August 2016. Throughout Dad’s ordeal, Mom and I were on the receiving end of numerous acts of kindness. We spent many long days in a hospital room, dealing with negative doctors, hopeless diagnoses, and less-than-positive test results. As we walked into the house after one of those dark days, we often didn’t know what we’d eat for dinner. And then, quite often, the doorbell would ring, and one of our neighbors would be on our doorstep with something that she picked up from Austin or an extra casserole that she made while making one for her family.
As our friends showered us with kindness, Mom and I would ask ourselves how we’d ever be able to thank our friends. After almost a year of nonstop kindnesses, Dad was stable and was well on his way to leading his pre-hospitalization normal life. During one of our discussions about our friends, Mom and I decided to host a dinner and invite everyone who had lifted us up by their deeds and prayers. We contacted the Hilton Gardens and Inn and met with one of their banquet representatives. We selected September 30, 2016, as the date and Giving Thanks Day Dinner as the theme. Although I had good reason to be very thankful for a couple of our healthcare providers, we decided to exclude Scott & White employees and invite only friends. Unfortunately, four of the 14 people that we invited would be unable to attend.
September 29. Stan and I took a vacation day from work and drove to my parents’ home in Temple. When we arrived at my parents’ home, Mom told me that American HomePatient would be stopping by later today to pick up Dad’s wheelchair, which was fabulous news. Mom and I had been nagging Dad to get rid of this crutch for months. For a few months now, Dad had been using his cane or walker whenever he left the house. Without the wheelchair, he would now use these aids when he was in the house. Halleluiah.
September 30. Dad was very interested in our plans for the evening. Mom and I needed to arrive early to ensure that the room was ready and to apply some finishing touches. Dad wanted to ensure that he arrived last, so he and Stan decided that they would leave at 6:30 P.M., which was the start time on the invitation.
When Mom and I arrived at the hotel, the room looked great. While Dad was hospitalized, I had kept real or artificial sunflowers in his room, and today the tables were decorated with sunflower arrangements. I had originally planned to let each one of our guests pick up a place card and choose an available seat. However, to ensure that everyone would be seated next to at least one acquaintance, I arranged the place cards, which also included the menu choices. Without realizing it, the placement of the place cards matched the order that I had planned to address our guests during my following remarks:
“Last year, my father entered the hospital on May 6 for some elective heart surgery. He didn’t want any fuss, and he definitely didn’t want any visitors, including me, during his short stay. A few close friends knew about his scheduled surgery, but he didn’t want to announce it to the world, and certainly not from the pulpit. I figured that there would be Hell to pay when he learned that I had contacted the church during his surgery.
- Jim and Sharon: Until May 15, when I called my mother to check on my father’s status, we thought that everything was progressing reasonably well. During that call with my mother, and the five that quickly followed, I could not understand what she was saying. When I finally realized that she was in desperate straits, I tried to call 911. It was then that I learned that you can’t call Bell County 911 from Harris County. After calls to the Bell County sheriff’s office and the hospital proved fruitless, Jim came to the rescue and called 911 for me. That phone call to 911 was the first of many kindnesses shown to us by Jim and Sharon. Every time that one of them called or stopped by with dinner or desserts, or mowed the lawn, or other numerous things, Mom and I said that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank them.
- Jane and Mickey: In my 60-some-odd years on this planet, I never realized the importance of giving food during hard times. However, this was the first time in my life, and probably my mother’s life, that I was losing weight without trying or without being sick. Sometimes we came home from the hospital so emotionally exhausted that the thought of preparing a meal was more than we could fathom. Jane’s yummy salads from Austin and homemade goodies were like manna from heaven, and Mom and I kept saying that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank her.
- Marilyn and Earl: For a few years, my parents attended the First United Methodist Church in Belton. On their first day there, a wonderful woman introduced herself and asked if my mother liked book clubs. This chance meeting has grown into a warm and beautiful friendship. I can’t remember when I called or texted Marilyn about Mom’s stroke, but I do remember her being at the hospital to see Mom. My mother probably doesn’t remember that first visit, but I do, not to mention the many other kindnesses. Following her stroke, Mom couldn’t be alone for a month. I had to return to Houston for a couple of days and Stan said that he would stay with her, but there would be an interval when she would be alone. All I had to do was call Marilyn. On the day that I had to leave, she stopped by the house at 8:00 A.M. and stayed with Mom until Stan arrived.Marilyn and Earl stopped by the hospital a few times to visit with Dad, but July 22nd would be the day that Mom and I will never forget. Mom was definitely a friend in need, and Marilyn was indeed the true friend. She sat with Mom for a few hours following his unfortunate event that morning.And Mom and I kept saying that we didn’t know how we could ever thank her.
- Pastor Don and Wynn: I’m not from around here, and although I often attended the First United Methodist Church in Temple when I was in town, I didn’t know how to request pastoral care. I wasn’t even familiar with the term. I had contacted Pastor Tom for some unrelated reason about six months earlier, so I had his email address in my phone. Because Tom was sick or out of town, or something, it took a few days for Pastor Don to learn about my father’s hospitalization. But I believe that it wasn’t until my mother was hospitalized for her stroke that Don came to the hospital. I think that I emailed him on the day after she was admitted. Neither of my parents has any recollection of these visits during mid-May, but I do. As Mom healed and Dad recovered, we all came to depend on Don for his faith, kindness, and prayers, especially on the terrible few days following July 22nd of last year. We know that we sometimes asked a lot of him. Not only did Don have his regular pastoral duties, but he was also attending school in Austin.In addition to the fondness that we developed for Don, we also came to love his wife, Wynn, who Mom met on July 22 and I met a couple of days later. Wynn worked at Memorial Hospital in the chaplain’s office, and we became accustomed to her visits to Dad’s room. There were several reasons that we hated to leave Memorial again for the CCH, and not being able to see Wynn was one of them.We lost count of the times that Don visited Memorial and the CCH. He is so special and important to us, and Mom and I kept saying that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank him.
- Kris and Joan: When my parents first started attending the First United Methodist Church Temple, they had the good sense to sit in the pew in front of Kris, Joan, and Sue.During Dad’s first stint at Memorial, he was the church’s Member of the Week, and he received many cards from the church members, but I’m pretty sure that Kris sent more cards than all the other members combined. And each card contained special messages of hope, faith, encouragement, and love. Joan, who is a retired nurse, also helped guide us through some of our darker days, providing support, advice, and comfort to Mom and me.And we kept saying that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank them.
- Sue: And then there was Sue. I hardly know where to begin, but I don’t know what would have happened to us without some timely intervention on her part on that terrible day last year, just two days before Thanksgiving. Dad had been sick, and I think that he became dehydrated during dialysis, which caused him to act like he was experiencing a side-effect to a new drug. It was a holiday week, so the doctor’s nurse told us to take him to the ER. We had him transported to the ER, where they rehydrated him. Unfortunately, they decided that we shouldn’t take him home. To make a long story short, I signed an AMA; they sicced the sheriff on us and turned me in to Adult Protective Services. My father was then discharged from Home Care, which had not only medical implications but also financial consequences.After a few tough moments and feeling like I was drowning in peanut butter, I called Sue and woke her up. Needless to say, because of Sue, we were quickly re-admitted, and then she vouched for us to the APS agent. I could go on, but I’d only embarrass her.You can’t imagine how many times Mom and I said that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank her.
- Stan: You might think that I’ve thanked everyone, but I’m not quite finished. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook those who are closest to us, but not every woman is lucky enough to have a husband who tells her to “go and take care of your family and don’t worry about me, the house, and the cats.” And that would have been enough, but he then drove to Temple on most weekends to relieve my mother and me so that we could attend church, and then he mowed the lawn and did some other odd jobs around the house.And when my father came home, Stan transformed my parents’ bedroom into a functional hospital room. And every night when I called him, he’d listened to me cry, complain, and rant. I know that we had vowed to be there for better or worse, but he really raised the bar. And his mother-in-law and I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to thank him.
- In closing: We also had selfless assistance from a couple of other friends and neighbors. In addition, my best friend postponed a trip so that she could help me out for the week following my mother’s stroke, and my cousin stayed with us for a week last June. Sometimes I can’t believe how we lucked into such wonderful friends and family. My mother and I also don’t know how we’ll be able to adequately thank them.
- It would be easy to look back on the last year and say that it was the worst year of our lives, and it probably was. At one point, I was relieved when Pastor Don told me that I could be mad at God, because I couldn’t believe that all this had happened to us. I thought that we were good people. But in hindsight, I’ve come to realize that sometimes bad stuff just happens. In our case, it was the luckiest year because at every bad turn, God blessed us with carefully placed angels like the people in this room. And I don’t know how I can thank Him enough.Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts for us. One year ago yesterday, my father was discharged from the CCH into Home Care. Six days from now, the man who doctors said would not live to see his 87th birthday will turn 88.
Can I get an Amen?” (And I did!)
The evening was perfect. The food was exceptionally good, and I didn’t cry. After everyone had left, Stan and I stayed for a few minutes and enjoyed a quiet moment and a cup of coffee. As we were preparing to leave, our 19-year old server approached me and told me how much she had liked what I had said, which was the icing on my perfect cake of a day.
Sunflower photo by Marco Secchi on Unsplash