer if we were twins; we even finish one another’s sentences.

As young children we shared a bedroom. I don’t remember detesting naptime or bedtime because as soon as the bedroom door closed, it became a magical place. The challenge was to stay quiet enough, so Mom or Dad wouldn’t hear us. We’d climb on top of the dresser that separated our twin beds and drive all over the city making our milk or mail deliveries in our pretend vehicle to all our pretend neighbors and friends. Eventually we would hear footsteps walking towards our bedroom. We could drop into bed with the covers pulled up and act asleep faster than lightning. I don’t remember ever getting caught, but we must have because there came a day when Mom said we needed separate rooms. So Steve was moved downstairs and paired up with our brother Don. The bedtime amusement ended until a third bedroom, bath and family room were completed in the basement. At age nine, I anxiously moved downstairs with my three brothers and my upstairs bedroom was remodeled to be our dining room.

Mick and Don are seven and four years older than I, so when my bedroom was downstairs they were usually off doing whatever teenagers do, leaving the annoying youngest two siblings to entertain one another. When our parents, older siblings or sometimes both were watching T.V. after our bedtime, I would see Steve poking his head out of the bedroom doorway watching the show. Making silly faces we would try to get the other to laugh and when we did we would quickly dart back to bed before we were caught. When the threat was gone, we’d meet again in our separate doorways for a repeat. It’s great being the youngest kids in the family because our first three siblings either broke Mom and Dad in or worn them out which enabled us to get away with a lot more monkey business.

I still feel guilty about the time I let Steve take the blame for picking at a cake Mom made for a party. She thought the finger dips in the icing ruined it and was very upset. I didn’t dare say a word as she scolded Steve for messing up her beautiful dessert. But later I tried to redeem myself as a “good sister and friend” by standing up for Steve when two boys my age were bullying him on our walk home from school. They were mean, but I think I scared them off or maybe it was the talk I had with their moms. I don’t know for sure what took care of them, but I like to think it was my doing.

I was always proud to see Steve in the halls at school. He had many friends and especially the girls were crazy about him, being the handsome, kind and thoughtful teenager that he was. He was also a good dancer and was kept busy on the dance floor, but he always managed to save a dance with me at the stomps.

ISteve and I 1978n high school we were the only two kids left at home and we had the basement all to ourselves. Late at night we enjoyed talking about the daily events which always brought some laughter and our parents stomping on their upstairs bedroom floor and a shout down the heater vent: “Be quiet! It’s late!” So we’d quiet down for a while but before we realized our voices were getting too loud again, we’d hear another stomp and yell down the heater vent. “Go to bed!”

During my single apartment life, along with community college and work, I enjoyed having Steve over for dinner and a visit to catch up on life’s happenings. When I married Mark, Steve became the brother Mark never had. When Christopher and Katie joined our family, Steve was one of the first to come to the hospital and welcome them into our family. He has loved and supported them in all their activities throughout their lives.

Steve and I also have a working relationship. After high school graduation Steve and his friend Rick started a property management business. As the business grew, he asked me to help with the accounting part-time, but with the success of the company it soon became a full-time job for me. It’s been rewarding and pleasurable for nearly thirty years as I witness his generous, thoughtful and caring ways applied in the business world. He makes time for whoever needs him. He appears calm, cool and collected under stressful times. He’s tolerant, personable and genuinely interested in every person he meets.

Steve & I with carIn 1996 Steve gave me a small package and card which I will never forget. I wept as I read the words of appreciation for the past ten years of service with Earthwork Property. I opened the gift with excitement thinking it must be some special memento, but inside was shredded paper with a key and note attached saying, “Hope this will make all your errands more enjoyable.” I was stunned to say the least and asked him what this was to. He said, “Let’s go take a look”. Unprepared for the situation, I didn’t know what I should think or feel as I followed him out to the driveway. Parked there was a beautiful new 1997 Grand Prix Pontiac. I had been driving an old 1979 Chevy since our car accident in 1991 which total our Hyundai. Never did I dream I’d have a brand new car and this one was the prettiest one on the road.

Steve has perfect communication skills. He has a way of sharing insights, opinions and advice without being pushy or offensive. He listens as if he has all the time in the world. He is compassionate and always willing to do whatever is needed. He has been there to help and support in many of my home and yard projects. We’ve spent late nights painting a basement or a room and once even the whole house! He helps me with little projects too like hanging curtains, pictures or even just cleaning the house.

Fifty-three years of good memories, lots of laughter and tears! From my childhood to present, Steve has been a great playmate, helpmate and boss. I think he knows me better than anyone else and still loves me. I’ll forever be grateful for the example and influence he’s had on my life and for the wonderful friend that he is.

Happy Birthday, Steve! I love and appreciate you!

No Foolin’, You’re a Caregiver

What you do and say mattersYou may not be a caregiver all day long, but if you care and you give, you are a caregiver. If you drive someone to an appointment, prepare a meal, watch children, or go shopping for someone else, you are a caregiver. You may think you’re just doing what anyone else would do—but anyone who helps is a caregiver. Some caregivers provide full-time care. Others just listen. Whatever you do and say matters!

I’m a full-time caregiver and I’ve been asked, “Who takes care of you?” Well, I’ll tell you…

Mark is my caregiver. He may not be able to make a meal or do the physical chores of housekeeping or yard work, but he does care about me and gives me support by waiting patiently for me to complete a task before taking care of his needs. He also lifts my spirits with humor, companionship and good times. Being with him is a pleasure. I love his wit and sense of humor. He also gives care through letters, expressing love and appreciation. These letters mean more to me than if he were able to give me flowers.

My parents are my caregivers and have been my whole life. Even though they are well into their eighties, they give me and many others lots of care through meals, visits and sincere interest in what is going on in my life along with any help or assistance I may need.

My siblings are my caregivers and they too have been my whole life. They are all busy with their own lives and children, but they make time to check up on us. If I ever need anything I always know I can call on any one of them. It’s wonderful to feel the love and support of family!

My children are my caregivers. When they were small it was wonderful to feel their love and admiration. They were sure I could fix anything and no one was stronger. As they grew, experience taught them differently, but their love kept me going. They are my strength and what motivates me to do and be better. Their care is different now they are busy adults and no longer dependent on me, but I still feel their care and love and it means a whole lot to me.

My neighbors and friends are my caregivers. They give with listening ears and a caring heart. They give understanding, support and friendship. They are observant for what they can do to help without me asking for it. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who are anxious to help. Many times in the winter my snow is shoveled off my walks and I have no idea who did it.

My church provides caregiving. Not only do I find comfort and solace in my church activities, but my association with people there has led to friendships and an organized volunteer program where two people come twice a week to help Mark with his exercises.

So I just have to say, I’m one lucky caregiver. I’m supported by a lot of other caregivers who probably don’t think of themselves as caregivers. But I know they are and I know I couldn’t do this job without them.

If you’ve ever done any act of service, you are a caregiver and you know along with the work there is joy in doing something for someone else. No foolin’, you’re a caregiver!

I hope you’re having a fun April Fools’ Day.