She entered this world seventy-five years ago.  Her older brother beemed with joy of the news of his newborn baby sister.  There was a great difference in age between her parents, but oh how they loved one another.  They were a poor, yet hard working couple; living far from the civilization of town with very little for assets.  They were a happy family.  The kids attended a little one room schoolhouse called “Two Tree” with a few other children from nearby farms.  With not much to do in the country but work, she found entertainment with her brother running through the fields; watching him ride and break horses and on occasion; riding to town with her dad and helping her mother with the daily chores.

Her mother was a soft spoken women who never had an unkind word to share about anyone.  She came from a large family with many brothers and sisters.  There was a profound and deep love that existed amongst them; a bond that was unexplainable.  Her father was a hard working man; again from a large family that have traveled acorss the US in covered wagon to set claim on land in eastern Montana.  While he didn’t display his emotions much, his family was everything to him and that’s what motivated him in life.  Together, they instilled the bonds of love and family that remain today.

Years past and her brother moved on and married.  She entertained herself running the hills and even caring for a baby fawn she kept as a pet.  Her parents moved closer to town and at nineteen, with baby on the way, her brother returned with his wife to help with farming; reunited with his baby sister and parents for a short spell.  This meant the world to her as she was lost out in the country without her big brother; her protector, mentor and best friend.

Their years as a family were short lived when a tragedy occurred at such a young age and cost her mother and brother their lives during the flood of 1953.   That day, her world was changed forever.  Only days apart from losing her grandmother, this beautiful young girl could not have known where her life would take her.  Nor could she have ever realized the pain and suffering she would endure over the course of her lifetime; all without a mother to hold her or a brother to share in her joys and sorrows.

Her father was a lost soul after their deaths and had no idea how to be the father she needed.   Angry that his wife had left him, angry that he no longer had a son to help with the work that needed to be done.  Perhaps even engry at himself for not being able to save them.  As life would have it, he survived and moved on.  He traveled out west for a spell bringing along his young daughter who found refuge  and a surrogate family amongst the friends she discovered.  He soon left for the open road leaving her behind to cook and clean, prepare herself for school in the mornings and fend for herself at times.  Part of him died that day with his wife and son.  It never occurred to him that his presence was needed, he simply did what he knew best and that was work.

As the years past, she finished school, traveled the country with her girlfriends and soon married.  She returned out east where she raised her children; traveling back and forth creating memories with her friends and family.  She had the best of both worlds it seemed; yet still no mother and brother to share in her joys.  However, no one noticed the pain and sorrow she carried deep within.  The loss of her mother and brother that she supressed, her unhappy marriage, feelings of inadquacy amongst her husband’s family, and her lack of self-esteem was more than she could bare.  After twenty three years, she returned out west to begin a new life once again.  In the same town her father had once left her to care for herself, she found herself starting her life over a third time.

With the love and support of her surrogate family and tight circle of friends, she found herself surrounded with more love than she could ever imagine.  Oh she would experience more heartaches over the years; the loss of her father, the loss of her best friend and cousin and even the differences of opinions associated with her adult children over the years.  Yet she is a survivor.

This is the story of a woman that no one would suspect.  She is a woman that holds her head high everyday; a classy woman that treats a stranger off the street the same as family.  She worries constantly about her children and grandchildren spending sleepless nights just wondering if they are alright; what she can do to make their lives better.  Some would even say to a fault.  Her altruism is silent.  She never shares the wonderful things she has done for others, but I know because I am her friend.  She looks beautiful everywhere she goes with never a thread or hair out of place and like a reflection of her mother, never an unkind word to say.  She has stood tall in the face of adversity as her father would have expected and done so with grace.

There is much to learn about her as she has taken the worst that life could offer and turned it around for the sake of others.  She has held on tight to the bonds of love and family from her childhood.  She has carried a cross that most could not bare and she has done so with dignity.  I know that God shines down on her.  Perhaps she has felt at times as though He is unaware of her existance, but I know that He has carried her during those difficult times and been there to share in her joys.

I have learned a great deal from her over the last eighteen years.  She has taught me how to survive challenging times; how to survive the death of a loved one and carry on; the true meaning of altruism; how to be a better daughter, sister, mother, wife and friend; she has taught me patience; and how to love unselfishly.  Her journey has been the makings of a beautiful woman.   Perhaps her grace is all an effort to be reunited one day with her loved ones some day and I am confident she will be rewarded.  I love her  more than these words can describe and  I am proud to call her my mother-in-law; my friend; Arlene.

“There is an inner beauty about a woman who believes in herself, who knows she is capable of anything that she puts her mind to. There is a beauty in the strength and determination of a woman who follows her own path, who isnt thrown off by obstacles along the way. There is a beauty about a woman whose confidence comes from experiences; who knows she can fall, pick herself up, and move on.”  ~Author Unknown~

It’s been several months now since I last wrote.  I think about it all the time and wonder if it’s really worth it sometimes.  But perhaps it may be that I am destined to write.  If not for myself, for others.  This topic was one I started some time ago and couldn’t get past the first paragraph until today.  I needed to finish it for some strange reason rather than letting it sit in my drafts another day.  It is now almost 1 a.m. and I am finally finished.  I am pleased.

Whether planned or not, adopted, fostered, or natural childbirth, the joy of a new little life in the world is like no other.  Some are born healthy and some not; bringing a monument of feelings and emotions. Regardless, the love that is born that day for a child cannot be compared to anything you have experienced up to that point in your life.  It supersedes everything imaginable.  Over their lifetime, you become a teacher, a nurse, a friend, an enemy at times, a stranger, a shoulder to cry on, dumb, the worst dresser on the planet, boring and if you’re lucky, the greatest parent on earth.
I recall advice that I was given from someone prior to the birth of my first son. They said to me, “just remember, children want to be disciplined”.  I thought to myself, “OK, whatever” and moved on.  Everyone had advice it seemed and of course, I wanted to do things “my way”.  I wouldn’t stand the thought of listening to anyone.  How could they possibly know what “my child” needed.  Throughout the years I’ve heard similar advice.  Another once said that children can hurt you worse than anyone on earth and yet they will be the first you will forgive.  It took many years to realize what these people meant as their words of advice would be scattered throughout a lifetime of parenting; some of which I still wonder and some yet to come.
My first child was the most active, bouncing off the walls kind of kid.  He drove me absolutely crazy at times, yet he could smile at me and make all my frustrations disappear in a flash.  His school years were extremely challenging due to his hyperactive demeanor and I spent many nights crying myself to sleep.  Wondering why I couldn’t be that “Johnny Magic 1-2-3” kind of mom.  Screaming and yelling was all I knew and I hated it and didn’t know how to fix it.  I loved him so much, but that child could drive me to the ends of the earth and back!  Someone even gave me a book on screaming with good intent and I cried even more.  It broke my heart that others saw it, too.  I just knew my husband would leave me during those times.  Everyday that went by and he’d give me a funny look, I knew that was “the look” of “I have to go now”.  But he never did.  He stayed by my side and weathered the storm right beside me.  My son has moved on with the military now and started a new life with a wife and baby boy.  He is calm and collected, disciplined and a joy to be around.  My how life changes.  I now have to learn to be a grandma on top of my ongoing journey as a mother.  I felt left out of his life at first and at times not needed anymore.  Having to share him with another woman was really hard for me.  It had been a great heartbreak until I realized that he does still need me.  But in a different way than before.  He now needs me to be his friend, that shoulder, that ear to bend.  Not advice, just to be there and listen.  Oh how in my heart I want to tell him what to do and guide him at times, but that is not my job anymore.  For now I must wear a different hat in this role in life called parenting.

My second child was another boy.  Such a blessing and comfort he was; a calming effect after his busy brother.  A good baby with lots of dark hair and that dark downy peach fuzz down his back.  He always had a such a serious look with his big dark eyes and I often wondered what his personality would be like one day.  I recall watching him through a window at daycare one day when he was playing all alone while all the other little ones scurried around so happy.  There he sat so serious in his own little world.  Surely something had to be wrong but the only thing wrong was  my worrying.  He was simply a deep thinker; had a mind of his own eventually (it took a while as his brother liked to do all the thinking for him); a loner to some degree and later I would learn a moody child at best.  I will never forget the day I realized that he actually had feelings; the day I connected to his deep little mind.  You see, my husband has raised him since he was two and that’s the only father he has ever acknowledged.  One day at the beginning of football season when he was about nine, we went to pick up uniforms and he returned so upset and crying; said he wasn’t going to play yet refused to tell me why.  Finally he threw his jersey at me.  Here he stood with tears in his eyes because they had put his biological name on the back of his jersey.  As a mother, I needed to “fix it” and right now was not fast enough.  As I reassured him things would be alright, I scurried to find a pair of shorts made of jersey material and ran to the closest print shop to have my husband’s last name put on, ran it over to a seamstress and sewed it right over the name that made him cry!  The look of pride in his eyes made me realize how important my husband is to him.  Even at 19 now,  he strives to be so much like him from hunting to working and a young gentleman.  He’s out of school now; an iron worker and traveling all the time.  I worry about him when he’s on the road.  Will he wake up on time for work?  Did he make it to his next jobsite?  Yet as I lay awake at night, I know in my heart he’ll “let me know” when it’s time to take action either with “the look” he gives or with a phone call with the words “hello mom?”  He’s still that deep thinker and I never can read through him except when I see that “fix it” look in his eyes and the satisfaction that comes with it when I go into action.  It must be that stage of life he’s at, but it is so rewarding to still feel needed.  Of course there are times in between that I swear I’m his whipping post, but that’s ok, too.

My youngest came along a year after my husband and I met.  We both agreed we that truly loved one another and “this was it”.  I came as a package deal with two unruly boys and yet still he wanted a child with me.  How blessed we both were when she arrived.  For a moment, I actually thought she was going to look like me with dark curly hair, but it was just a matter of time, the curls fell out and blonde replaced it.  From that day on, she’s been a spittin’ image of her dad!  There is a bond between them that is amazingly close and I use to feel left out.  As though I didn’t matter.  I could not understand how a love could be so unbalanced.  I never felt that way with the boys, so perhaps it was a girl thing.  I never had my dad growing up, so I couldn’t understand even if I wanted to.  I don’t think she ever went through that ugly gangly stage that you hear parents speak of.  She has all the qualities of both sides of grandparents; kind,  thoughtful, loving, respectful and giving.  She demonstrates grace in the face of a stressful situation and surely does not get that from me, but I’m getting better!  Her logic is beyond her years for a sixteen year old and now as she faces her junior year, I am  finally connecting with her.  I realize now that it was that father-daughter thing that I never had that makes her so special.  It isn’t about me being a mom.  It’s about parenting.  That without her dad, she would not have the beautiful characteristics she has.  Her teasing, the way she laughs from the bottom of her gut and her reasoning.  While I haven’t seen where I fit into her life until recently, I know she loves me and there will come a day where my role is needed more than ever and when father just won’t do for the moment.  And I will be there just as I am now; anxiously yet quietly waiting.

Parenting is an evolution.  It is a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.  It doesn’t end when a child becomes an adult.  Our roles take on different meanings and require different actions or none at all in some cases.  It is the most rewarding, heart breaking, challenging, high paying, dirtiest, fun-loving job there is.  Thanks be to God!

I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that I was going to see him.  After all, my agenda that day had been to take our social worker to see him and introduce her to staff since we had not had a patient there in a while.  I planned my trip more around introducing her to other professionals in the community and less about the visit.

The building is a rather old nursing facility on an Indian Reservation in Northwest Montana.  Nothing has really been updated there for some time.  I can clearly remember everything about that place; the resident cat in the hallway; vivid images of staff in my mind; silent as they passed us in the hall; the smells of food from the kitchen mixed with the scent of urine and Pine Sol filled the air.  I’ve been there many times, but that day was different.   The wide hallways were bare with very little wall hangings and seemed much longer; my footsteps sounded like a horse walking on pavement.  Looking back, the environment that day made perfect sense; it would be a day that is permanently embedded in my mind.

He was a new admission on to our services, so it only made sense to talk with the nurse on the floor and gain some insight about his situation.  His disease is end stage now.  She didn’t have much to report except that this was his new home; he had been living alone for many years.  She said he was the “philosophical type” and that he claimed “if this is how it is going to be, then we might as well deal with it”.  I shall call him “Richard” to protect his identity.

As we entered the room, he was lying there with nothing more than a Depends pull up on.  He had no gown, no covers over him; his upper body and bare legs exposed with a catheter running down and hooked to the side of his bed.  He appeared to have been a fairly big man at one time.  Atrophy had set in to his legs and arms; his mid-section swollen.  I assume it had something to do with his disease.  He was a handsome man, balding  with a small gray go-T that was carefully trimmed.  The room was excessively warm.  I suppose his choice to not wear anything was the reason for such temperatures.  On the dresser lied all of his personal belongings that amounted to one pair of shoes and the clothes he came in wearing.  One lonely painting hung on the wall that looked like it had been there for decades. The only life that seemed to exist in that room was a glass vase filled with flowers sitting on a night stand far removed from his view.   As I took a quick glance around, I remember thinking what a cold (despite the temperature of the room) place to die.

Richard raised his head off his pillow to see who was there as we each introduced ourselves.  I simply was there to observe and served no purpose in the visit.  He immediately got down to business.  As he addressed us both, he said “I want you to know that this is my death bed…I shall never leave this room again and this is where I will die.  I have instructed my brother to end my life and pull the plug to end my life when that time comes.  I have signed everything I own over to him.  I have instructed the funeral home to pick up my dead body, take it back to the funeral home and burn my body to ashes and throw them right in to the God-damned trash.  I do not want one single ash to remain on this earth that I ever existed.  When they asked me if I wanted an obituary, I said ‘No, no no!’.  I don’t want any memory of me left on this earth. Of all my children, I am concerned that one has not ever wanted to contact me or have anything to do with me until now.  They have never reached out to me on my birthday or holidays and could give a damn about me.  Their sister on the other hand, never forgets; she sent me those flowers over there.  I shall call the one when I am able to sit up in a chair and be comfortable.  I do not want to lie in this bed and talk to them.  Now I don’t worry about the boys as much but my oldest, well, he had it the hardest.  See, you have to know that my father was a good and honorable man; he was hard working.  But I remember when I was just old enough to walk, I can’t remember how old I was, but I was pretty little…I had done something to make him mad and he turned and said ‘you should have known better’.  I asked him ‘well, how should I have known?’ He replied by shouting ‘because you’re the oldest!’  I guess I should have learned from that, but I wasn’t any better; I was hard on my oldest son.  I wasn’t the best father in some people’s eyes, but I didn’t have anything to go by.  I did the best I knew how.

Now my brother knows what to do with my body.  I have signed everything over to him.  I want him to take my car and give to someone who needs it.  I don’t want him to sell it and make money.  He knows to pull the plug and end my life when the time comes as I have already told you.  My brothers made pretty good money and now are retired.  I guess they probably make about forty grand a year or so.  As for me, I have never made more than twenty-five grand in a year my whole life.  I have never needed much.  I am now on my death bed.  I will die in this bed and never see outside these walls again.  I have not done anything in this world worth being remembered for…not a damn thing!  I want my ashes thrown straight in the trash…no obituary, nothing.  I do not want to be remembered in any way.”  Richard went on to speak emotionally of his mother and father’s deaths.  Many would say this is part of the dying process as they begin to speak of those who have passed on.

A visitor came to say hello; she appeared to be his landlord.  Richard repeated his words of being on his deathbed and began to instruct her on what he had left behind.  “I want you to know, there is a garden out back…I dug that rock hard ground up with a shovel and my bare hands and threw the rocks over the fence line many years ago.  There are no more rocks there.  That is all yours to do what you want with.  Of course it’s winter and there’s nothing growing now.  There is a hose that runs around the house and connected to a soaker hose.  You have to start things early if you want anything to grow.”  Of course, the garden goes with the land, but he felt in some way he was giving her something.  The lady leaned down and said “what about your bike?”  Richard replied, “you mean my scooter, my motorcycle?” and she nodded.  It was apparent she came in hopes of getting the bike as she said her quick good byes and was gone. It was very sad, yet Richard never got it.

Richard began talking some more and in between stories had to getup to go to the bathroom.  He was offered a bedside commode, but was determined to keep his dignity and scooted with  his walker in to relieve himself.  Many stories were repeated throughout the visit.  As our visit came to a close, there were so many things I wanted to say, but couldn’t.  It wasn’t my time; it wasn’t about me.  I shook his hand and thanked  him for allowing me to be there while he addressed  his very concerns.  He smiled as I let go and I walked out the door.  Knowing that this man I had just met will leave this earth soon and not wanting to be remembered, I can’t help but do just that.

There lied a man who felt he had done nothing with his life that was worthy of being remembered and yet he touched my life in just a few minutes.  He made me think about how I want to be remembered.  What would others say about me…does it really matter?  Oh, I say it doesn’t, but in my heart I know better.  Have I made a difference in my life?  In what way?  Have I said the things that I want to say to others in my life?  Do they know what I would want in my final days or how I want others to treat me in my final days?  Do they know that I would want pictures surrounding me, flowers where I could see them, sweet fragrance in the air, that being thrown in a fire terrifies me yet so does being in the ground…that I don’t want to know?  That I don’t want to be alone.

A living will allows a person to say those things.  Richard only had two strangers to tell.  The only thing that seemed to please and comfort him was the tender touch of someone rubbing lotion on him.  I believe that is the one thing that had been missing in his life for many years; the tender touch of another.

As I close, the sun just shined for the first time today.  I hope that when I return to that town next week, Richard will still be with us.  It’s selfish, I know, but I hope to get to say goodbye and thank him for touching my life.  I’ll never know what kind of man he was; whether he led a good life or not; it doesn’t matter.  As much as he doesn’t want to be remembered, he shall be in my heart.  He needs to know that he did make a difference in this world; if not for only one moment.

Aging Parents

I have always anticipated this day would come and with all my background in the Human Services field, I still was not prepared.  I knew that I would be “the one”; the child that that would handle it all when Mother’s needs increased.  I guess I always thought in the back of my mind though, that others would jump in to help; if not financially, emotionally.  Instead, I have found myself, the youngest of seven, walking alone and trying to hold down a house with a husband and two kids still at home and working full time.  Oh, I am certain I am not the first or and won’t be the last to walk this road, but I have a great lesson to be heard from it all.

Just  a few weeks ago, my 83 year old mother had a severe bout of diverticulitis and began hemorrhaging.   As though that wasn’t bad enough, what was worse was her blood sugar had shot over 600.  Strangely enough and with the experience of working in the health and human service field, I believed her when she said she was told she was a “borderline” diabetic.  Where was my mind?  Perhaps I was so caught up in my own life that I minimized what she had said.

Mother was admitted and spent three days in the hospital and I managed to get her admitted to rehab at a nursing home.  My thoughts were that many things would be addressed; her depression; anxiety; poor diet; physical and occupational therapy; diabetes education and lastly, some respite for me.  Well, it didn’t quite go that way.  I knew she needed help, but I also knew that much of this was self inflicted.  Her lack of socialization, her poor eating habits, the lack of physical activity and the fact that she spent all her nights awake watching TV and sleeping all day had sent her on a downward spiral to deep depression.  I became extremely angry and sobbed like a baby.  How could she do this?  I don’t have time for this…I can’t believe everything she taught us has gone right out the window!  All the preaching…”get up in the morning, make your bed and clean yourself up…”, “put your makeup on even if you’re just going for a loaf of bread and milk….”, “hygiene is of the utmost importance…”.  Hello?  She wasn’t doing any of the above and hasn’t for a long time!  So why didn’t I see little red flags everywhere?  The truth is, I did and I chose to ignore them.

I work every day with all the right agencies, providers and facilities that could help her, but I also have to be careful to not abuse those relationships to benefit her.  So it has made it very difficult for me.  The only time I have to make contact with them is during working hours, so creativity set in.  I was determined to fix everything and take control.  What Mother needed was Assisted Living where she can remain independent, yet have others nearby for administering medications in an effort to prevent any confusion about the meds she should take and to address an emergency situation.  I needed to research every facility that I work with  from a personal level now as opposed to my professional relationship with each.  So I scheduled tours of each facility to better understand their services and also market each facility when out amongst the community; at the same time acquiring the information I needed to make a decision with Mother.  But it hasn’t been that cut and dry.

Mother has held tight to her nest egg, which is not very much when one sits downs and looks from this perspective.  Perhaps her plans were to will it to her children one day or donate to some off the wall charity that none of have ever heard of.  You would have to know her to understand that, but regardless it’s her money to do with what she chooses.  Unfortunately, what I learned is going to cause her great emotional pain and only add to her depression.  I learned about a new term this week called “spending down”.

“Spending down” is a term only those in this business would know or have experienced with their own loved ones.  It sounds simple, but try explaining to someone how and why it is important to take your life savings and do so.  Unless one is very wealthy, there is no doubt they will fall in to “spending down” with their aging parents money.  Mother does not have enough money to remain in an Assisted Living facility for very long and does not have assets to sell.  Therefore, when the money is spent down, she would then apply for Medicaid and hopefully be approved under a Medicaid Waiver and be able to live her life out in Assisted Living. If she were to required skilled nursing, she would have to be moved to a nursing home.

Mother qualified with flying colors for Assisted Living and that meant that she would continue to pay her own rent in a downsized studio apartment that no longer had a stove/oven and only one closet for storage; her meals would all be prepared and eaten in a beautiful dining room and all would paid for including utilities except her phone.  She would have nice bright hallways to walk in the winter months as opposed to where she is now and even have the opportunity to make friends.  Mother seemed receptive, made an appointment to visit and ate lunch there and even put down a deposit.  Twenty four hours later, she called and asked that the deposit be returned and expressed she was going to stay right where she was…she wasn’t ready for “that”.  She wasn’t ready to have dinner with “old” people that looked like they were on their way out.  She called me up and said “do you realize I will be broke in just a few months?”  Reality has begun to sink in; for both of us.

This is a very sad and difficult path in our lives that many of us will travel.  And the reason is simple.  We are not taught to discuss end-of-life issues.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  There is plenty of estate planning business; life care planning as they now call it.  Those terms however are generally used amongst the higher income brackets.  Therefore, those who have worked hard to make ends meet in the lower income brackets seem to fall through the cracks.  They have saved what to them has been a significant amount based on what they were able to put away.  But in the end, it’s not enough.  In an effort to die in peace, they saved every penny they can and hope that their loved ones will be taken care of; a college fund for their grandchildren; money left behind for that one kid they always seemed to be a worry.  Unfortunately, now it will now be spent on themselves. Perhaps not as much with the new age of baby boomers, but it is a reality for many.

Mother has regained her strength and is managing her blood sugar level with guidance of a home health nurse.  We have all agreed that she is a very independent woman and not quite ready for Assisted Living as we had initially thought.  I suppose she will continue to keep her savings close by even though I have encouraged her to take some trips.  At this point, it doesn’t matter.  She will have to spend down when the time comes regardless and we will travel this path again some day. While I don’t look forward to that day, I know it will come and I will be better prepared…mentally.

I hope that if you have not yet experienced this time in your parents life, you will begin now to gain knowledge of what is to come.  Be prepared; be proactive.  It is a very emotional time and can be a very difficult time to try and pull together in a moment’s notice.

Talk to your parents about a living will…not their will of what they will leave behind; a “living” will.  The Five Wishes is a nationally recognized living will and easy to fill out.  I am a facilitator for this and can help anyone who asks.  Find out if your state has a POLST form.  It is a “Providers Order for Life Sustaining Treatment”.  It is recognized by ALL medical providers and must be signed by a physician.  These two forms together allow your parents to express their wishes and be ensured that they will be honored.  Remember, this is not about you; these are “their” wishes.  The beautiful thing about end-of-life issues is that we get to call all the shots….we meaning them…each of us.  What better gift could they leave us than to have a living will; an instruction booklet if you will.  These documents tell us how they want to be treated, what they want us to know, etc.  No longer do we have to sit back like in the movies we watch and see someone sitting by a bedside crying and saying “are you comfortable?  Please tell me what you want…do I pull you off the ventilator?”  We will know these things in advance.

Take action to discuss these things with your parents and be prepared for a sea of emotions.  It is difficult, no doubt.  But you will be so glad you did.  Learn about your local Agency on Aging Council and what services they offer.  Don’t be afraid or too proud to use them.  They were created for a reason and it is not intended for the poor and disabled, but for anyone.  Educate yourself on how to prepare them, guide your parents.  Remember, they are not use to reaching out, they are from a private generation.  They are not use to talking about such issues, but when presented in a way that  makes them feel they are in control, they view it differently.  They can actually remain in control by expressing their wishes and knowing that you are willing to set your feelings aside (even if you disagree) and honor “their” wishes.  This isn’t about you and what you want.  Apply these things to yourself as well, what would you want?  And would you want someone to honor that?

I am blessed that I knew what to do and yet I still felt lost for a moment.  So please let me help by being a vehicle for such information.  Email me anytime.

To learn about the POLST form in your state go to:


To learn more about the Five Wishes living will go to:


What Defines Family

I’ve never thought about looking up the true definition until now.  I guess if you were to ask most, they would reply in the same manner as politics and religion; it’s a matter of opinion.  So I suppose that as I voice my “opinion”, it could be argued just the same.  Nonetheless, it is mine to own and it is not my intention here to persuade one to think as I do.

Most definitions refer to “family” as two or more persons related by birth, marriage or adoption who reside together.  That’s it? So are we no longer “family” when we move on with our lives and leave the nest?  Are we only family by definition?  By relation?  The “majority” would argue “no”.  However, in my own life, that seemed to be the case.   So I set out on my journey to find my own definition.  I had a need to fulfill this void in my life.

I grew up according to the standard definition for a short while; what appeared to be the “picture perfect family”.  Father, mother, siblings, a dog and a comfortable home.  But by the time I was eight, my father moved on with another woman, two siblings had already moved on to start their own families, and one by one, the boys followed suit.  I felt abandoned in some ways.  I was left with my mother to carry out my last few years of high school and find a life of my own.  Each of us were scattered throughout the US and abroad and rarely kept in touch; many years in between unaccounted for.   I had a happy “childhood”; never really wanting for much, but not a family.  I clung to other families for that closeness; that structure for some sense or normalcy in my life.  I longed to fill the void of feeling wanted; loved; needed; appreciated; and respected; then and for always.  I watched how family members would come and go in a house…no knock or “can I come over” call and I admired that.  My family on the other hand, left and never returned.

When I finally settled down and started having children, I thought I had found it.  I stilled longed for my own to share it with.  Everyone was busy with their lives and when my own life started falling apart, no one had time for me.  I had expected them to be there for me; to comfort me; to guide me in what I was suppose to do.  Instead, I grabbed the bull by the horns and attempted to create a new life of my own;  far away from disappointment and landed in Montana where I didn’t know anyone.   I wanted it that way so no one could hurt me anymore.  I stayed angry and hurt for many years at times, but now realize that it isn’t their fault.  I believe, they, too have been searching for the same thing.

Shortly after I moved to Montana, my life changed completely when I met the man of my dreams and now my husband of sixteen years.  He has raised my two boys as his own and he is the only father they will ever have in their eyes.  He has loved them unconditionally just as the daughter we have together.  He truly is my love.  While he had grown up thousands of miles from where I did, our lives were parallel in so many ways…music; the way we dressed; values; what we wanted out of life; surviving a divorced family when “divorce” was unacceptable; and longing for the “family” that once was.   We spoke for many days (and still today) of what we wanted our future family to be like.  While I couldn’t change the past, however, I did have choices to stop the cycle of heartache and disappointment from carrying on to my children.  My journey has been a difficult one at times, but so rewarding as I continue to strive toward my goal of  defining “family”.

Over the years, I have met some of the most wonderful people that have continued to remain in my life on this journey; supporting; teaching; comforting; appreciating; and even disagreeing at times.  Some of them are family by the majority’s definition and some friends.

I am pleased with my conclusion on defining what family really is in my life.  It is the collaborative effort amongst people who genuinely care for one another and are willing to sacrifice everything to that relationship to be there for another human being; the willingness to love without boundaries; compassion; understanding; being there before you’re even asked; giving and not thinking of  “what’s in it for me”; the door that swings both ways and is always open with no invitation required; the willingness to sit and talk for hours about nothing and even sit in silence when there are no words; the acceptance of disagreeing.  It is home; wherever your heart and mind take you on a regular basis and makes you feel safe.  I am blessed to have found all of that and more.  God has been my rock through it all.

I hope you seek out to find your own definition of what family is and I encourage you to look beyond when you are  searching your soul for answers;  to find grace,  compassion and peace on your journey.  There truly can never be a standard definition of family as each of our lives are so unique.

Over the past month, I have been involved in researching my family roots.  Strangely enough, what motivated me one morning was an article I found while typing random things into my computer.  Sitting there thinking of my husband being a trapper and having just left for the day, I was inspired to look up information about pioneer trappers.  Of all things, an article from the New York Times dated 1922 appeared.  After having read the article, I could not leave it alone.  For days I thought about it and dug deeper researching anything I could find that could tell me more.  No matter how hard I searched, nothing but this tiny little article would appear.

The story was about an old woman trapper found dead lying in a muddy mire with a muskrat trap embedded deep into her arm.  She had fought to her death to break free from the thick mud on the banks of the  St Clair Flats in Algonac Michigan.

The article inspired me to find out more about the woman, but for days on end, only this tiny article written hundreds of miles away from where she died.  Who was she?  And why had she simply vanished off the face of this earth; never recognized for the life she lived; never mentioning whether she had  children; where she came from, etc?

With very little genealogy research under my belt, I began searching everywhere to learn more about her.  I wonder if anyone visits her grave, if she even has a headstone.  I think about the cold night she spent in that muddy mire and how she must have cried out for the husband she lost a  year before.  Here’s a woman who spent her entire life trapping as the article reads.  She obviously was passionate about it just as my husband is today.  Of course, it was more as a means for income back then rather than a sport or hobby, but it takes discipline and consistency to be good at it.  They called her a “pioneer” and yet today, she is forgotten.  For some strange reason she has touched my heart.  I am inspired to write about her as I can only admire her for her beauty and determination to carry on after her husband passed; running her trap line all alone as she had done so many times before.  She must have stood proud, strong willed.   She shall shine today.

Her name was Harriet (Lozon) Sears. She was born in Canada growing up in a life of hunting and trapping and migrating to the US as many did in search of a “better life” abroad.

Times were tough though for the people of St Clair Flats.  Many others had migrated from Canada as well and set up camp along the banks due to its heavy population of muskrat and mink.  It only made sense that she would meet and marry someone of that nature; Joseph Sears.  The Sears family was very well known on the Flats where women were just as much experts on hunting and fishing as the men in that day.  Even at her ripe age, she was not one to lie down.  She preferred to be  outdoors despite the whether conditions; hunting, fishing, shooting her gun.

A widow for almost a year to the date and having lost her daughter to a hunting accident three years prior, Harriet set out in her duck boat alone one morning to set her trap line in search of muskrat and mink just as she had been accustomed to since a young child.  The following day, she returned to check her traps.  As she reached down with her right hand to pull her trap, the steel teeth snapped tight around her arm.  In her efforts to break free, Harriett worked her way in her small boat to the shoreline.  As she exited the boat in was known to be only a foot or so deep at the time, she suddenly sank to her waist in the muddy mire only feet away from the shore.  Unable to break free and exhausted, this strong willed, independent woman died alone.  Harriett was 73 years old.  She was found by relatives later that day after she failed to return home for supper.

She was the mother of Lena Brakeman, the daughter who was accidentally shot and killed while hunting at the Flats in 1919. Her husband, Joseph Sears,  died in April 1921.   She is buried in an old cemetery in the Flats called Oaklawn Cemetery, but I have not found a headstone for her.  The caretaker there claims she is mentioned in a book written about the pioneers of the St. Clair Flats, but I have yet to locate it.  Harriett also had five sons and one daughter who survived her death along with 24 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren at the time of her death.  I was honored to meet one of her great great granddaughters online recently and learned more about her history.

Genealogy is so important; a great story book on the lives of others.  Not only to learn about where you came from and what made you who you are today, but to keep those who have past alive through you; regardless of relation.  Here is a woman who has been long forgotten and was amazingly strong; she was a survivor of hard times, hard work and unafraid to face her days alone.   Recognize those that inspire you and share their stories so that you might inspire others.

“Every day you have the opportunity to learn and experience some-thing and some-one new. Seize the opportunity. Learn and experience everything you can, and use it to change the world.” ~Rodney Williams~

Everyday we turn on the news only to see that disaster has struck another city, the stock market has dropped again and the housing market still has not shown any sign of recovery.   By far, it is difficult to be optimistic in times like these. But it is also a life challenge; we are being challenged; put to the test if you will. What we do in times like these builds our character.

As many of you know, I have remained unemployed and at home now for quite some time; but with good reason.   I no longer want to take a job just for the taking.  I still seek to find work, but I want to enjoy myself and be passionate about what I’m doing as I once was.  I have grown volumes of strength through it all; emotionally and spiritually in my time off and it has allowed me to explore; things that make me happy; things that don’t; things that motivate me; and things that I simply need to purge from my life altogether.  I decided it was time to clean house in other words.

Money for instance; or the lack of at times, can be like a leg hold trap that one cannot cut loose from, but sometimes we need to just fight it.

When I first got laid off, it made me sick to think of my income being cut to a fraction of what I was making in the working world. It was all I thought about. That is until I faced it head on. The one thing we “think” makes us happy, can also make us unhappy in the long wrong.  I restructured my spending habits with a bit of apprehension and have managed to stay on top ever since.  I am in control rather than being controlled. I am just more selective when I make a purchase and I do my research.  Patience is the key. Never buy on impulse; think about it for a while.

The company you keep is another thing to consider. Do you surround yourself with positive people? Do they possess qualities you can learn from and incorporate into your own life habits or do you keep with people who drag you down; family included? What about people who you rarely see unless there’s something they want from you? Are you the personality that tends to give in?

I’ve had plenty of time to sit back and research the personalities of those I have surrounded myself with and I have to admit, it includes all of the above. Common sense tells us which to stay away from, but it seems so harsh, doesn’t it? The fear of knowing that if we choose to rid our lives of associating with some, we may end up with only a few people in our lives. But I have learned that the company I chose to keep filled every void of the negativity that was destroying the kindhearted person I have always seen myself to be. I had the choice to refrain from such associations and once I did it, the weight was lifted. I began applying the good I saw in others to my own life and I am fulfilled.

Finding a hobby does wonders! So many things I have thought about over the years and wanted to learn more about have sat idle on the sidelines until now. I have taken the time to learn so many new things! It’s funny how people look at you when you’re unemployed; with their head cocked sideways and say with a sad face “so, have you found work, how are things going?” Don’t fall for it; it’s an old psychology trick to get you to respond negatively.  I am so grateful that I can turn and tell them with a smile that I am doing great and have learned so many new things; never missing my daughter’s sports events; pressure cooking, canning, cleaning out closets; gardening; running (doing my first 5K in August!); writing, etc! If I had been  working full time, I would never have had the chance to do it all!

Despite the downfall of the economy, money being tight for everyone, real estate not selling, and no job, I am at peace! My house is clean so to speak!  I have all that I need and set goals for the things I want. I have restructured my life to do whatever it is I want to in my rather than trying to walk to the beat of society’s drum. I may not have a 20 year retirement to look back on one day, but I will have many years of healthy, happy memories with my family, my few friends and the contentment of knowing I did my own thing.