Tough Love

Tough love.

I’ve heard the term thrown around before, but never had to add it to my parenting agenda.

Until yesterday.

One of the children in our house — I’ll refrain from naming the culprit — has built a solid history of “crying wolf” when it comes to staying home from school due to illness. Whether the reason behind the charade was lack of preparation for a particular class, or sheer desire to take a “personal day,” I’ll never know for sure. What I do know for sure is that this crap isn’t going to be put up with any longer. We’re a solid six weeks into the new school year, and yesterday was the day this child decided to test the waters. Thirty-eight minutes into today’s school day, I received the following text:

“I just threw up. What do I do?”

“Go to the clinic,” I type back.

It kills me, by the way, that I had to say this.

This began — I kid you not — a three-and-a-half hour volley of texts, in which my child pleaded and begged to come home. Ordinarily, I’d have keys in hand and jump into the car in a heartbeat — if the vomiting had actually been witnessed by a credible source. Claiming to throw up in the bathroom, with no one else around, does not guarantee a ticket home. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not wishing a classroom or hallway incident upon my child, the teachers and custodians. However, just like the a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around to hear it, if a child claims to vomit at school, and no one’s there to see it, … as far as I’m concerned, it has not happened. Luckily, a quick and insightful conversation with the school nurse tipped her off to this child’s penchant for playing the vomit card. She, having raised three kids already, and being responsible for over 1,000 students in our school system, was instantly on the same page as me. Combining forces with the school nurse shouldn’t have made me as giddy as it did, but hey… on the parenting battleground, you take any ally you can get.

As messages popped up continually through the lunch hour, guilt tip-toed around my mind. The “tough mom” part of my brain was giving “guilty mom” a hard side-eye, which prompted them to spar.

“You know he can’t keep doing this.”

“I know, but…”

“Another text? Just ignore it.”

“I can’t ignore my own child — besides, what if he’s really sick”

“Please. We all know he isn’t really sick.”

“I know, but…”

“You come at me with another ‘I know, but…’ and I swear to Heaven we’re throwing down.”

To pacify Guilty Mom, I fired off quick texts to my other children at school, asking them to be my eyes and ears during lunch period. Reports came back that my allegedly sick child went to the cafeteria, did not eat, and was on the quiet side. This is not typical. At that point, Guilty Mom grew bold and began digging in her heels against Tough Mom.

“See?! He isn’t himself. He’s definitely not feeling well.”

“Simply not feeling well isn’t worthy of leaving school for the day.”

“But if he’s feeling light-headed and queasy, that’s a miserable feeling, and I’m forcing him to feel miserable at school, rather than at home where it’s comfortable.”

In the end, Tough Mom won by reassuring Guilty Mom that this was a life lesson my child had to learn, and the end justified the means. My child will (hopefully) learn the following:

1.) One cannot cry wolf repeatedly, and expect to be taken seriously.

2.) If this was a way to avoid something at school — an incomplete assignment, a test for which he hadn’t studied — he’ll learn that one must face the consequences of one’s actions.

3.) Tough Mom is the new sheriff in town, and Guilty Mom has been relieved of her duties in the parenting department.

Tough love.

Most people probably thing the “tough” part of that phrase refers to assessment by the person on the receiving end. I, however, have first-hand experience that tough love can be toughest on the parent. We are so programmed that being a good parent means being everything to our children, and doing everything in our power to make our children happy. I think back to my own childhood — which I loved, and have no complaints about whatsoever — and I’m straight up telling you that some of the shenanigans that kids pull today would have never passed with my parents, or my friend’s parents. Never. My parents never sent notes or made phone calls to a coach, just to raise hell and get me on a sports team. My parents never took time out of their work days to hand-deliver a forgotten homework assignment to me at school. If I forgot something at home, it stayed there until I remembered to bring it to school myself. All of this to say that my parents were great, and I have to admit, I think I turned out pretty well despite the fact that they didn’t cater to my every whim, or drive themselves crazy trying to pave the way for me.

In a few conversations about the situation since yesterday afternoon, my child insists, and swears that he did, in fact, get sick at school. I have a pretty good hunch that allergies may be the culprit. I had forgotten that when this particular child was little, any sort of “congestion situation” would end up in him throwing up with very little warning. (Those were fun times, when we had to stash plastic bags in coat pockets in order to consider ourselves fully prepared to deal with the problem. To this day, I still keep a few plastic grocery bags rolled up in our cars, so apparently I’d been scarred for life.)

Most times it’s easy to love our kids, despite their fits, tantrums, sass and basic ability to drive parents to the outskirts of Crazytown. But it’s those days when tough love is the only way to solve a problem that you really understand how going against the grain can be sheer torture, yet also be the best, most loving and caring thing you can do for your child.


We interrupt this hellstorm…

I don’t think anyone would argue that lately our country — our WORLD — seems like it’s turned into the Hell Express. Hatred, intolerance, general ugliness that fuels hate fire and all too often results in death and destruction. I’m not much of a news-watcher these days, generally keeping up on events with a quick scan of local or national news websites. Or, (and I feel superbly ashamed to admit this) many news “tips” come from scrolling Facebook, seeing someone repost or comment on something. Despite my inaction, I do, in fact, aspire to be a well-informed citizen and decided to make an effort to watch the news this morning.

First topic was Trump’s acceptance speech at the RNC last night, which I completely expected. Next story was (another!) shooting — this time an African-American healthcare worker, who had been trying to assist a distressed, autistic client. I’d heard of this the other day, but as this man’s attorney and supervisor (I think… I missed his introduction) recounted and reacted to the incident, my blood began to boil. What had he done wrong? And, I have obviously missed something in the story, but why were police called to this situation to begin with? I’m guessing because the client was sitting in the middle of the street, refusing to move and causing a public disturbance. The man clearly stated who he was and what was happening, yet for some reason, an officer pulled the trigger. Now, don’t start lumping me into any specific ” — Lives Matter” category, because I’ll say right here and right now that I feel ALL lives matter. Every life. I believe people shouldn’t be assumed to be dangerous based on other incidents. I also believe that a person armed with a weapon should be able to defend himself/herself if there is a threat to his/her well-being, or those around them. Sure, there are always going to be questions — to what degree should they defend themselves? At what point? Define “threat to their well-being.” I know these are horribly tense, complicated situations that often have to be dealt with in seconds. Split-seconds. I know I couldn’t do it, and I have the utmost respect for the people who are trained and able to quickly assess dangerous situations, making those split-second decisions that have the best possible outcome for all involved. But this isn’t my point today. My point is that hearing about this latest situation gone awry pushed me over the edge. I’m on violence overload, people, and I need to take a mental break. Sensational media thrives on being just that: sensational. And I’m not talking fabulous-sensational, I’m talking about shocking-sensational — bringing viewers as much shocking, appalling, graphic information as possible. With this media hellstorm literally at our fingertips, we often have no buffer between the ugliest news of the day and our hearts. And some days, my heart hurts too much.  I need a chance to step away for a few minutes, shake off the awfulness and re-focus on the GOOD and the LOVE that surrounds us.

So, first, here’s this:

tired puppy

Sleepy puppy — giving me the evil eye because I dared sneak up on her to take a photo. Whatever. She’s sleeping off the two miles we logged this morning out and around the neighborhood. You’re welcome, Stella.

And, because puppies and kittens are ambassadors of cuteness,… may I present our cat-niece Luna:


Speaking of nieces, our human niece Chloe celebrated her 15th birthday yesterday. Her mother — my amazing SIL Jenny — honored the occasion with a Facebook pictorial that was all kinds of awesome. While there’s one other photo that claims all-time favorite status, this one stopped me in my tracks and literally turned my day around:


That’s a hellalotta fabulousness to pack into three years of life!

Next, an unedited photo of sunset at the lake, July 02, 2016:


Gorgeous, yes?

Finally, I’ll close with a meme that jumped off the screen at me the first time I read it. Credit goes to Rachel Macy Stafford at


We aren’t here to judge.

“Why, then, do you judge your brother? Or why do you belittle your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”   Romans 14:10

We’re here to love one another.

“This is My commandment, that you love one other as I have loved you.”  John 15:12

There’s so much badness out there, but there’s also goodness.

There are puppies and kittens.

And birthdays.

And sunsets.

And love. Choose love. Choose love next. And over, and over, and over again until it’s all you do.


A letter to my sons

An open letter to my older sons, in light of recent current events:

Dear Tyler, Jack, Charlie and Sam–

Some of you may have heard about the Stanford rape case in the news lately. If not, here’s the overview: In January 2015, a 20-year old Stanford athlete (swimmer) met up with a young woman at a party, and at some point of the evening he decided to sexually assault her. Yes, there was alcohol involved, on both parts. She was drunk enough to pass out, and he took her outside, behind a garbage dumpster and raped her. During the act, two other students approached on bicycles, and noticed something wasn’t quite right with the situation. They confronted the young man — Brock Turner is his name — at which point he tried to run away. They tackled him and held him until the police arrived.

Last week, he was convicted of the crime, which ordinarily would warrant something like a 15-year prison sentence. Astonishingly, the judge sentenced him to just six months in prison, with the likelihood that he’ll actually serve just three of those six months.

After the sentence was handed down, Brock Turner’s father penned a letter, basically belittling the crime, referring to it as “20 minutes of action,” and how that didn’t warrant ruining Brock’s future.

Needless to say, people are shocked. Dismayed. Disappointed. Outraged.

I am among those people.

Who knows where this case will lead next,… whether or not the sentence can be changed, what sort of changes will occur in the legal system because of it. But I do know that parents everywhere are bringing this story to their children, in hopes of driving home the point that sexual assault — rape — is not something to belittle. As much as Brock Turner’s father pleaded for his son’s future which was now ruined by this paltry prison sentence, he never once mentioned or even acknowledged the young woman’s future. Her future is ruined. Her future will never be the same, significantly marred by Brock’s actions as she lay unconscious. (I have both the victim’s letter and the one written by Dan Turner for you to read, so you can read their words for yourself.)

All that said, I believe you all would conduct yourselves appropriately in social situations. Just to be clear, however, here is the step-by-step procedure I expect each of you to follow, should you ever find yourself in a situation that even remotely resembles this one.

SCENE: You are at a party and you notice a young woman, alone, who may or may not be drunk. Whether you know her personally or not, here’s what you are to do:

1.) Ask her if she is OK, if she has friends with her and where they are.

2.) Help her find her friends.

3.) If she is alone, or doesn’t know where her friends are, YOU are now her friend. Your primary responsibility at this point is making sure she either gets home safely, or stays safe until morning.

4.) If she passes out, you find a safe place for her to remain. Give her a pillow, a blanket and a trash can.

5.) You make sure she is safe and no one messes with her.

I want you all to note that none of these steps include taking advantage of this girl in any way, shape or form.

This isn’t new, undiscovered ground for me, as I can clearly remember partying in college. Surprised? Don’t be. My friends and I were social, and yes… there were times when someone needed to be taken care of because she’d had too much to drink. I even remember taking care of one of my male friends at his own fraternity house, because he started too fast out of the gate one Saturday night, and was a slurring, stumbling mess by 10pm. Granted, the chances of him being sexually assaulted in this situation were zero percent. However, we didn’t abandon him, saying, “He’s in his own house,… he’ll be fine. Probably.” Nope. We got him to his room, put him in his bed (made sure he stayed on his side so he wouldn’t choke if he vomited), and put a trash can next to him. We stayed and made sure he fell asleep/passed out before leaving, then we shut his door and continued our evening. At no point did we think it would be funny to degrade or humiliate him. Being drunk happens, but it isn’t an open invitation to strip someone of his or her dignity, or worse.

You are all intelligent, respectable young men with endless possibilities for future plans. Mistakenly thinking that you could/should take advantage of a girl simply because she’s unable to protest, will ruin lives forever. Plans that either of you had will probably never be realized.

These expectations I’ve listed apply to any situation — it applies to girls you know, and even those you do not. I don’t care if you encounter a complete stranger who’s falling down drunk… it doesn’t matter if you know her. She is a human being, and as such, we take care of one another. I expect all of you to adhere to that standard. We all need to watch out for each other, because there are people out there who feel entitled to have whatever they want, whenever they want it. Period. These are the most dangerous people, because when they are denied what they want, they can become violent and fight for what they feel they “deserve.” I’m no expert on what people deserve in this world, but I know for damn sure that in January 2015, an unconscious young woman didn’t deserve to be raped behind a garbage dumpster.

Always be gentlemen. Always.

Love, Mom

BTSO Season

We are Back to Square One again.
As I write, sunlight is flooding the kitchen, it’s nearly 60 degrees, the windows are open and Jeff is mowing the yard — which should bring on my slight grass allergy in 3… 2… 1…
But my weather report isn’t just for general knowledge. It’s impressing me because it’s one of the first true days of spring. Granted, we hit that milestone on the calendar several weeks ago, but seeing “First Day of Spring” in print is worlds apart from feeling the sun warm your shoulders, which are bared in a tank top as you do yard work. Yes, the year has returned to its own “square one” — trees are budding/blooming, many yards boast tulips and daffodils, and chicken-sized robins abound. For a long time, I hated spring. To me it was so ugly with brown, dormant grass, leafless trees, gray/rainy days and mud. MUD EVERYWHERE. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but this year has been different. Maybe it’s because we had such a mild Midwest winter and things seemed to green-up a lot quicker, but I actually found myself noticing the early-blooming flowers more and not minding the early onset April showers that debuted in March. Many people speak of spring being the season of “rebirth and renewal,” and this year I’ve actually felt those sentiments in my heart. Mental change is a mighty force, and sometimes you have to discipline yourself into it. Lately, for me, it’s just a feeling of, “Yes, a fresh start is exactly what I need.” Nothing drastic, of course. I’m not selling all my possessions and moving to a mountaintop (although, there *are* days when I’m tempted…), rather, I have become more vividly aware that some areas of my life needed tweaked. Eliminate the chaos of “busyness,” and live intentionally each day. Actually BE in the moments of my day, rather than offer my family my physical presence, but put my mind a million miles away on Facebook or Pinterest. Continue the practice of taking things calmly and in stride each day, rather than let anger and frustration twist me up into knots. (P.S. — this has been an ongoing lesson that’s taken a good year to develop into daily use.)
Through the grace of God, we return to square one every morning, with another new day. Another chance to start fresh, to try not to screw things up (at least not too badly) and get it close to being kinda sorta right. And for that, I’m truly thankful.
As a family, we’ve also returned to a “square one” of sorts with Stella.


Stella is the newest addition to our asylum home. She’s a (now) 12-week old Vizsla puppy, and a crazy breath of fresh air, who keeps us on our toes each day. Some of her antics leave us just short of infuriated, but she’s SO DAMN CUTE. Her presence has given our ol’ boy Buddy a bit of a re-charge as well. Since her arrival, his patience has been tested tenfold, but his demeanor has changed to that of a dog many years younger than his 12-14. (We rescued him, so his exact age is a bit hazy.) All I know is that he’s more active, move involved and actively seeks our attention. Hoping that Stella’s exuberance adds some pep and enjoyment to his golden years.
So, today we’re planning to enjoy a 70-something degree day, opening the lake house and assessing our To Do list there. The stage is set for a beautiful and enjoyable day — wishing you the same!

Fall down, get back up again

The urge to write has been overwhelming lately, but I struggle with what to say. So many things swirl around my head every day — snippets of thoughts on a ton of topics — but when I sit staring at a blank screen, my mind also goes blank.

“This isn’t even worth writing about.”

“This idea is monumentally stupid. Step away from the keyboard.”

“No one’s going to care what I think about [topic].”

The doubts come in, and not on the little cat feet like Sandburg’s fog. They stomp and crash, kicking me to the curb with steel-toe boots. But despite the doubts, and the stomping,… the urge is still there, growing into frustration that brings tears. In the immortal words of Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Ain’t *that* the truth.

I finished up the evening shoo’ing kids into bed, determined to spend at least a few minutes with my laptop tonight. As I folded laundry, I took a step back, mentally, and thought a bit about things that have happened — as long ago as a year, and as recently as two hours ago. There’s been a lot of falling down and getting back up again. Sometimes it’s me  — like with my enthusiasm to make this Lent the most meaningful of my life; sometimes it’s friends who are pushed down, and struggle to get back up. Examples started popcorning my brain. Pop, pop,… poppity, pop. The common thread woven throughout all these situations is “starting over.” That made me think of the name of the blog, “SquareOneMom.” The name is an evolution from the original blog, “Back to Square One,” which I began almost seven years ago when Bobby was born. Jeff and I had gotten married the year before. We were new parents, while five other kids peered over our shoulders. Then I was downsized out of a job, and had to start looking for another job.

Starting over. Going back to square one.

Lent is a whole eight days old, and while I’d had hopes of crushing it, I’ve fallen each day. Perhaps I set myself up for failure, setting too rigid restrictions for myself. But I know for a fact that my guidelines were follow-able, because one aspect of my Lenten journey mirrored month number one in Jen Hatmaker’s book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” It’s the simplify-your-life-one-area-at-a-time-over-several-months project, beginning with food. She modified her diet to just seven items, which she would eat over the course of a month: chicken, eggs, avocado, whole wheat bread, apples, sweet potatoes and spinach. My menu varied a smidge, as I added my newest favorite thing, quinoa, and I allowed for green tea and coffee, besides water. Looking back, my resolve was pretty strong those first few days, but then a weekend happened, and VALENTINE’S DAY happened and how in the world was I supposed to pass up a breakfast made with love by my husband, and there was no possible way to refuse when the darling almost-7 year old pushed two foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses across the table, saying, “Here, Mama… these are for you.” I had all the feels and all the love and absolutely ZERO willpower.Bring on the bacon and chocolate!

So, yes. There was falling. And once I fell, it was too easy to rationalize and slip again. But when I began to beat myself up about it, the lyrics to Toby Mac’s “Get Back Up”came to me:

We lose our way

We get back up again

It’s never too late to get back up again

You may be knocked down

But not out forever

Everything’s a cycle, we always find our way back to the beginning again — ready to get back up again. Whether it’s Lent, a job, a marriage, whatever, we may get knocked down, but we’re not out forever.

Get back up.

Three week review, and yes, I’m “that mom.”

We’re three weeks into the new year, and I really feel like I want to sit down, pat the cushion next to me and invite 2016 to an honest-to-goodness Come to Jesus meeting. Here’s how I think it might go:

Me: Well, 2016, I know you’re still new here, but I have to tell you — and I say this as a friend who cares — so far, you’ve been really rather craptastic.

2016: What?! Me?! But how…?

Me: In the short time you’ve been here, you’ve given pretty much nothing and taken a lot away. People. You’ve taken people away. For starters, you took David Bowie, and then a truly good young man who had so much yet to give the world. Then more musicians and Professor Snape! All in one week! As an encore to all that, you took away even the slightest winter warmth. Many of us sat shivering, wondering who you’d take away next. And, personally, all this was falling on the heels of the holidays — which were a lovely send-off from 2015 — but the first holidays without my dad. So, I’m sure you can see how your debut isn’t being as well received as one might hope….

2016: Wow. Since you put it that way, I see what you mean.

Now, I’m sure my little heart-to-heart with the New Year will surely set it straight, and we’ll all be enjoying a much more pleasant February. I think it’s fair to give 2016 the next week to pull itself together and create a kinder, gentler agenda for us.

In all fairness, I do admit that a bulk of the sad, depressing events had nothing to do with our young, fresh-faced 2016. They’re things that happened. Things that we’d wish with all our power and prayer and hearts wouldn’t happen. But they did. And I’d like to think we’re a little better for it, because we can fondly recall the artists and their crafts. How their performances moved us at pivotal times in our lives, how they may have even helped shape us into the people we are today. It also brings us perspective — acknowledging the death of someone from or youth marks us in a way. It categorizes those of us “at a certain age,” where we will begin wistfully remembering things from “back in the day.” For some, that’s a wake-up call; a vivid reminder that we aren’t getting any younger, and perhaps it’s time for us to take a hard look at our priorities and be sure we’ve got them in proper order.

And then there’s that young man. Oh, the thought of it and his now too-young widow… oh my gosh. My heart breaks all over again just thinking of them. His name was Andrew Smith, only 25, and many may have heard word of his death through various sports media outlets. He was a Butler basketball player, #44, when my beloved Bulldogs started showing up at The Big Dance. When cancer came calling, he fought back. He fought with everything he had, which in addition to incredible strength, included unbelievable grace and unwavering faith. Throughout his battle, he and his lovely wife Samantha turned this profoundly bad thing into something good: bone marrow registry awareness. They received good news that a donor had been matched to Andrew, and he had a bone marrow transplant last November. Sadly, by early December, the cancer had grown into full-blown leukemia, and the transplant had failed. I read Samantha’s blog throughout their ordeal, and the funny thing about reading those personal glimpses into their lives — into Andrew’s courageous battle — is that an emotional bond forms. I felt it. Everyone felt it. We were all a collective hot, weepy mess the days following Andrew’s death. Maybe it was also because we shared the same devotion and love for Butler. Maybe it was just because Andrew was one of those people who EVERYONE loves, solely based on the fact that he was truly good. Samantha’s own words were, “His kindness is instantaneous to strangers and his caring nature and ever-gentle heart is felt by every person lucky enough to have any sort of relationship with him. Truly, Andrew exudes and shines the Light of Christ.” I mean, I’ve met good people before. Sometimes even really good people. But when words are chosen to describe someone as exuding and shining the “Light of Christ,” well… that’s probably about the best a person can be, really. If the mention of this young man’s death generates event he smallest pause for you, do the world a favor and check into the bone marrow registry process. All it takes is a quick swab on the inside of your cheek to be registered, and the upside of it is that you could potentially save someone’s life. Go to www. to learn more and find out how you can help.

So, yes, 2016… got off to a rocky start. But, as they say, actions of our past don’t have to define us! Look at February as a fresh start! I knew for sure the other day that things had reached the point — you know the one, where you ride the emotional roller coaster long enough that you end up finding a way to laugh in the face of adversity — the other day at my son’s middle school. It was an average afternoon, picking him up as I do quite often. We’d gotten some snow and ice the day before, so the parking lot still had a lot of accumulation in spots. As I and the other parents were dutifully making our way around the parking lot, from four rows of cars, merging into two, and then finally the single pick-up line in front of the school, someone ahead of me clipped a traffic cone. This was unbeknownst to me. I was just creeping along, minding my own business and enjoying the hell out of my heated seats. After making the turn at the rear of the parking lot, I could hear the snow and ice crunching under my tires. What I was unaware of, was the fact that the “crunching” I heard was actually the tipped over traffic cone being dragged under my car along said snow and ice. Of course, because I’m me and this is precisely the kind of crazy-stupid thing that happens to me, I had no idea and proceeded through the pick-up line. It wasn’t until I reached the front of the school (and in full view of ALL the middle schoolers waiting for their parents) that a teacher stopped me and was all, “Yeah, you’ve got a cone under your car.”


She bent over to look, then clarified, “Oh, wait. You’ve got three of ’em under there. I don’t know how we’re gonna get those out of there.”

I’m sorry. Three cones?! I know there was no way I’d run over three cones, but then she clarified even further, telling me that they’d been stacked together into one oversized “supercone.”

Even awesomer.

By this point, the assistant principal came over and proceeded to extricate these cones out from under my car. Naturally, this wasn’t a case of simply grabbing it out from under my car. Nope. It took him a few minutes of active, hard tugging to free two of them. Then he had to go in for the last one. Meanwhile, the other parents are being directed to drive around me, surely getting a good, long look at my unfortunate circumstance before stopping to load children. Naturally, I felt horrible about (possibly) destroying their traffic cones, and apologized profusely. I was also mortified, because I’d driven around the entire parking lot with these stupid orange cones dragging under my car. And I was a little miffed, too. I mean, seriously! You mean to tell me other parents in pick-up line saw this happening and couldn’t tell me?! All it would take is a little toot of the horn, motion for me to roll down my window and FOR THE LOVE, tell me I’m dragging school property underneath my car. Nope. Everyone just kept quiet, creeping right along with me. Probably snickering. Yep — I was “that mom.”

Cue the laughter.








In which things get real…

Bless me Father, I have slacked…
It’s been five months since my last post.

Yes, when I last posted, it was summer. Things were good, the weather was lovely and I was on the upswing of training for a huge race. Then, in mid-August all that came to a screeching halt.

As some might say, shit got real.

My father died on August 15. And if it hadn’t been for the random thought to take an impromptu day trip over to Ohio, I would have never seen him alive one last time.

When Mom called on that Wednesday, she said that they’d been to the oncologist, and he had determined Dad had lost too much weight to carry on with chemo treatments. She said that “home hospice” was going to be arranged. To me, “hospice” anything meant bad news, but in my optimistic denial, I figured hospice at home must not be as dire. Talk of a hospice facility would have been much, much worse. Mom mentioned that my dad’s sisters — Patty and Barb — were coming to visit the following day, staying until Friday. After taking all this new information in, I decided to take Friday as a PTO day, and have myself a day trip to Ohio. It was going to be a busy weekend, taking our daughter Kate back to Purdue on Saturday, and I figured we would end up with something going on Sunday. Besides, if I went Friday, I would get to see my aunts as well.

When I arrived at my parent’s house, the hospice nurse was there. I walked in to find my aunts near tears. This wasn’t good. Dad’s condition had deteriorated much more than I had been told, or would let myself believe. Mom couldn’t handle the 24/7 care Dad needed, and they were all rallying to get the hospice nurse to get Dad admitted to the hospice less than a mile from their house. I knew his condition — a combination of cancer and Parkinson’s Disease — had required a lot of my mom… but things had now escalated far beyond her ability and emotional capacity. As the conversations happened around the kitchen table for the next 45 minutes or so, I had to not only allow the gravity of the situation sink into my brain, but I had to push it in. I had to make myself understand and accept what I had been trying to keep far in the future: that this was it: he was nearing the end. The nurse came into the room, still on her cell phone with her supervisor and gave us a thumbs-up. She had gotten the OK to have him admitted. Within 20 minutes, there was a transport ambulance backing into the driveway, and two medics came in to help Dad onto the stretcher. Shortly after, we were outside — Mom, Aunt Patty, Aunt Barb and myself — as the medics wheeled Dad to the ambulance. He looked so small and frail, not at all like the Dad I’d always known, who was healthy, strong… full of life and laughter. Dad was facing the house, and I did my best to face him and put on a cheerful expression — one that I hoped would be reassuring to him. Suddenly, I saw his face and realized what he was probably thinking: “This is the last time I’m going to see this house. The last time I’ll leave it.” Tears sprang to my eyes, and I had to turn away. I couldn’t let him see me cry. Crying in front of him would mean I was giving up, that I had no hope for him. And the last thing I would ever want is for Dad to think I was giving up on him.

Mom and I jumped into her car, and we followed the ambulance out of their neighborhood and down the street, barely a mile, to the facility. We walked up to the entrance just as the medics were taking the stretcher out of the ambulance. I felt a slight breeze on my face, and again found myself plagued with the thought of my father realizing that this was the last time he’d feel a breeze on his face. The last time he’d ever smell the sweet summer air, hear birds or the rustle of leaves in the trees. I blinked away the tears, and we followed him inside. In a whirlwind of activity they got Dad to his room and situated in bed. I now find myself struggling to recall the details of what went on after that. Has my mind blocked them out as a coping mechanism? Was there just so much to take in and comprehend that my brain was simply too overloaded to retain everything? I remember nurses coming in and talking to him. They all seemed to revert to a very loud, slow form of baby-talk, which infuriated me. This was my father they were talking to, not a deaf toddler. I wanted to say something, but I thought I’d better just keep my mouth shut.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of running back to my parent’s house to see my aunts off on their trip back home, waiting for my brother and his daughters to arrive… and thinking. Even though Dad had fought both the cancer and Parkinson’s for a long time, and we knew this time would come sooner rather than later, I found myself in a panic, not knowing what to do. Later, back at the hospice, I had some time alone with Dad. I sat next to him as we watched The Food Network, which had become his preferred way to pass the time — watching food be prepared, even though he was barely eating anything himself. I thought I should say something, talk to him about what was in my heart. Tell him how much I loved him and that I was going to miss him terribly. Later, I thought. I knew I couldn’t do it without breaking down into tears, and I didn’t want him to have to feel like he had to comfort me. I was supposed to be trying to comfort him.

Mom stayed with him that night, and when I walked over from their house in the morning, Dad was sleeping. So I thought. In reality, he was in another form of consciousness — not asleep, not awake. Unresponsive. He was already beginning the active stages of dying. Mom left to go back to the house and eat, shower, regroup. I took my spot in the chair next to the bed and held Dad’s hand. His breathing was more of a raspy rattle in, and a vocal exhale. I wouldn’t exactly call it a moan; more like an attempt to clear his throat that lasted longer then normal. I couldn’t hold back any longer, and spent the first hour with him with my head down on the bed’s side rail, sobbing uncontrollably. I was heartbroken — my dad was dying and I’d missed my chance to tell him how much I loved him, and what was in my heart for him. For an hour, I cried listening to the rhythmic pattern of his labored breathing. Rattle inhale, vocal exhale… rattle inhale, vocal exhale… When I could finally pull myself together enough to form the words, I raised my head, leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“I love you, Dad.”

I sat back down, a fresh batch of hot tears running down my cheeks. And then I heard it. A break in the pattern of his breathing as he exhaled. Instead of the steady, vocal groan I’d been listening to, I heard him say “I love you.” Granted, it came out more like “uhhh luhhh yuhhh,” but I heard it. Suddenly I began second-guessing what I’d heard. Had he heard me tell him I loved him? Was he really answering me? The odds of there being a change in his breathing pattern like that,… especially after hearing the same inhale/exhale for an hour, well… I wanted to believe so much that Dad told me he loved me that I didn’t even mention it to anyone. I didn’t want some nurse telling me, “Oh, that’s common for a patient to move his tongue or mouth and make arbitrary noises.” No. I didn’t want anyone to dismiss the idea that Dad had talked to me (to the best of his ability) with some clinical explanation. In the three months since his death, I haven’t spoken or written about it once until just now, just to preserve the validity of that moment.

The day wore on, with me, Mom, my brother Ray, my husband Jeff and our youngest son Bobby all in and out of Dad’s room. He never woke up, except for one moment, when a nurse came in and was readjusting him, placing pillows at his sides for his arms to rest on. I was sitting near the end of the bed, and as she moved him, he opened his eyes and looked right at me. He kind of had a surprised look on his face, like “Oh, hey… you’re all here and I’ve been sleeping all this time…?” I was so relieved he was awake, and gave him an enthusiastic, heartfelt, “Well, hi there!” I told him Mom had just stepped out into the hallway and that I’d go get her. I knew she would be beyond thrilled to talk to him for a bit. I took two steps outside the doorway and got Mom,… but by the time we came back in, he was out. He never woke up again.

Later that evening, with Ray, Jeff and Bobby in the nearby lounge area, Mom and I sat talking. I still had Dad’s hand in mine as she and I talked about bed sheets. Bed sheets of all things. Mom looked past me for a moment and got a worried look on her face.
“I think he stopped breathing,” she said. I looked over and his chest was still, but then he drew in another breath. I remember telling Mom, “If you want to go get the nurse, maybe she can check on him.” I now regret not getting up myself and doing that, because when Mom left, I looked over at Dad and told him one more time that I loved him. It was then he took his last breath. I feel like Mom should have been there for that, and I feel awful that I suggested she leave the room, even for the few seconds it took her to call in the nurse.

The following six days were filled with decisions that had to be made, traveling and the surreal feeling of accepting that my father had died. The best way to describe it, for myself anyway, is that the death of someone so close to you is so huge and monumental, you simply cannot fathom that it’s happened. You go through the motions, picking out his clothing, choosing a casket, making final plans… and yet there’s still some shred of belief that he isn’t really gone. But then there are moments when reality crashes over you like a wave in the ocean, and you are all, “Oh my God, I’m never going to see him again,” and the grief is so profound and unbearable. More than a week later, I began having mini anxiety attacks, where I would realize this all over again, as my raced and I couldn’t catch my breath. It only lasted a few minutes, and I felt like I could get myself calmed down fairly quickly. It wasn’t until a little over two months later that I would discover six to seven weeks is as long as I can hold my shit together before completely breaking down. Good to know.

So, that happened.

I did end up running the Fort4Fitness at the end of September, but only successfully completed two of the three races: the 10k and half-marathon. I logged 19-some miles before running out of time, not completing the 4-mile course, so technically I completed a Double Play, rather than the Triple Crown. To say I was disappointed put it mildly, and I haven’t run for almost two months. This is partly due to a severely strained ligament in my foot, which took me out of any activity for the first two of the past eight weeks. The other six? Pure apathy. And a little depression. I had no motivation to want to run, write or do anything. However, some of my clothing is now a bit more snug than two months ago because HALLOWEEN CANDY. And the no running thing. Yeah, this is prompting me to want to lace up the running shoes again and get out for a few miles each day. As for the writing? Well, I’ve had to come back to that in my own time, I suppose.

And, so, here I am.

I feel like although it’s been a little over three months since Dad died, I hit my mourning stride late and I’m just coming out of it now. I do find myself tearing up, if not downright weepy, a few times each day, but these episodes pass quickly and I try to move forward. When I look at the big picture of who my dad was, I remember him laughing and making people laugh most of all. The sooner I can help myself heal and get on with living, loving and laughing, the more honor I’ll bring to his memory.