“It’s Ice Cream Time!”

Karen: Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: That’s exactly what I need right now.

Amanda helps me get Dad in the car and we head out on today’s adventure. As we pass a nearby retirement village I remember that one of Dad’s old friends used to live there. I point to it…

Karen: That’s where Norma Johnson used to live.
Dad: Norma Johnson? I haven’t heard from her or Bob for awhile. Are they still alive?
Karen: Bob died a while ago. I’m not sure about Norma.
Dad: That’s the thing about getting old. You stop hearing from your friends. You stop expecting to hear from them anymore. People just quietly die off. I wonder if Bob’s still alive…
(I don’t say anything – he didn’t hear me the first time, and I’m thinking I should just let it pass…)
Dad: I’d try to find him, but his name is Bob Johnson. There are a lot of Bob Johnsons. He’d be hard to find. (thinking) How’d you like to be named Bob Johnson? (pause) Dee Molenaar – there aren’t a lot of Dee Molenaars. (turns to me) Karen Molenaar. There’s a good name. Do you go by Karen Molenaar or Karen…?(Dad struggles to remember my married name)
Karen: I use ’em both. Karen Molenaar Terrell.
Dad: Yeah. That’s good. You’ve got them all covered.

(We’re traveling near LaConner now.)

Dad: (pointing to the sky) The jet stream is long and straight – that means there’s not much wind today. There’s the tip of Mount Baker. (a little further) There’s the Olympics. This is a beautiful part of the country.
Karen: Do you remember when we climbed Baker together? You and me and Scott?
Dad: (thinking, and then nodding his head) Yeah. I remember that.

(I pull over to take a picture of a field of daffodils. Then we head towards Bow. We get to the top of the hill on Farm to Market Road and I see a place to pull over and take a picture of Baker.)
Dad: What do you do with all these pictures you take? Do you put them in an album.
Karen: I share them with my friends.
(Dad nods. We stop again so I can take another picture of Baker. I show the picture I took to Dad. He nods…)
Dad: That would make a good painting. The farm buildings in the foreground and Mount Baker.

(As we near the Sisters Espresso…)
Dad: (smiling) It’s ice cream time.
(I pull into the Sisters Espresso and go up to order Dad’s root beer float and a lavender iced tea for me. I hand Dad his float…)
Dad: Thank you!

(We head back to his home now.)
Dad: Who’s taking me back to Seattle tonight?
Karen: I’m taking you home now.
(Dad’s quiet – I’m not sure if he’s processing what I just said, or if he didn’t hear it. As I drive in front of his home he recognizes it…)
Dad: (smiling) Ah, the long house.

(I pull in front of the front door and reach for his ice cream float – it looks pretty empty…)
Karen: Are you done with that now?
Dad: No! There’s some left.

(I help him out and into the home. Amanda greets Dad and helps him into the recliner in front of the TV.)
Karen: I love you!
Dad: I love you!

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Cast Thy Burden…

Earlier in the school year, at a workshop for teachers, this twenty-something man conducting the workshop said something like, “You know, we all have parents we can turn to when we need help…” and I felt myself suddenly and overwhelmingly filled with a huge sense of loss and grief. My nose and eyes started filling with snot and tears.  I had to get up and leave the room.

No, I was thinking, we don’t all have parents we can turn to when we need help. My mom is dead, and my 99 year-old dad needs me to be there for him now – not the other way around. I’m responsible for his health and safety and finances and well-being.  No, I thought, don’t assume that everybody in that room has parents they can turn to for support. As I sobbed, and blew my nose into a wad of toilet paper in the bathroom – feeling all sorts of sorry for myself – I was thinking the days when I had a mother and father to turn to for help were gone for me.

But the other day, as I was contemplating the nature of God, Love, this thought came to me: God is responsible for me. It was a really simple thought, but I found it wonderfully comforting.  “God is responsible for me,” I said out loud to myself, and turned the idea of it over in my thoughts, examining it. God made me, maintains me, governs, and guides me, I reasoned. I am here because of God, and for God. I am God’s, and God is mine – my Mother and Father. I can nestle safe and secure in Love’s arms and trust She will take care of me.  God, Love, is where I can always turn when I need help.

A sense of burden was lifted from me in that moment, and a sense of peace filled me. The false sense of responsibility I’d been feeling for everyone I come in contact with dissolved. I realized God, Love, is responsible for ALL Her children – Dad, my sons, husband, friends, students, colleagues, strangers on the street, and, yes, me, too.  In that moment it was clear to me that I’m not alone, on my own, here. We really DO all have a Father-Mother we can turn to when we need help.

It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.
– Psalms 18:32

It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
– Psalms 100:3

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee…
– Psalms 55:22

As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings…
– Deuteronomy 32:11

Two eagles in a nest in Bow, WA. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

Two eagles in a nest in Skagit County, Washington. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

A Drive with Dad: “Social history?!”

When I get to Dad’s home to pick him up for his doctor’s appointment he’s finishing breakfast. I lean over and shout into his ear that he’s going to a doctor’s appointment for his eyes now.  He nods his head and says he hasn’t seen his eye for awhile. For some reason this strikes me as funny, and I start cracking up. Dad looks over at me and smiles. He finishes his breakfast, Amanda fetches a jacket for him, and we head out. Before we get to the door, Dad says, “I don’t need this thing,” and shoves his walker off to the side. I retrieve it and stick it in the back of the car – just in case.

We get Dad situated in the car and then he realizes he doesn’t have his hat. Dietrick goes to fetch his alpine hat for him – and while he’s gone Dad starts thinking about his hat – thinking maybe he didn’t bring one to “this place” – but I tell him this is home and he has a hat in there, and Dietrick is getting it for him. When Dietrick puts it on his head, Dad thanks him. He has his faithful old hat on his head now, and everything’s alright with the world. We set out on our grand adventure…

Dad: I forgot my wallet! I don’t have my ID.
Karen: I have your wallet.
Dad: Oh, good. I don’t think there’s anything in there, anyway. (He’s right.)

When we get to the doctor’s office I go in to see if it’s alright if we wait in the car until it’s our turn. (Sometimes there have been complications when Dad is in a waiting room too long.) The receptionist smiles and says that would be fine. She just needs to make sure all the information they have on Dad is up-to-date. I read the form she hands me and I sign it for Dad – then I think maybe I should bring it out to him and let him sign it, too – just to keep him from getting too bored out there.  I hand him the form. Near the bottom there’s a heading called “Social History” – I had no idea what that meant when I saw it, and apparently neither does Dad…

Dad: Social history?!
Karen: (laughing) Yeah, don’t worry about that one. (I bring the form back in, signed by Dad, and deliver it to the receptionist. I mention that my dad was a little confused by the “social history” question and make some joke about asking Dad about the sororities he belonged to and stuff. The receptionist laughs and tells me she’ll come and get us when they’re ready for Dad.)

Dad: (waiting in the car) I should have brought the book I got from the library.
Karen: What book did you get from the library?
Dad: Oh, one of those books I enjoyed reading when I was a teenager. A book by Joseph Altsheler. A book about the frontier and adventure. (thinking) Do you have any of my old books?
Karen: Yes! You gave me one that is really precious to me – The Royal Road to Romance.
Dad: (nodding) Yeah. That’s the one that got me into adventuring. I still remember the opening line: “May had come at last to Princeton.”
(It tickles me that he still remembers the first line to a book he first read when he was a teenager.)

(The receptionist comes out to get Dad pretty soon and we go in to begin his appointment. The eye-lady takes his blood pressure – she says it’s good and I give Dad the thumbs up. Then she asks Dad to cover his good eye to see if he can see anything out of his bad eye.)
The eye-lady: What do you see there?
Dad: I don’t see anything! You told me to cover my eye!
(The eye-lady and I start laughing. The eye-lady covers up Dad’s bad eye and sees what tricks he can perform with his good eye. He reads the letters on the wall, and then she brings a card up to him to see how close he can see. He reads the letters he’s supposed to read and then starts reading the fine print on the bottom that’s meant for the eye people…
Dad: “The redistribution of…”
Eye-lady: (laughing, she takes the card away from him) Okay. That’s good.

(We go into a second waiting room to wait for the rest of Dad’s appointment. There are a lot of really cool people waiting in this room, and I start chatting to them. One of the people in there tells me that he’s 90. I shout in Dad’s ear that the man next to him – and I point – is 90.)
Dad: (laughing) He’s just a kid! I’m 100. (Dad is 99 – he’ll be 100 in a few months – and 99 is hard for anyone in that waiting room to beat.)
Dad: (after talking about eyes for a bit) It’s my hearing that’s the worst part of me right now.
(I hand Dad a travel magazine and he starts flipping through the pages. When he gets to a picture of Machu Picchu he stops.)
Karen: You’ve been there.
Dad: (nodding) Yeah. I’ve been there. Right at the top (he starts pointing out the trail to the top). It’s a steep trail up to the top.

(Dad gets called back into the inner office for a check-up by the doctor.)
Karen: (shouting into Dad’s ear) Dad, this is Dr. Sappenstein.
Dad: Dr. Frankenstein?
Doctor: (laughing) That’ll work.

(The check-up’s over now and we’re back in the car.)
Karen: Do you want to get an ice cream float now?
Dad: (nodding his head) Yeah. I’m lucky to have you.
Karen: I’m lucky to have you.

(We’re driving down Burlington Boulevard now, and Dad asks which direction we’re heading. I think about this and say I think we’re heading north, or maybe east. He mentions Hwy 9 – “runs along the foothills of the Cascades” – and I realize that Burlington Boulevard actually use to be a part of an old highway, but I can’t remember what it was called anymore. As I’m thinking about this…)
Dad: Is this Old Highway 99?
Karen: (Dad remembers what I’d forgotten) Yes!

(We head towards the place where I usually buy Dad his root beer float, and I pull into the parking lot in front of it.)
Dad: (recognizing) This is the usual place!
(I go up to fetch Dad’s root beer float and bring it back to him.)
Dad: Thank you!

(I decide to take Dad on a short drive before I return him home. Dad is thinking – and I know he’s going to start sharing whatever comes to his thoughts. I enjoy listening to him…)
Dad: I have the TV on 24 hours a day now. There are some really interesting shows that come up.
Karen: Old movies?
Dad: Not old movies. Shows about everything. I keep it on the same channel and all kinds of shows come up. The Olympics.
(We drive down country roads, the windshield wipers pushing aside the drizzle landing on the windows. Snow geese and trumpeter swans in fields of green beside the road.)
Dad: When I was young I used to think about what my old age would be like… Back when my mind was clear.
Karen: How did you picture your old age?
Dad: Eating simply. Hobbies. Reading mountaineering history.
Karen: Do you enjoy your life now?
Dad: (nodding) Yeah. I do.
Dad: I was lucky – I have a good family. My older sister and younger brother did everything with me. My mother and father took us on drives. I probably saw more of Los Angeles than most people who lived there. My dad worked seven days a week – got up early in the morning and came home late at night, but he found time to take us on drives.

(I drive Dad back home. Dietrick comes out to help Dad into the house. I retrieve the walker – Dad never used it – and follow behind. Dad heads for the lounger in front of the TV. He asks about the Olympics. I kiss his forehead…)
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you!

 

 

 

Phone Call to Nona

Nona was one of Moz’s dear friends. I hadn’t talked to her since shortly after Moz passed last February. I don’t remember much of what was said in our conversation anymore – another blur in a month of blurs. But this week, as I was working on Christmas cards, Nona entered my thoughts. I knew I needed to send her a card. She’d moved recently, and I didn’t have her current address, but I knew that Moz had talked to Nona not long before she passed on, and figured I could probably find Nona’s phone number in Moz’s address book. And sure enough – there it was!

I called. I guess I was half-expecting to hear the fragile, quavery voice of an elderly lady on the other end of the line, but when Nona answered the phone it was in the same voice I remembered from 40 years ago – strong and healthy and joyful.

“Hi, Nona – this is Colleen’s daughter, Karen…” I began. And she knew immediately who i was and seemed really happy to hear from me.

We talked about Moz, and Nona asked about my 99 year-old Dad. I told her that he’d been in and out of hospice twice now. He’d recovered from a UTI and been taken off hospice, then gotten a blood clot that I was told would kill him within a matter of months and put back on hospice. The blood clot had dissolved and disappeared on its own, and he was taken off hospice. Then he’d developed cellulitis and pneumonia. And had recovered from those things. I’d told my sons they were probably going to inherit Dad someday. The older son had said that we would just pass him on from generation to generation like an heirloom. Nona got a kick out of that. She said Dad is just like that Energizer Bunny. And I agreed.

Nona told me a little about her new home – and how she was led to find it not long after her husband died, and how beautifully everything had unfolded for her.

It was so good to hear her voice again – so good to hear the strong joyful voice of one of Moz’s contemporaries. There was something kind of fortifying and reassuring about it, you know? It was nice to be of the “younger generation” for just a few minutes.

And when we finally hung up I started sobbing.

No. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to have to go back to being the grown-up.

 

Drives with Dad (10-11-17)

Over the past year or so I’ve been chronicling the drives I take with my dad (now 99). This morning I thought I’d share the most recent adventure with my WordPress friends –

“I’m Running for President”
October 11, 2017

Picked Dad up for a drive to Urgent Care this morning.
As we’re getting him down the stairs and to the car –
Dad: I’m running for President.
Karen: (involuntary grin – Dad appears to be in fine form this morning) I’d vote for you!
Dad: Do you really think I’d make a good President?
Karen: I think you’d be great!
(As we situate him in the car.)
Dad: I don’t want to bring my walker. I don’t think you can be President if you have a walker.
Karen: Roosevelt had polio. He used a brace.
Dad: (nodding his head) That’s true. But he had a lot of people backing him. (An old receipt starts to work its way out of my car as Dad moves his feet in – I pick up the receipt and shove it back into the car.)
Dad: I don’t think anyone would vote for a President with a messy car.
(I start laughing.)
Dad: I wonder how many other old men in this nation are trying to get into a car right now.

As we drive to Urgent Care Dad talks more about his campaign for Presidency.
Dad: I think you should run for President. You’re a teacher. What more do you need to be? (Thinking.) I wonder how many other daughters are driving their fathers around right now?

I help Dad out of the car and into the waiting room at Urgent Care.
Dad: Do Peter and David  know about your attempt to make me President?
(I shake my head no. I don’t really know how to respond to that one.)
Dad: How do we know when the joke’s gone far enough? When do they eliminate me?
Karen: (I assume Dad’s talking about being eliminated from the presidential race – but he’s talking really loud and everyone can hear him, and I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings.) Daddy, no one’s going to eliminate you.

We have a wait. Other people who arrived after us have now been called to the back rooms. I ask the receptionist if maybe Dad’s been forgotten. She goes to check for me and discovers his chart is missing, and there was some miscommunication somewhere – one nurse thought the other nurse was looking at Dad, and the other nurse thought the first nurse was looking at Dad. Everyone’s very apologetic and Dad is quickly brought into the triage room. Soon he’s been diagnosed and given a prescription and we are on our way. I stop at Dairy Queen to buy him a root beer float – he has earned it, for sure. He focuses on his float. He’s no longer talking about his bid for the Presidency.

I drive him back to his home, and we unload him. I bring a package in with me that his nephew, Brad, sent him and read to Dad the enclosed note from Brad. Brad has sent him a screen dealy that is loaded with a memory card of thousands of pictures taken by Dad. Dad is smiling – really grateful for this gift. I tell him I need to get back to school now.

Dad: Thank you for driving me around this morning.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, too.

 

 

 

The Dream About the Real World

Dad: Let’s head out into the open countryside, head towards the coast.
Karen: Let’s do it!
Dad: I don’t want to go into the city. I don’t want to run errands with you.
(Karen nods her head in understanding.)
Dad: (his voice cracking) I love you.
Karen: I love you, too.
Dad: It’s nice that we have each other to love.
Karen: Yes, it is!
Dad: Thank you for including me when you take these drives. (Karen smiles – she takes these drives FOR Dad.)

Karen turns onto Samish Island Road, thinking maybe she’ll go to Bayview State Park with Dad.
Dad: Have you ever been to that little island that’s connected to the land?
Karen: Samish Island? Do you want to go there?
(Dad nods his head, and Karen heads out to do the loop around
Samish Island.)

Dad: Is Mom alive?
Karen shakes her head no.
Dad: I had a dream that she’d died. (He starts tearing up.) I think I’ve already mourned her. (Dad’s quiet for a bit. They’ve almost finished the Samish Island loop now.) Let’s go some place where we can walk on a beach.
Karen heads for Bayview State Park.

After parking, Dad and Karen make their way to a bench near the beach. When she’s getting Dad’s walker out of the back of the car, Karen sees the cans of root beer she put in there months ago – she’d bought them for Dad, and had forgotten about them. Now she grabs one, joins Dad on the bench, and hands it to him. His face lights up and he smiles and takes it from her.

Dad: Do you ever dream about Mom?
Karen: Yes. I had a dream that she was sitting on the top bed of a bunk bed, dangling her feet over the edge. She had a happy, mischievous smile on her face. There was an open casket on the bed behind her. She said, “I’m done with this!” And hopped down. I felt like she was done with the whole dead-thing, and was happy. Have you had a dream about Mom?
Dad: Yes. I dreamed she died.
Karen: She loved you, and loves you very much.
Dad: She was such a wonderful person.
Karen: Yes, she is!
(Dad and Karen are quiet for a while, just enjoying the sunshine.)
Dad: This is nice here. I’m glad we made this stop. That’s a nice, gentle breeze. It smells like saltwater. (He belches and laughs at his own belch.)

When they get back in the car, Dad says he had a dream where he had to fart once, but there was no place to fart. He starts laughing – cracking himself up. Karen’s laughing, too. Then Dad asks, “Do you and Mom have a lot of nice conversations?” And she tells him that she does.

As they’re heading back to Dad’s home, he turns his head and points, “That would make a happy picture! That house all covered in flowers! But I don’t have my camera with me…” Karen turn the car around and heads back to the flower-bedecked house, and gets out her camera for Dad to snap a photo.

They get back to his home, and Dad doesn’t recognize it at first – he has moved three times in the last year, and it’s all a little confusing. Karen explains that their last home couldn’t take Mom and him back when Mom got sick. And then when Mom passed, they had to find another home for Dad. She tells Dad that they felt that Mom had directed them to this place for Dad – a place with hummingbird feeders and cats and dogs. Dad asks, “So Mom knows these people then?” And Karen thinks about this, and then nods her head yes. (Karen believes Mom does know these people, even if they never actually met in the person.)

Dad gets back in the house and doesn’t recognize anything. Karen asks him if he wants to go to his room – and he asks, “I have a room here?” Karen points the way, and once he enters he says, “Oh! I remember this place now!” He sees his paintings on the walls, and pictures of his friends and family. He realizes he’s home. He starts grinning at himself and says, “I’ve been thanking these people for allowing me to stay here.”

Dad points to a book by Leif Whittaker about Leif’s father, Jim. “I think I got that book for Christmas.” Karen tells him that she thinks Jim Whittaker gave him that book when he came to visit him here. “Jim visited me here?!” Yes, Karen tells him, also his friends Rick and Cindy, and Tom Hornbein, and Mary from the Mountaineers… Dad is shaking his head in amazement now. He says, “The things I’ve forgotten would fill a book!”
Karen: Are you going to take a nap now?
Dad: Yes, I want to make that transition into the dream.
Karen: What dream is that?
Dad: (tearing up) The dream about the real world. (And Karen knows he’s thinking about the world where Mom is still with him.)
Karen: I love you, Dad.
Dad: I love you, Karen.

 

A Message from the New Owners

Love inspires, illumines, designates, and leads the way.
– Mary Bakery Eddy

Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.
– Mary Baker Eddy

My parents had lived in this house, and on this land, for 48 years. They’d planted and nurtured trees, kept the local birds supplied with a steady stream of bird feed, Dad had painted a mural on the garage, and Mom had planted a rose garden. Now it was time for Dad (97 then) and Moz (87 then) to transition into a new chapter in their lives. It was time for them to leave the old homestead and leave it in the hands of new owners.

When my husband, brothers, and I looked at what needed to be accomplished in the next few months it was over-whelming. Daunting. It looked to be impossible.

There was 48 years of accumulated life to sort through – mountains of books, artwork, correspondence, journals, music, photos, mountaineering paraphernalia. As a well-known mountain-climber my dad has led an extraordinarily rich life, hobnobbed with celebrities, traveled around the world – we couldn’t just throw stuff in the dumpster willy-nilly – there might be a letter from Bobby Kennedy or Edmund Hillary hidden in the flotsam and jetsam, or a National Geographic with Dad’s picture in it. And there was so much! Three stories filled with memories.

Also – a new home needed to be found for our parents, and their old home needed to be sold. We worried: Would we be able to sell the parents’ old home in time to pay for their new home? And would we find new owners who would appreciate the homestead, and care for it, and love it the way my parents had?

I threw out our hopes and needs to God, Love, and trusted that the power of Good in which I believe would direct us and open the way. Nothing, I told myself, is impossible to Love. Nothing is beyond the reach of Love. Love would provide.

I invited two of Dad’s friends to come over and sort through books and artwork for us – to help us know what was important and needed to be kept safe and what could be donated to the Goodwill. Then my siblings and I each pledged to tackle a different floor in the house – my husband and I took the main floor, my brothers took on the attic and basement.

My husband and I gave ourselves one day to empty the first floor, and dust, sweep, vacuum, and mop it. We got there at 8:00 in the morning. About 2:00 I was exhausted and ready to give up. My husband said, matter-of-factly, “We can’t. We don’t have a choice. We’ve got to get it done.” And then he picked up a mop and disappeared. He was a huge inspiration to me that day. I couldn’t have done what I needed to do without his calm, steady, can-do attitude. At 7:00 pm – 11 hours after we’d started – we were done. It felt like I’d just summited Mount Rainier – I had that same feeling of happy accomplishment.

My mom had given me the name and number of a real estate agent, and when I called, she agreed to take us on. We couldn’t have found a more perfect person to work with us! She was kind and patient – never pushed my parents to do what they weren’t ready to do and always put their needs and wishes first.

Two weeks after putting my parents’ home on the market, it had new owners. I teared up when I read the note they sent to Mom and Dad:

Dear Dee and Colleen,

We just want to thank you both so much for choosing us to inherit this property. We fell in love with it right away. It’s our dream house. We promise to respect it and keep the spirit of love alive here. We appreciate the spirit of adventure and have the utmost respect for the incredible things you’ve done. What a beautiful life!

Dee, your art is gorgeous. We will forever treasure the mural on the garage. Colleen, we will continue to nurture the birds you’ve brought to the property. It was magical to see so many, and of such variety, during our short chat on the porch.

On a more practical note, PLEASE don’t worry about cleaning the place out. Anything you need to leave is fine. We will take care of it. It must be bittersweet to be moving on to a new chapter of life and we are in no way wanting you to feel pressured.

Of course, you are welcome any time. Thanks again. We’re pinching ourselves with the good luck of finding this home!

With love,

Chris and Janel

My parents’ old home was meant to belong Chris and Janel. They were meant to live there now. You know that old saying “What blesses one, blesses all”?  This is a perfect example of that.

My parents got full price for their old home and were able to move into a retirement community, and, more recently, closer to me – in an artsy, active little town where they can take walks along the water and visit art galleries, and get the services they need for this new chapter in their lives.

***

I recently called Janel to find out if I could use her letter in my new book, Finding the Rainbows: Lessons from Dad and Mom. She cheerfully gave me permission, and then told me how much her young family is enjoying their new home. Oh man, that just warmed the cockles of my heart. Blessings all around.

Love is good.

Dad and his mural

Dee Molenaar and the mural on his old garage.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (Love), to them who are the called according to his purpose.
– Romans 8:28