My Nick Note

Hindsight is always 20-20. If not perfect, it’s dang close most of the time.

When I got home from work yesterday, Nick was sitting on the couch, face streaked with dirt and his eyes looking (as my dad used to say) ‘like two piss holes in the snow.’ He was dead-ass tired. He had been working on the trail most of the day (remember, he said he needed help to finish? Yeah. Not strong on patience when he wants something done, that man of mine). He was spent. I noticed he was breathing a little hard and asked if he was okay. “I’m alright,” he assured me. “Just tired. Really, really tired.” I took his blood pressure anyway and was relieved that it was normal. He didn’t say anything, but his face said, “See, I told you. Just tired.”

He said he was just going to relax while I went to spin class. We kissed goodbye and told each other “I love you.” I left with that thought in my head.

Yet, somehow, when Chris’ phone rang while we were spinning, I knew the call was for me. I knew it before Allan came down the stairs and pointed at me. “That was Ken. They are taking Nick to the hospital. They think he’s having a heart attack.”

I’d ridden to class with Dana so I had no wheels of my own. Allan drove me to the hospital. The whole way there, I worried that he would be gone when I got there. I wanted to scream. To cry. I didn’t… because it have done no good. Instead, I concentrated on holding it together and praying. That took everything I had.

I ran into the ER lobby and was by Nick’s side in less than a minute. My mind took it all in: Nurse. Nick. Good neighbors and friends, Don & Sue Q., who had driven him to the hospital when things started to go south. Busy room. Lots going on. But the main thing was: Nick. He was conscious. Vitals were stable. Heart was beating…strong…watching the blips on the screen comforted me almost as much as seeing his eyes focus on me… Oh, so much better than the LAST time we were in that SAME ER ROOM—don’t think about that, Deb; focus on the present, not the past.

They’d given him nitro and started an IV. His limbs and lips were tingling and he kept asking me if I was rocking the bed, because that’s what it felt like to him. No, hon, it’s ok. Just relax. Take it easy. Keep breathing. Stay with me. Don’t go.

He did. Eventually the tingling left and they gave him a shot to attack the headache. Jake came by and made Nick smile. Rest and relax, everyone kept repeating. Don’t worry about anything and stay calm. Take it EASY.

Then, they sent us home. Unsteady and weak, home we went, thanks to strict medical criteria and insurance rules. But I digress- We’re home. He is still tired and his headache is lingering. He’s sleeping a lot. That’s okay. Rest, my love. Rest and recover.
I was here with him today and will be here tomorrow, too. He shouldn’t be alone and I don’t want to be away from him.

Nick will be absent from facebook for a bit. He doesn’t want his phone, either — so you know he’s just not feeling well. If you call his phone and I hear it, I may answer – but probably not. At this point, we’re just tuning out the world most of the time.

Good thoughts and prayers would be most welcome.

A Short Conversation With My Mother

I had a short conversation with my mother today. It was short, not necessarily because she’s been dead since 1994, but because I finally got fed up with her negative comments as they re-played in my head this afternoon.

Some people just make better parents than others. I realize that now. And, while I’ve made peace with my demons…every now and then, at the most inopportune time, they regurgitate themselves like bad bile, leaving a sour taste in my mouth and heaviness in my heart.

It happened today during my very first ride on my beautiful new road bike. I was struggling to learn coordination and balance while clipping my bike shoes into the bike’s pedals – all new for me. I knew I’d need to practice and had already prepared myself for the probability of falling — and I did! My left foot was firmly clipped but I was struggling to get my right foot into the cleat when I wobbled and lost my balance. Being left handed, my instinct was to put down my left foot — except it was still attached to the pedal — and down I went.

It was a moderately easy fall – some road rash, a broken blood vessel – not nearly as bad as it could have been, but a fall nontheless. I sat on the ground a moment, assessing myself and thinking, “OK, that’s what it feels like…all good…let’s get up and go again…”

But before I could push to my feet another voice popped into my head. It belonged to my mother. “I’ve told you over and over again…I should have named you Grace, because at least then you’d have had some. You are the clumsiest person ever born on this earth.”

Years ago, she’d tell that to a gawky child many times a week. She’d say that (and other mean things) to a girl who was very uncomfortable with her body. As a result, I constantly felt unworthy of love. Without remorse, she’d watch my eyes fill with stinging, hot tears. Often times, she’d make fun of my sensitivity. She’d mimic my crying as I slunk away to lick my wounds alone in my bedroom. Food became a good friend, never talking back, always accepting me. No wonder I was overweight.

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine treating my children or grandchildren that way.

The thing is, in public, she treated me so differently that even people who knew us well never saw that side of her. She saved the ridicule for our ‘alone’ time. I was an only child and my dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so there was no lack of that.

So, today, at 58, well into my fitness journey and training to become a triathlete, she came calling. I’m sure that some psychologist could give me a wealth of theories why it happened. The truth is, it took me by surprise. I certainly didn’t expect it. But, what’s cool is how I responded. Because, without even thinking, I told my mother something I never would have said to her while she was alive. “Mom, shut the hell up,” I said. And she did.

I got up, brushed off the gravel and sand from my legs and mounted my beautiful bike. Without giving her another thought, I clipped in my left foot, pushed off and cleated my right foot perfectly. The wind caressed my face. There were no tears, no gawkiness. I may have fallen, but it wasn’t due to clumsiness. I’m merely learning. I may fall again – in fact, I probably will. But I don’t expect to hear that comment again. It has lost its sting.

Goodbye for now, Aunt Ada

Aunt Ada older

Aunt Ada young

We said a final goodbye yesterday to my Aunt Ada. Though I cried (hard) as her casket moved past me, I think my tears were selfish ones for the great, gaping hole she leaves behind.

The service and gathering was truly a celebration of her essence – a life well lived and a family well loved.

She was my dad’s oldest sister and her life spanned 96 years. She lived through two world wars, the great Depression, Woodstock and the new millennium. Technology moved leaps and bounds during that time – from light bulbs to computers, telegraphs to party-line telephones to internet cell phones and much, much more.

She mourned the death of her parents and a step-dad, all her siblings, her husband and a grandson. She celebrated the marriages and partnerships and births of 17 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

Through it all, she remained a family matriarch – almost unflappable. Her love and her faith were constant.

She was 6′ tall and ramrod straight. She had a strong Norwegian frame that would never be a size 4 – (none of us will; it’s who we are). She stood tall and proud and never, ever slumped or slouched. She wore her long hair in traditional Norwegian braids, wrapped around her head, until she was over 80 and her arms grew too tired to weave and wrap them each morning. I remember staying at their house over one weekend when I was probably 5 or so. I came out of the bedroom as she crossed their living room towards the kitchen. She was wearing a white cotton nightgown with a ruffled hem and her feet were bare. Her beautiful brown hair hung down past her bottom and swayed left and right as she walked. I was mesmerized. I had never seen Aunt Ada with her hair down. She assembled a pot of coffee, and I’m sure we talked, but all I remember is her hair. As the coffee began to brew, she moved into the bathroom off the kitchen and shut the door. When she emerged, her hair was neatly braided and wrapped around her head and she was dressed for the day.

That was her daily ritual. It gives me comfort to think about that.

I remember seeing Aunt Ada after she cut her hair short. I couldn’t help it – I cried. She took my hands and laughed a little. “Aw, Deb, it’s all right,” she said, drawing out the ‘all’ into a long whispery syllable. “It was time.” I knew she was right, but it made me sad to know she was getting older. I think it made me realize her mortality and I had to face the fact that she wouldn’t live forever. She was the last of my dad’s living siblings and I clung to that. She was a link to him here in this life. I knew she was right but I didn’t want to know it.

To the end, Aunt Ada’s skin was beautiful and almost unlined. Oh, she had a few wrinkles here and there, but her face had a soft and smooth texture of a woman less than half her age. She ate almonds every day to keep cancer away and was the only one of her siblings who didn’t succumb to that dreadful disease. I eat almonds every day, too. We’ll see how that goes-

Aunt Ada and her sister, my Aunt Iona, became quilters and both developed a strong passion for it. Aunt Ada founded a quilter’s club at our family’s home church and began making quilts for our family. Sisters and brothers got them as anniversary presents, we got them when we married; our children got them as they came into the family. We have a big family and we kept her very, very busy! She loved it. Until her fingers and eyes tired, each quilt was hand stitched. All are wonderful keepsakes. I have the quilt she made for my parents as well as mine and I think of her each time I see/use them.

When Aunt Ada’s casket was wheeled into the church it was draped with a quilt that had her name sewn into each square and the altar rails were covered with her treasures, too. It was comforting to have her presence there in such beauty.

There are countless stories and memories that I could tell you to give you a more complete sense of who she was, but perhaps the greatest testament to her life is the way she and the family faced her death. She died with dignity and class, as she had lived. She told all her children she was more than ready to go to heaven and ‘just didn’t know why it was taking God so long to take her’ (I said she was classy, I didn’t say she wasn’t a bit impatient sometimes!). She wanted to be with her husband again; her brothers and sisters; her family. When God took her home, we knew she was where she wanted to be and we were happy for her. So, after the service, there was laughter; babies and toddlers were passed from loving arms to loving arms; there were long, strong hugs. There were also some tears, but they were bittersweet and short-lived.

There was plenty of food, gallons and gallons of good, strong Norwegian coffee and krumkake.

And as we moved from table to table talking to everyone, I knew Aunt Ada would have loved seeing everyone together. She was there in spirit, to be sure. But not for very long. There was a cribbage game waiting in heaven.

The pastor read this Norse funeral poem toward the end of her service:
Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother.
Lo, there do I see my sisters
and my brothers.
I see the line of my people
back to the beginning. They do call to me to take my place.

Aunt Ada is there now, taking her place. We’ll all take our places some day, too. Meanwhile, I’ll miss her.

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