My world turned upside down since the last time I posted.
Last July, I was waiting for approval to move on with my research on my dissertation, and I was helping tend to my ailing parents. When I posted last year, I thought that things were going to get back to normal very soon. But they didn’t. They didn’t at all.
My dad was battling a nasty infection in his foot, especially dangerous because he was diabetic. At the end of July, I got a call from my doctor who informed me that my blood work indicated I, too, was diabetic. I immediately began eating differently. Out of fear, but also out of a sort of respect for my dad. I knew that he could have managed his diabetes years ago had he eaten the way he was supposed to.
In September, we took him to the doctor, and they told him that he had to have his foot amputated. He decided not to go through with the surgery, so he and my mother talked to Hospice. He was at peace for the first time in two years after numerous falls and becoming incapacitated.
Dad in the Navy
A week later I received notification that my dissertation was approved and started working on research. On Monday, September 15th, I conducted my first focus group, and on Wednesday, my dad passed away.
My mother was wheel-chair bound, suffering from COPD, and she would not let anyone driver her anywhere except me. Everyone else, she said, made her feel rushed and frantic. On the day of Dad’s funeral, she and I drove together to the cemetery. Everyone else drove separately, so we had time alone to talk about things. I remember reaching over, taking her hand, and saying, “Well, Nanny, if we have to take the ride, it is a privilege for me to take it with you.”
The next week, I did my second focus group and got busy writing my fourth and fifth chapters. I talked to my chair and told her that I had an opportunity that would require me to have my doctorate by December, so she agreed to help me reach that goal. I spent countless nights staying up until two or three in the morning writing, coding, rewriting, wash . . . rinse . . . repeat.
In the meantime, Mom’s health was failing. And I was teaching seven college classes with a full-time administrative job. Looking back, I am not sure how I held things together, but somehow I did, and on December 3, I defended my dissertation. My husband went with me, so the first person I called when I was done was Mom. Her birthday was the next day, and she was so excited for me. She never said anything to me, but I found out later that she called my sister and cried because my dad wasn’t there to know that I was now Dr. Shannon.
The college gave me a reception, and my sister took lots of pictures to show Mom, who couldn’t travel the hour drive to the college, and Mom was so happy to see the pictures. A couple of weeks later, I took her to the eye doctor, and we ordered her new glasses.
Our kids come home for Christmas, so we didn’t go to Mom’s like we usually did, but the day after Christmas, we went to see her. She was not doing well. Her legs were swollen, and she just felt miserable. My brother and I talked her into letting us call an ambulance so that she wouldn’t have to sit in the emergency room waiting.
At the hospital, they determined she had suffered a heart attack at some point during the day, and while there she had another one. They took her in for a heart cath and assured us that she would move into ICU for one day and then go to a regular room. She passed away during surgery. Exactly one hundred days after we lost Dad.
Mom and my oldest sister shortly after she lost her own mother. She was such a tiny woman and so, so beautiful.
I have learned in the last six months to be grateful that she did not suffer through the last stages of COPD. I have learned that she had more faith than anyone I’ve ever known. But I also learned that she was lonely after she lost Dad. And I’ve dealt with guilt. A. Lot. Of. Guilt. That I didn’t do more, didn’t spend more time with her, didn’t put off things that turned out not to matter so that I could spend time with her.
But I’ve also realized that she wanted me to finish my degree. She told everyone, everywhere we went, that I was “her doctor.” I’m eternally grateful that she got to know that I finished. That she was alive when I defended.
I graduated in May, walking with several of the members of my cohort, and it was a wonderful day. My whole family came, and my sisters cried, and we drove three hours in pouring rain, the beginning of the end of the drought we had suffered in Texas for ten years. And in that rain, I realized that, no matter how bittersweet it was not to have Mom and Dad there, the rain was cleansing. It was a new beginning, a new stage in my life. And it would have made Mom and Dad very happy.
This is Mom and Dad’s house. Mom had the most beautiful mums in her flower bed.
My sisters, brother, and I have spent months clearing out their home, dividing their things, and wrestling over decisions we don’t want to make. We have not yet sold their home, and I know that locking the door for the very last time will be one of the worst days of my life.
I grew up in that house. Had my first kiss there, practiced ballet using my dresser as the barre, learned to drive a stick shift, got proposed to in the drive way, slept in “my” room for the last time the night before our wedding, watched my mom and daughter make mud pies in the sandbox, celebrated fifty Thanksgivings, watched a gazillion football games, and loaded up my mom in her wheelchair on the day of my dad’s funeral. I don’t know how to let that house go. How to detach myself from a place that symbolizes my childhood. Every good thing in my life happened while my parents lived in that house.
So I did something that I thought would be a horrible mistake and turned out to be a blessing.
I loaded up their living room furniture and my mom’s bedroom set that had been in my old room, and I took it home. And I sat on the couch and felt calm. Connected. Close to them. And I told my sisters and brothers to take things from the house so that they could feel the same peace I felt. And they took things. And they all have said they feel better having this piece of Mom and Dad with them. And we all plan to send these pieces down to our children, who loved Nanny and Poppy and know, without a doubt, that they had the very best grandparents of any kids they know.
So my blog is going to take a different direction. I started it with some misplaced, ill-conceived idea that it had to be perfect. It had to be themed. It had to appeal to people I don’t even know. And I realized that the blogs I love belong to women who have no full-time job outside of their home and who have a skill I don’t have. I don’t have a design degree. I don’t have an eye for things, and I don’t have “the knack.” And I don’t have any followers. LOL
But I do have things I want to talk about. Things I love. Things I know, and things I want to share. I am an expert at a few things. Mostly grammar and Anne Tyler, and now that my dissertation is done, the perceptions of community-college students in terms of the spaces in which they learn. I’m not an expert at films, but I love watching them, and my background in English gives me a fair amount of insight. I’m not thin or beautiful or rich, but I love dressing cute, and I have days where I want to share what I’m wearing.
My decree is to change the fabric of my blog so that it is a place where I speak from my heart, share some things that a few people might find interesting, and chronicle the life I live. It is a good life. No, it is a great life. It is full of laughter and learning and doing good things for people. It is also full of sadness and regret and hope for the future. It is what I have been given, and I will be honest about it. And I’ll jump, jump off the edge and believe that my family and friends will look kindly at this blog and this little corner farmhouse and find it interesting and insightful.
Wish me luck. Because the one promise that is hardest to keep is to be true to who I really am and believe that I am good enough.