Happy Birthday to Me!

T0day is my birthday.  I’m a grand ole 56 years young or old depending on which joint is aching and how much sleep I have had.  Usually, I do not pay much attention to birthdays.  My children are grown and no one is in the house but me and Lynn and he has no way to buy me a card or gift or anything so it’s just another day.  I get cards and emails and they are all fun and make me feel good but today….today was the best birthday I can ever remember having!!
First off, I went in to work.  Usually I work from home which means I juggle taking care of Lynn and doing my job–often a difficult balance at best and can be very frustrating to split thoughts/functions/ activities continuously throughout the day.  But today, I went into work so for most of the day, I only had one focus…  my job.  It was awesome.  I love having only one thing to focus on even though I had multiple issues to address there, it was one role.  My staff took me to lunch and I was treated to a wonderful fat cheese burger, with the works, and sweet potato fries.  Delicious!  I treated myself to a decadent mocha blended coffee; full of calories, and refreshing for my 15-minute walk from my office to my meeting.  I was outside in the fresh air, able to enjoy peace and quiet; not rushing to get back in the house before I got called to help Lynn in some way or to finish up something that was on a deadline.
I got several text messages with birthday greetings and some beautiful cards.  The cards this year were especially wonderful.  Each one made me feel so humble.  Several spoke to how special I was to the sender and how much they admired and appreciated me. It was so uplifting to have such sweet sentiment shared and to know they meant it. My brother and his family sent me flowers (which is no small thing since I live in the country).  But there was one present I received that words cannot fully express the impact it had on me.  It was truly the best, most awesome gift, I have ever received in my entire life.
It was a card.  Not just any card but a card that was a colleague of pictures of my extended family. My wonderful, thoughtful 81-year old Mom, cut out pictures of each member of my extended family, glued them to a card and introduced me to the family I have not seen since Lynn became unable to travel.Family pictures
I grew up with my Mom’s sisters and their children (my cousins) always around. We were all a very close family.  We all got along together and really, truly enjoyed each other’s company. My Mom had three sisters and from those sisters I had 13 cousins.  Each cousin has had children of their own, most of whom I have never met because I live five hours away and have not been able to go home for most of the family gatherings, even before Lynn was taken ill.  For various reason, I could not get there on the days or times that they were able to gather.  The last time I saw everyone was when my Grandmother died in 2000, thirteen years ago.  Since then Lynn’s condition has made it impossible for me to take him with me back to my family home because their house is not designed for access and Lynn doesn’t tolerate travel very well anyway.  The only travel we do now is once a year to vacation area with our children in a condo that is handicap accessible.
In my heart, I’ve known I would never see my “family” again.  I hear stories and see pictures but it’s groups co-mingled together and difficult for me to tell who’s who.  Well, no more! My Mom (what an angel) assembled a separate page for each family group.  Started at the top of the page with her sister and brother-in-law and then introduced each of their children (my cousins) with their children (my second cousins) in groups and sometimes their grandchildren as well.  I have just met each one and KNOW them. I see the family resemblance and it brings back so much love and longing for them.  I can’t stop crying tears of joy.
As a caregiver, you have to give up a lot.  It comes with the job that you have to make sacrifices that just can’t be helped in order to take care of the needs of your loved one.  I’ve accepted that and just don’t dwell on it.  It makes me sad that I can’t go to family reunions and I often fear the day when one of my precious relatives dies and I want to go pay my last respects, to be with our family in our grief, but know that I cannot do so because I have no way to meet Lynn’s needs nor anyone to stay there with him while I am gone.  I hope that if and when the times comes, I’ll be able to find a way but …who knows?  It’s just a sadness I carry in my heart over the loss of that family I loved so much. I’m not referring to my bothers and their families because they are wonderful about coming here so we can get together at least at Christmas but I’m referring to those childhood playmates that meant so much to me.
I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I got that card.  At first I was grinning so much my face hurt. Then I took it to show Lynn what a special present I had received and the tears started to flow… and then the sobbing… and all the longing for my family I’ve storied in my heart for years just came out.  I am still tearing up as I write this.  I miss them so much and I still love each and every one of them the same as the day I last saw them.
So, I learned today there is more than one way to visit and unexpected joys can come that touch your heart in ways you never expected. I have been so blessed today by so many people and am so humbled by the love that has been shared and given freely.  I am so, so blessed.
Happy birthday to me…

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Happy Anniversary

Today is my Mom and Dad’s 59th wedding anniversary.
When people comment about the sacrifice I’ve made to care for Lynn, I truly don’t understand why it seems so different.  I practice now what I saw my parents demonstrate for each other and for us, over and over again. Before I was born, my mom quit her job to take care of her family.  She has never gone back to work outside the home but her work inside the home keeps her busy more hours than most “day” jobs.  When we were in school, she was always active in the PTA; she and Dad often were the classroom parents who brought in cupcakes and other goodies.  They came to every play, every ball game, ever presentation that any of us had. They were always there for us.
When one of them is sick the other one is right by their side helping to make them comfortable. If one grieves, so does the other. If one is happy, so is the other.  They go everywhere together and not because they have to but because they want to.  They truly are the ultimate example of togetherness and oneness.  It was through their example that I learned commitment and self sacrifice. 
And it wasn’t just for us that they sacrificed their time.  They always pitched in to help our other family members with their projects and needs. My parents have always done what they can for others.  If someone in the neighborhood lost a family member, they always went to the wake and they always brought food to the house.  If there’s a celebration, they again bring food and enjoy the event with others.  My Mom records everything through pictures–then she creates these awesome photo albums that includes names, dates, locations and events –each picture has it’s own story.  She’s become the community historian.  She shares those memories with others at all types of community events and enjoys the pleasure her albums bring others.
My Dad can build and repair anything.  He spoiled me in my expectations for a husband.  If he sees something that needs doing, he does it then and there. Be it a car, a piece of equipment, an electrical appliance, plumbing, siding, brick laying, carpentry, whatever it is, my Dad can fix it like a pro.  He loves to read in his spare time and I’m sure that’s where I got my love of reading as well.  We often exchange books and talk about characters.  When we were young, he worked shift work.  He often took only a short nap before returning to work so he could stay up and be with the family, or watch a ball game, or help coach the team for one of his sons.  If there is a community event that needs a helping hand, he’s there. 
At the age of 79 my Dad and Mom are key partners in the community’s fire house and fund-raising.  They help clean up the parks in the area.  They cook for hundreds of people to raise money for the fire house.  They never stop.
When my Mom’s mom started having TIAs and strokes, she and her sisters took turns staying with her and caring for her.  During her last days, I think they  were there nearly full time.  When my Dad’s mom needed a place to live after my Dad’s brother died, they took her in and made her at home. 
My parents are caregivers at heart and they have passed that trait down to me.  They seek to make other’s lives better and there is nothing they would not do for me and my family.  I have been blessed to have them as my parents and to have their example as my guide.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

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