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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Grow Up!

“Not my president!”

Now that Donald Trump is the President-Elect, the nearly 50% of the population that did not vote for him is either making snarky remarks on social media, or they are downright rioting in the streets.

To you I say, “GROW UP!” Did you vote? If you did not, to you I say, “SHUT UP!” If you did, good for you. Sometimes our vote turns out the way we want, and sometimes it doesn’t.

If Trump wasn’t your choice, guess what? Obama wasn’t my choice for the last eight excruciating years of watching him dismantle our constitution and our country. He was not my president, and yet he was. I was required to be a good citizen and follow policy and if necessary, be civilly disobedient. “CIVILLY”

One can lament and say, what has happened to our country? But this is really nothing new. This last election cycle was a circus, to be sure. But history shows that man has not changed. However, his methods for getting his own way certainly have.

An acquaintance asked me yesterday what happened to being polite and civil to one another in our disagreements. I don’t know. Can you ever think of a time when there truly was polite disagreement? I don’t think there are any readers here who can claim being that old.

I’ve taken a break from social media … a short one, most likely, because I am a self-proclaimed addict. But I was just done with all the inane, uneducated, self-bloated comments.

The United States has always been unique in its ability to change leadership peacefully. Have we even lost that distinction? Will we live through the Millennial generation’s idea of government? I’m hoping that Trump can regain and reteach this generation on what it means to excel and to be responsible for one’s own behavior, and therefore be self-governing. Alas, we may have lost that ability.

I will pray for a return to the Hand of God on our country. Acknowledging that every good and perfect give comes from Him, not the government!

And so, I say … Grow up!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Running Away

After Mom died on February 26 (2016), Diane had the job of going through most of Mom’s things until the rest of us could get there to help. She found duplicate copies of writings Mom had done for a class she participated in while living in Portland. Today’s blog post is a note she penned about David’s escapades shortly after he was adopted. Enjoy, David! [P.S. David is a Christian and successful IT security guy, husband, and father! Glad you are my brother!]

One afternoon David did not come home from school. I asked the children in the neighborhood if they had seen him. They said he told them he was going to Korea. He had taken his little cloth bag, with 28 cents in it, to school that day.

His friends all said they would help look for him. Many parents helped also, but no one could find him.

I called my husband and the base police. David knew the base had airplanes, so that is probably where he would try to go, but that was a long way to walk and the road had no sidewalks. He was also good at hiding.

He was finally found. He had gone in the wrong direction for the base. He was tired and hungry and glad to be back home again.

[David, I’d be interested to know YOUR side of the story… ;-)]

Friday, July 15, 2016

Never Die in July

This was the title of a chapter Mom (Joyce Nelson Sawyer) wrote in her booklet Take Care of My Child…for Awhile. It was forty years ago today that my little brother Ricky died of cancer at the age of 9. How could it be that long? This chapter is longer than most of the blog posts. Primarily for family members.

…Then on July 11, at about four Sunday afternoon, Dale came into the living room and said Ricky’s eyes were rolling back and he was having convulsions.

Dale was really shaken; it was terrible to watch and we knew death was close now. We planned to have Ricky die at home, but we realized we couldn’t handle this. He needed relief from pain and he couldn’t keep the pills down. He no longer had control of his bodily functions. He needed the help of a doctor and the hospital.

Our doctor at McClellan [Air Force Base in northern Sacramento] had moved on Friday, so I called the doctors at Stanford Children’s. Dr. Wilbur was away at a convention and Dr. Long was on vacation. I felt like all our medical supports were gone. Dr. Serota was in Philadelphia and his replacement had not yet arrived at Travis [Air Force Base in Fairfield, California].

I called Mather Emergency, an Air Force hospital east of Sacramento. They said they would try to reach a doctor there to admit Ricky, but to bring him over as soon as possible.

Next, I tried to get an ambulance. Our emergency room said they only had one ambulance available and it couldn’t leave the base. I said, “What do you mean? My child is dying and you can’t send an ambulance?”

“No.” They had no authority to leave, just in case there was an accident on the base. They had three ambulances, but only one was operable.

I called the head of the McClellan clinic. He was out of town. I called his assistant. He would be back after six o’clock.

Now Ricky was screaming with pain in between convulsions every few minutes. We just couldn’t keep the pain pills down him. I was becoming frantic. I called our emergency room again and said I would call the base commander. He had said that if there was ever anything he could do, just call. The sergeant said there was no need to do that. There would be an ambulance at our house in fifteen minutes.

Dale rode in the ambulance with Ricky this time and the girls and I followed in the car. Ricky had several convulsions on the way. Dale was wringing wet when they got to the hospital—a twenty minute ride.

Ricky was taken immediately to intensive care. An IV was started and the doctor arrived to prescribe Phenobarbital to control the convulsions. The doctors hadn’t warned me about those. They came as a surprise. The cancer was in the brain stem. I should have known it would travel up, as well as down, the cord.

I said I would spend the night next to Ricky’s bed. The corpsman brought a noisy plastic recliner that only had one position. The nurse brought a blanket. Ricky was restless and cried, “Mama” off and on. I would jump up and rub his head or hold his hand or massage his legs and feet. It was a long night. 

By morning he was stabilized. He was moved to a private room just outside ICU. Dale came over and I went home to rest and pick up a futon to stay the night in his room. We were told this was not allowed in the hospital, but under the circumstances it would be alright.

We took turns sitting by his bed for the next four days, watching the pain return and more medication needed. Now he was paralyzed from the neck down. We had to move his arms and legs. Sometimes it was impossible to make him comfortable.

He would say, “Move my legs like an Indian. Put them on the ceiling; put them in a circle.” Just when I would crawl into bed, he would cry to have his legs rearranged.

He was barely sipping juices and chocolate milk. I wondered how long he could last this way. His mind seemed to be clear. He asked what time it was and which day it was. He asked me to hold his hand or rub his head, and would call me to make sure I was close by.

When the tray came up on Thursday noon, I asked him what he would like: juice, jello, or chocolate milk. He said, “One at a time,” and he took some chocolate milk and went to sleep. Those were the last words he said.

The chaplain had been in the day before and asked if I was ready to let Ricky go. He said maybe Ricky was holding on because I couldn’t release him. I thought about that and I prayed, “I love little Ricky, but he is in so much pain and so uncomfortable. I know he will be better off with You. I’ll let him go; You can take him.”

After lunch, I sat next to the bed reading a book. The aide came in and said it was time to turn Ricky again. She felt him and said, “I think he has stopped breathing.” She went for the nurse and I held his fingers in mine. They were still warm but his face was white and his lips were turning blue.

I said, “Goodbye, Ricky. I love you. You can live with God now and run and play baseball and football. We will see you pretty soon.”

The nurse came in and listened to his chest and said she would notify the doctor. She filled plastic gloves with ice and put them on his eyes. We had arranged to donate his eyes to the eye bank. They came within the hour and thanked us for his eyes. There had been an emergency and a little child was waiting for them. Sometime I would like to meet the child who is seeing because of Ricky’s eyes.

Dale came over and I told him Ricky was alright now, and he said, “I know, but I’m not.” We called Dan and my parents and the other relatives. 

The memorial service would be Sunday evening. We decided to show three slides of Ricky; one when he was little, one when he was three, and one of his last Christmas. We also put a table in front of the chapel with his favorite toys and his baseball trophies on it. Ricky’s whole team came to the service in their Cardinal uniforms. We found a tape to play “It’s a Small World,” since Ricky enjoyed that so much at Disneyland.

I had told the airman at the chapel to pick out a bulletin cover to use. When I saw the picture on the cover at the service, I was amazed—it was my dream! A boy running through a field of tall grass. I had dreamed that while we were visiting Disneyland. One night I saw Ricky running away from me, through a field of tall grass, and his dog was running toward him. He stopped to pick him up and, laughing, ran on.

I didn’t know what it meant. He was to have had the operation to fuse the vertebrae in his neck. Maybe it meant he would be running without the brace and be well and healthy. Only I had the feeling that God was telling me something, getting me ready. When I saw that bulletin cover—I knew this was the meaning of my dream. 

The poem on the following page was read at the memorial service, and expresses some of our feelings:


“I’ll lend you for a little time a child of Mine,” He said,
     “For you to love while he lives, and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years, or twenty-two or three,
     But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for Me?
He’ll bring you his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
     You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay, since all from earth return,
     But there are lessons taught them there I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked this wide world over in my search for teachers true,
     And from the throngs that crowd life’s land, I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love, nor think the labor vain,
     Nor hate Me when I come to call to give him back again?”

I fancied that I heard them say, “Dear Lord, Thy will be done,
     For all the joy the child shall bring, the risk of grief we’ll run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may,
     And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay;
But should the Lord call for him much sooner than we’ve planned,
     We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.”
~[although Mom attributed this to “author unknown”, I just discovered that it was written by Edgar Albert Guest in 1930]

Rhonda’s note: I had to stop a couple of times as, even after 40 years, retyping these words caused my eyes to flood with tears. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Drill

This particular entry from Mom (Joyce Nelson Sawyer) harkens back to when they were stationed at Hahn Air Force Base in Germany. That would have been the early 1980s.

When we lived at Hahn AFB, Germany, I was a Red Cross volunteer, assigned to the hydro pool in the hospital. I manned the desk, emptied the tubs, cleaned them, and filled them again after each patient.

One day an alarm went off and all the military personnel ran down the hall, put on protective clothing and gas masks. I asked my supervisor what I was supposed to do. He said I should get to the hospital emergency room and wait until the drill was over. I asked what the school children were doing. He said they all went to the basement of the school.

I soon realized that I had nothing to worry about. If the alarm was for real, I would be dead in a short time.

As you can see, I’m still here and we had one of those drills once a month. In fact, I got off easier than the military who had to put on heavy, hot gear and gas masks. I stayed in the hydro room and finished my paperwork.

Hahaha. C’est la vie! This does remind me of the Aesop’s Fable of The Boy Who Cried “Wolf.” I’ve always thought that the perfect time for a criminal (or terrorist) to attack, would be during a standard drill. I mean, how many of us take them seriously?

And so … always be prepared.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Felt Need

Over and over again I’ve felt the urge to call my mom. There are no phones in heaven, so I’m taking this as a prompt to pray for my dad, left behind and feeling more and more agitated as he loses control of his day-to-day activities.

Reminds me of the Scripture in John 21:18 that says, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”


So, I decided to share some more of Mom’s musings today. First of all, I have to say that today’s addition was written in Mom’s handwriting on the back of an “Elfstrand blog” by Lara, talking about how Timmy had just hit a button on a developmental toy without assistance. Brought tears to my eyes. Hindsight, you know …

In August of 1970, my husband came home from work and told the family we were not flying home to America [from Japan], but we were going on a cruise ship, the President Cleveland, from Yokohama. 

We were all excited, only it wasn’t as thrilling as we had imagined. 

Our cabin had 2 sets of bunk beds with a dresser in between. Our 3-year-old [Ricky] and our 10-year-old [Diane] were in our cabin. [Rhonda’s note: again, I think Mom is remembering incorrectly. I believe that Diane would have been nearly 13 during this trip, as I was almost 16.] The two teenagers were in with other teens. I barely saw them, except at mealtime. All families ate at 5 PM. The rest of the people ate at 8 PM in fancy clothes.

Children were not allowed on the right hand side of the ship so paying passengers would not be disturbed. There were lots of things for the children to do, which was nice.

This cruise lasted 14 days. In that whole time we only saw one other ship. The Pacific Ocean is a BIG ocean.

We spent one day in Honolulu, seeing the dolphin show and the Arizona, which was sunk during Pearl Harbor.

We were happy to dock at San Francisco and meet up with our car. The voyage was enjoyable, but not very romantic.

Rhonda’s memory of this trip: I remember popping in and out of Mom and Dad’s cabin just to see what it looked like. We teens were bunking with other teens … probably not a real wise idea. Anyway, we had an excellent time exploring, eating saltines and butter on bad-tummy days, and utilizing the teen club on board. The day trip in Hawaii was beautiful, and to date has been the only time I’ve been there! Dad was the chaplain on board this ship; on the Sundays we traveled, he gave the sermons. We crossed the International Date Line and had two Mondays. So, on paper, it looked like a 13-day cruise, but was indeed 14 days.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Love It? Hate It?

There’s a back story here; one that my mother told me when we lived in Conrad, Montana. You see, being a pastor of a very small church in a very small community, doesn’t earn a living that will support a family of five. So Dad used to joke that he would either become the mayor of the town or would join the Air Force. Following is Mom’s recollection of the transition. And in brackets at the end will be my take on it.

At the end of 1964, my husband received a letter asking him to join the Air Force as a chaplain, with the rank of captain.

I wasn’t too thrilled, since this was during the Vietnam war. Soon he got orders for Lackland AF base in Texas for training. I was left with the children and Christmas coming.

Soon there were orders for Duluth, Minnesota. We would have to drive from Montana to Minnesota in the middle of winter. I thought, “I don’t think I like the Air Force.”

I arranged for the movers and everything was packed. We arrived in Duluth with 9 feet of snow on the ground. In fact, I saw snow until July.

We were assigned guest quarters [both my brother Danny and I remember that we stayed in a MOTEL near the base, not guest quarters, when we first arrived], which turned out to be one long room with 5 cots and one bathroom. Now I really didn’t like the Air Force.

I figured it had to get better and, three years later, it did. We were assigned to Japan.

[And now my hindsight. I could probably rightfully say that I am eternally grateful to the Air Force. God used it to change my life dramatically. While attending chapel, I heard the gospel from some Bible believing chaplains. I saw parts of the world, and experienced a lifestyle, I would not have otherwise been privileged to experience. And this little snippet from Mom was only the anxiety talking of making a total life turnaround. She, as stated in the last line, did appreciate the places and experiences the Air Force afforded them. I only wish I’d been younger when he went into the service, so that I could have gone to Europe with them. By then, I was a young mom myself, having met my husband at an Air Force chapel in Sacramento, California. Thank You, Lord, and Go, Air Force!]

Thursday, May 12, 2016

An Indian Boy

As I mentioned in the previous post, some terms have changed over the years. Also, I distinctly remember this particular event, and Mom’s timing is a little off. I was nine years old when “Clancy” came to live with us. She refers to having three children under the age of 5, but that was not the case. Our memories get morphed over time …

While living in Montana, we were called by the chaplain at the Boys Reform School [in Wolf Point, Montana] asking us to take an Assiniboin Indian to raise. We told him we already had 3 children under 5 years of age, but he insisted this boy needed a home, not a reform school.

His father had been crushed between two freight train cars and his mother had run away. The boy took a bike to find her, but could not. No one would take him, so they put him in the Reform School for stealing the bike.

We said we would try. We had fixed up a bedroom in the basement of our house, only he wanted to be upstairs with the rest of the family.

Because he only had the clothes he came in, the church [First Christian Church of Conrad, where my dad was the minister] gave us a clothes shower. That really helped a lot and he liked all his new clothes. He had previously gotten clothes from the thrift store or a grab bag.

He was 14, but in the 6th grade. We tried putting him in that grade in school, but it didn’t work. We moved him to the 7th grade where he could play on the basketball team. That was the right place for him. He played really well and got along nicely.

[Rhonda’s insertion: I recall that Clancy HATED taking baths! He would sit in the bathroom and run the water. Then a little while later would drain all the water and come out claiming to have bathed. Didn’t happen. He loved to wrestle with us kids. And my recollection was that he got sent back to the reform school from our house because he stole a bike. Coincidence? Or was Mom remembering something else?]

When he grew up, he became a carpenter and lived on the Wolf Point Indian Reservation. One day, when we lived in Hillsboro, I answered a knock on the door and there was a huge Indian man. It was Ralph. What a surprise! I hadn’t seen him in years. We had been living in Germany.

He stayed with us for a week and we caught up on his life [he had been an alcoholic, his wife intervened and got him help, had become a Christian, and wanted Mom and Dad to know that.], his marriage, and his new daughter.

My, How Times Change

I’ve been going over Mom Sawyer's notes and retyping them for the family and friends who are interested. Today’s blog (which refers to life in the mid 1960s) is a reminder that labels and acceptable terms change with the times. I have not interfered with her composition. With that in mind, Mom’s actual title for this entry was 

Teaching Indian Children 

50 [fifty] years ago, I was asked to teach a class of mentally challenged Indian children, at that time called “retarded.” Since I needed more education for that job, I packed up our children and went to Bellingham, Washington, to attend the college there for the summer. My parents lived there so Mom [Nelson] would care for the children while I was in school.

In the fall, I started teaching. I soon realized that these children weren’t retarded, they had been given the wrong test. They had never seen the animals in the book, or the furniture, or the fruits and vegetables. They had no TV or books.

I began bringing in pictures of elephants and monkeys to color, and fruits and vegetables to eat. They told me in no uncertain terms, they didn’t like the peas or radishes or zucchinis. In fact, they thought the zucchini was tasteless.

We went on field trips to see different types of buildings and farms and museums.

We played games and sang songs.

Some of the children were still slow learners, but others past [passed] the test by the end of the year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rolling “Me, Me, Me"

More from Mom Sawyer’s notes on growing up with David. :-)

One day David came in and pulled me outside to look at a skateboard sitting on our sidewalk.

I asked where that had come from. He pointed across the street. I told him he couldn't just take things from other people’s yards, but of course he didn’t understand. In the orphanage, a child could play with anything in the yard.

He told me, “Me, me, me!” He wanted a skateboard.

I decided we could go to town and look for one. We went into several stores and finally found one that he liked.

When we got home, he tried it out. He did just fine for a while and then he fell off. He began crying and he ran into his bedroom.

He didn’t want supper, so we took him to the hospital for an x-ray. It turned out he had a broken arm.

There was no way to explain the cast that was going to be put on, along with a sling. That was a difficult time.

When it was time to have the cast removed, we had the interpreter explain the saw that would be used and assure David that his arm would not be taken off. 

All was well … and the skateboard went to the Goodwill.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

I’d Love to ...

  • have a cup of tea with Mom
  • walk through a museum with Mom
  • listen to piano music with Mom
  • sing a duet with Mom
  • have her tell me to sit up straight and not shuffle my feet
  • have her tell me that tomorrow is another day
  • have her tell me that every place has something good about it
  • listen to a story about growing up in Bellingham
  • tell her it was me who took that twenty out of her purse when I was 15
  • listen to her read me a story
  • sew doll clothes with her
  • appreciate her standing up for me with the biology teacher
  • see her favorite decorations in every home she lived in
  • listen to her say “this is your self-sacrificing mother”
  • appreciate that she truly WAS a self-sacrificing mother
  • honor her 
  • tell her I love her one more time
  • see her in heaven

“Happy” Mother’s Day

Thursday, May 05, 2016

This Little Piggy ...

It seemed appropriate for me to add this note from Mom Sawyer’s musings, since Ingrid and I took four kids to a working farm today. 

While I was growing up, our family lived on a 2 acre farm. We had rows of strawberries, raspberries, corn, and beans. My sister and I received a penny a row for weeding the garden.

During WWII, my folks added rabbits and chickens. I really didn’t like those chickens. They were noisy and messy and didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.

Then Dad brought home a little pig. He was so cute! We just loved him. We fed him before going to school [every day]. He always grunted enthusiastically.

Of course, he got bigger and bigger.

One day Dad said it was time to kill our pig. I couldn’t imagine such a thing, but when I got home from school, our pig was gone.

From then on, whenever Mom put pork on the table, my sister and I turned into vegetarians.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Going to School

(Another of Mom Sawyer’s notes about adopting David DaeKyo. I am making little to no edits, so that we get her words.)

After about a week [of arriving in Oregon], David pulled me to the window and pointed to the school. We did a lot of pointing in those first weeks.

He had seen the children in the neighborhood coming and going.

I had already signed him up for the 1st grade. I knew he would be unhappy about being in the 1st grade when he was in the 3rd grade in Korea, but he had to learn English before advancing.

The next Monday, I took him to school and sat next to him in class. I showed him the page number being used. Since he was embarrassed to have me in class with him, the teacher assigned a boy to sit next to him.

During story time David became wiggly, since he didn't understand the story. I decided half day would be enough to start with.

In a few weeks, he was advanced to 3rd grade for math. He was very good at that. The teacher drew illustrations on the board for the story problems.

One day, during the lunch hour, David was on the monkey bars. The bell rang and David was still on the monkey bars. The playground teacher said, “You come down from there!” David [repeated] “You come down from there!”

The teacher thought he was sassing her, so she pulled him into the principal’s office. He understood that David mimicked everyone in order to learn English. That teacher hadn’t been informed. The principal called to tell me what had happened.

A few weeks later, the principal called again. This time David had stuck his hand down a squirrel hole on the playground. The squirrel bit David’s finger and it was bleeding badly. The nurse had cleaned him up and put a bandage on, but she felt I should take him to the clinic to be checked for rabies.

I went to the school and picked him up and drove to the clinic. A blood test was taken. There was no sign of rabies.

On the way home, we stopped at the Korean interpreter’s home so she could tell David not to put his hand into any more holes on the playground or anywhere else!

David’s Home, Part 2

(Another of Mom Sawyer’s notes about adopting David DaeKyo. I am making little to no edits, so that we get her words.)

We adopted David Shim DaeKyo two years after our Japanese son died of cancer at age 9, but that is a different story. This is about David.

He was born in Korea in 1970. His father was killed when he fell off of a garbage truck. David’s mother took him to the woods when he was 5 and left him there. She had no way to support him, his sister, and baby brother.

After a while, the police found him and took him to a state orphanage in Seoul. He was 8 when we adopted him through Holt International Children’s Services.

At this time, we were stationed at Klamath Falls, Oregon, by the Air Force.

One summer day we decided to take David over to see the Giant Redwoods. Big mistake!

When we got out of the car and began walking up the path, David started crying and screaming and then running back to the car. I wondered what was wrong with that child. Of course, we didn’t know about the earlier trauma in his life, and he still didn’t speak any English in order to tell us.

We drove out of that beautiful, peaceful place … no longer peaceful for us.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

David’s Home, Part 1

(David, this is the first installment of Mom’s notes on your transition to the US. Some of it is hard to read, but it is real and it is family memory. Share as you wish.)

David came to us via a long flight from Seoul, Korea. He and the other children and babies went through customs in Los Angeles and then flew to Eugene.

We drove from Klamath Falls in order to meet his flight. Several little children and babies were met by prospective parents.

Of course, none of these adoptees had ever seen their new parents, except in photos. We had sent several pictures ahead of time: some of us, our house and yard, and our sweet dog, who was a loving terrier-poo.

When we saw David, he seemed small for an 8 year old. In fact, he took size 6 clothes.

I gave him a cloth bag full of Hot Wheels. He liked those right away. He took them out and began running them across the floor.

My husband, Dale, took David to the restroom. He was not too happy about being away from the other children.

Then we went to the car. I noticed all he had were the clothes on his back. We had sent clothes for him. We later learned that they had kept them for other children in the orphanage, along with books and toys we had sent.

When we got home, it was the middle of the night. We put David to bed on a mattress on the floor, since that’s how he was used to sleeping. We found out later that he missed the five boys and room mother who had been his roommates for three years.

Since he was unhappy, we asked a Korean wife to interpret for us and to find out what was wrong. It seems children sleep with their parents in Korea and we had put David in a private room. So we moved his mattress next to our bed. That helped for a while.

Next, he needed a bath, but he hadn’t seen a bathtub or shower. A washcloth and dish pan served that purpose at first.

When he took his clothes off, we noticed scars on his back. When he could speak English, we asked about them. He said his grandfather tied him to a chair and beat him. Sometimes he had to sit there all night.

It took a few months for the adjustment and for David to feel at home.

Monday, April 11, 2016

“I Have Diabetes…"

Based on what I can glean from these notes that my mom was writing, this particular one must have been written seven years ago, in 2009 perhaps. Also, based on contextual clues, it was probably written while living at Terwilliger Plaza in Portland, Oregon. It is titled, in her words:


I have been diabetic for 65 years. It hasn’t been easy. When I was young, there was only one kind of insulin to control sugar in the blood.

Sometimes the insulin would peak in the middle of the night. My parents had to watch me closely. Mom worked as a cook at the school I attended to make sure I ate the right foods and didn’t pass out in the middle of the day.

She also boiled my glass syringes and metal needles. Dad sharpened them with his razor blade. That was before disposable needles and syringes. Now the needs are very thin and don’t hurt unless a nerve is hit.

In Jr. High, I couldn’t take gym because the exercise would cause my blood sugar to fall too low. That was before personal blood tests. Now I test my blood four times a day. I also take insulin four times a day.

I used to be able to tell when my blood sugar was too low, but not any more. I have been diabetic too long. I no longer get the signals that I used to get. 

I just pass out.

You may have seen an ambulance taking me away. One reason we moved here was to get help when I needed it.

My husband proposed to me when we were in college. He said “Would you marry someone like me?” I said, “Who did you have in mind?” Then I told him, “I have diabetes.” He said he would think about it. The next day he said he would still like to marry me. We have been married 55 years.

[Joyce Sawyer/Mom died just three weeks before her 83rd birthday, and after having been married for 62 ½ years.]

Stream of Consciousness

Little by little, I’m transcribing some notes found while going through my mom’s things. This one is short. There is very little that connects the thoughts on the page. No date is on the page. So begins the stream:

The ocean is constant and calming. Our daughter and son-in-law likes (sic)light houses and one is on the right. Now there is a haze over the water. I rest every day to protect my heart. I have done this since I was 7 years old with rheumatic fever. Dale helps me to see now, since I am losing my sight. He takes very good care of me, especially with my diabetic episodes.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hospice Then. Hospice Now.

Since I microblog on Facebook, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything of substance on this blog. Admittedly, this writing will not be my own, but my mother’s.

Mom (Joyce Sawyer) died on February 26, 2016, in her sleep … just as she had always hoped. During her last few months, she was under the capable care of the local hospice team. These people are special, indeed. To see a person at their most vulnerable, with empathy, is something our family does not take for granted.

Several years ago, Mom was a hospice volunteer. I suppose she had in the back of her mind that one day she might need the same service she was providing to those in need. You see, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) at the age of 10, and by the time of her death, had lived a precarious tight rope walk for 72 years.

While living in Portland, Oregon, Mom addressed a group hoping to become volunteers with the hospice organization. This was probably written in the early 2000s, before they moved to a retirement community, and finally to their last home in California. Following are her speaking notes on

Are You Ready to be a Hospice Volunteer?

I want you to know that you are special people. A volunteer doesn’t get paid money.

I have been doing respite care for 10 years. Before volunteering, I taught school, moved 22 times with my husband in the Air Force, and raised 6 children. * (*I’m not sure where she is getting the number 6. She may be including the foster child they took in for a short time in Montana.) Our 9-year-old son died of cancer. At that time, there was no hospice in our area, so I’m glad to be part of it now.

I have helped care for many families. Most of the patients died of cancer. I was surprised to find that most did not die in their own home, but in the home of a daughter or son.

I hope to tell you some things that will prepare you for your first volunteer job here, and make you more comfortable. I know, at first, I was very apprehensive. I still am, when I go to a new place.

You will meet some very interesting people. I know I have. These people all had a life before they were dying. Some homes are extremely beautiful, and some are just two rooms. It is the people we care about.

My first man had been the head of the YMCA in India after WWII and his wife had been a state senator. Another man had been in the Marines in fierce fighting in the Russel Js.* (*Not sure what was intended here.) and he almost starved to death on a death march. Anytime I was there, we fought the war over again. The family was glad to have me come … because they were tired of WWII!

One woman’s husband was a college professor. I read one of the books he had written. Another was an organist, and one man was a real cowboy. A younger woman was a police officer. The last couple I visited had traveled all over the world.

Before you go to a home, you will be given 3 pieces of paper, 2 white and 1 pink. One explains about the patient and how to get to the home. Sometimes the hardest part is finding the house and a place to park. It is helpful if an outstanding feature is mentioned. Once I was given a street name and discovered that street didn’t have a sign.

Under the patient summary, I found some abbreviations and terms I wasn’t familiar with. You can look these up or ask about them. I remember wondering what “HOH” was. Turns out it meant “hard of hearing.”

Look carefully at the volunteer instructions. This is the time to say if you want to do the things on the list. I can’t drive after dark, so I can’t help in the evening. I’m allergic to smoke, so I don’t go where people smoke. Maybe you are allergic to animals. Be sure and let Anne* (*obviously her hospice director) know ahead of time.

Some things you might be asked to do are: shopping, light housework, meal preparation, and companionship while the caregiver is gone. I used to say “I don’t do windows,” but when I was asked to do a picture window before company was coming, I did do it.

There is also the nurse’s name and number. If you find you need help, you can call that or the number of the hospice office. The number should be on the phone in the home.* (*Hospice placed vivid colored labels with their triage number, strategically placed throughout the home, but definitely on the phone.) 

You will be asked to sign the paper. You always have the choice not to go.

Before I go to a home, I write down the odometer reading and the time I start. I also take the directions to the house. I put a small magazine in my purse. Sometimes, the housework is done and the patient is asleep. I also wear my name tag.

When I first get to a home, I talk with the caregiver and the client. Then I find out where the phone is and the bathroom, and what things need to be done while the caregiver is gone. I ask “how may I be of help?” Where I am helping now, the man likes to be read to. One chapter usually puts him to sleep. “The Greatest Generation.” Sometimes I don’t ask enough questions, and sometimes I’m too helpful!

[At one place] I saw sheet music scattered on the floor around the piano, so I picked it up and put it on the piano bench. It turns out that was the wrong thing to do. She had it in the order she wanted to play it.

One time, a caregiver told me an air mattress was coming sometime in the afternoon. I didn’t realize we had to get my lady out of bed and help her sit in a chair for ½ hour while that mattress filled and then get her back into bed. The fitted sheet would no longer fit, it just went “boing”! So I used a top sheet and we got her back into bed.

Here are some other things I have learned;
  • Be flexible. I have cleaned houses, done laundry, fixed lunch, done dishes, gone shopping, changed beds, fed people, played games, and watched TV. There really isn’t much on in the daytime I have discovered. I was going to take one man for a walk, but by the time he was dressed and had his shoes on, he was too tired to go. At one place, my woman was asleep but I had a sick child to care for. Once, I played dominoes most of the afternoon and she won every game!
  • It helps to have a sense of humor. Once when I walked in the door, the man said, “You’ve been canceled.” Well, no one had told me, but he was right. I did his dishes anyway. I asked one man if he’d like some lunch and he said, “Do you want me to throw up all over you?” I said, “No, I wouldn’t like that at all,” so I didn’t fix him any lunch. (*This following story was crossed out, maybe for length or because she was embarrassed to share it, but I’m including it here. … Another man vomited and his teeth also went into the pail and his wife flushed the whole thing down the toilet. Their son came and retrieved them. The man called them his “turd choppers.”)
  • Don’t take everything personally. Sometimes people who are ill and miserable say what they feel and it doesn’t have anything at all to do with you as a person. One woman didn’t want a “babysitter.” I told her I was a Ladies Home Companion. We talked for 3 hours and she showed me her house and toys her husband made for children. One man did NOT want his caregiver to leave for the day. He told me to “go away,” “go home.” Of course, I couldn’t do that. I stayed across the room, but he decided to lock himself in the bathroom. About the time I was going to call for help, he came out. I told the family and they removed the lock from that door.
  • Be creative. I was supposed to keep one man from being lonely and bored while his family was at work, so we did all sorts of things, like read books, jig saw puzzles, and sing songs. Every time I went there he said, “Who are you and why are you here?” Of course, he did remember that he had asked for a sweet young then, and they had sent me. 
  • Make the best of the situation. You may not think there is a best, but do what you can. At one place, the woman said “Don’t look at my purse!” when I first walked in the door. She had it under her bed. Well, you know what your eyes do when someone says “don’t look.” She’s the one who got to playing with the electric buttons on her bed and she made it into a slide and ended up scrunched up at the bottom. The caregiver and I moved her with the draw sheet.
  • It works to let the person do as much as he can for as long as he can and to help with the decisions for as long as possible. I do not force people to eat. Sometimes food tastes bad. that is the patient’s choice. It may be the only thing they are in charge of. One woman wanted a milk shake but couldn’t [swallow].
  • We need to accept people as they are and try not to be judgmental. We aren’t expected to change people or fix every situation. Their lifestyle may not be your lifestyle. I had to watch one woman who insisted on smoking, even though she was on oxygen. I told her she would blow us all up!
  • Sometimes you don’t have to do anything … you just have to be there. The caregiver appreciates being able to get away for a few hours, knowing you are in charge. Or maybe she wants a nap or a bath. 
When I get back home, I write the mileage and hours on the white sheet and the things I helped with on the pink sheet.

When a person dies, I send a card with a personal note. I do grieve for these people and their families, but it makes a difference knowing ahead of time that the person will die and the suffering will be over.

Questions? Remember, you are special people!