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By Randee Bergen
Monday, October 6, 2014
I haven't been writing much lately. Haven't had the urge. Maybe I've been too busy. Perhaps the blogging was just a short-lived phase in my life. But then today, it hit me. My dad's death. I needed to write about that before I would feel the desire to write about anything else in life. So here it is:
I suppose I knew at the time that my dad would never go home. In order to do so, he had to learn to walk again after having his toes amputated due to infection. He didn’t have the strength or balance to sit up, couldn’t hold the phone or even twist his upper body to answer it, and needed help eating. He hadn’t made much progress at the physical rehab place. Yes, I’m sure I knew he wouldn’t be going home.
Still, when my daughters and I visited him in Bullhead City, Arizona – where he had chosen to move many years earlier, distancing himself some 600 miles from any family – I encouraged him to keep trying. He had been back and forth between the hospital and rehab several times. He had endured three back-to-back surgeries, the doctors trying to save his toes, his feet, his legs from a staph infection. “Work on your upper body strength so you can get yourself in and out of a wheelchair. Then you’ll graduate to a walker and you’ll be able to go home.” I knew this would take months. I was pretty sure he didn’t have months.
During all this time in the hospital, my dad went through major alcohol withdrawal. He was an alcoholic for nearly 60 years. My entire life.
All those years of drinking, the surgeries, the alcohol withdrawal, the various medications – dementia was setting in and he was suddenly looking very old. His face was ashen compared to the usual state of robust red I’d always known him to have, his always broad and muscular shoulders so narrow now beneath the clean navy t-shirt he wore, his legs shrunken with atrophy from being in bed for three months. His left leg was in a brace, his right foot heavily bandaged, the amputation beneath not healing well.
It was his hair though that kept getting my attention. At age 78, it was still blonde, as were his whiskers and the hair on his chest and arms. He hadn’t had a haircut in a while and, at about an inch and a half, the freshly shampooed, fine strands were longer than I had ever seen them. Except for the occasional bed head – and it was a short bed head – my dad’s hair had always been neatly parted on the left side and combed down while wet. I chuckled that day at his longer, slightly unruly hair.
The day we visited, my dad was mostly coherent, mostly making sense. We asked about his care, caught him up on our trip to Arizona, commented repeatedly about his hair, joked around. That’s what he was good at, joking around. He was in a good mood. I asked if I could take some pictures of him and he said, “Oh, yes,” and perked up even more. I took a few shots and then the girls asked if I wanted a picture of him and me together. Of course, I did.
He smiled for that picture. Something he hasn’t done in years.
Yes, I suppose I knew that my dad wasn’t going home. And that this was probably the last time I would see him. Though he was slightly confused and a little paranoid and, I’m sure, albeit being discreet, sad and scared, I was enjoying him in a way I never had before. He was, for the first time in my life, completely sober.
He wanted us to rub his legs. I got on one side, Addy on another, and we massaged his withered thighs. I knew Addy was a little uncomfortable with this. Admittedly, I was, too. I thought back to my girlhood, when my dad was always looking for one of us kids to give him a back rub. I would intentionally do a poor job, hoping he would choose my brother or sister the next time. But this time I gladly did it. And I regretted having not touched this man enough times in my life. In his life.
Amy, my youngest, sneaked away to a chair in the corner of the room. When I looked at her, she gave me a barely noticeable yet loud and clear shake of her head. No. Do not ask me to take a turn rubbing his legs.
I understood. And I didn’t ask her.
As my dad got sleepy and we three began to feel the emotional strain of the day, I started mentioning that we would have to go soon. After a while, the girls said goodbye to their grandpa, a man they hardly knew, and left the room.
Then it was just him and me. And yes, I’m sure I knew that he would not learn to walk again. That he would not be going home. That this would probably be my last trip to Arizona.
“Well, dad, I’ve got to go…,” I said. I wasn’t at all sure how to leave the room.
He immediately started in with some story. I smiled, shaking my head, thinking of all the times over the years when I’d rolled my eyes at this same scenario. It was usually when I was on the phone with him. I’d have to get going and I’d say so and he’d ignore me and just keep talking, not wanting the phone call to end.
I took one backward step toward the door. Then another. I had to get out of there. Why, I’m not sure. Why couldn’t I stay longer? Why didn’t I stay until he fell asleep? Why didn’t I rub his legs some more, his hair? I could have rubbed his hair and put him to sleep, like I had so many times with my children.
Tears pooled. I had to go before he saw them. Had to go while I was thinking positively about his sobriety, his hair, the notion that he might get stronger and go home and I could come back to Arizona and visit him again.
“I love you, Dad,” I said and quickly turned and walked out the door.
“Come back!” he yelled, with more vigor than I expected him to have. Then, a few seconds later, and sounding more resigned, “In here.”
Blurry eyed, I went as fast as I could down the hall, pass the nurses’ station, through the lobby, to my girls.
They looked at me, crying and running to get out of there, and I could see the concern, nearly horror, on their faces.
“Oh, mom,” Addy said, and they each took one of my arms and hustled me outside.
My dad’s health steadily declined and I did not return to Arizona before he passed away. When he was close to going, when he could no longer speak but the nurses were sure he could still hear and understand, I called and said what I needed to say and what I thought he needed to hear.
I’ve looked at the picture of him and me together, several times a day since then, and though it was taken at a sad time during his most unhealthy days, it makes me laugh and feel good. In this photo, he is alive and sober and smiling and I’m clearly enjoying those last minutes with my dad.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, September 29, 2014
Marek learned to ride a bike a couple of weeks ago, and by learn, I mean he just hopped on it and rode away. Marty and I just stood in the road for a second staring in awe.
Soren and Jonas' bike lessons took effort. Running up and down the street, brushing off torn jeans and knees, wiping away tears of frustration ...
Not this time.
I guess Marek was just sick and tired of sitting on the porch watching as his brothers ride away without him day after day. He just decided he was going to ride a bike and that was that. When he couldn't find an adult to remove his training wheels (uh, football was on), he coaxed Jonas into helping him find a wrench in the garage. They worked for some time but finally were successful in prying off the extra wheels. Then, when that was done, he walked his little self back into the house and announced to Marty and I that it was time, drop everything, "get up and help me learn to ride my bike."
And he did.
He needed some pointers, like not to watch the front tire and look at where he was going. Within a half hour, he had learned how start and stop by himself. Within an hour, he had the braking system mastered.
Then, he went for his very first bike ride with his dad and brothers to the end of the cul-de-sac and beyond. The smile on a child's face when they finally learn to ride a bike is priceless. Such a special day.
And now he can't get enough. He rides his bike around the driveway morning, noon and night. Last weekend we rode some of the new portion of the River Trail from Walker Wildlife toward Fruita. He rode a couple of miles in, then really had to push himself to finish the couple of miles back. His plump little legs pumping up and down in front of me were just about the cutest thing ever. He went down a hill and screamed "the wind is blowing my sweat!!!"
Bike riding has been one of my favorite milestones as I watch the boys grow. Watching him ride his bike makes me so happy!
By Robin Dearing
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Every morning it's the same thing: Alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I throw on my sweatpants and stumble downstairs.
Margaret is already up getting herself ready for school. I put on the water and start breakfast for Bill and Mar. Bill gets some sort of egg-white omelete. Mar gets whatever she will actually eat, usually fruit and granola.
After breakfast, I have to start the process of packing lunches. Everyday, I've got to figure out how I can fill up their lunchboxes. What will they eat? What will get thrown away?
Bill is the easiest, so long as I don't send him too many leftovers. He wishes I would I would give him fat, roast-beef sandwiches with a side of dressing. Instead, he gets tukey pastrami with a side of carrots. He's been using the nice Fitmark lunch bag I reviewed a while ago. It easily fits a sandwich, veg and fruit along with a drink. He's so fancy.
Mar is not so easy. She doesn't eat meat and doesn't want a sandwich. So, I end up doing a lot of what I call "snack lunch." It looks like this:
Crackers, cheese, carrots, fruit, some lemonade and even a few lemon drops on this day.
The problem is that we're all getting bored of the same old thing every day.
What's in your lunchbox?
By Robin Dearing
Monday, September 15, 2014
During my first excursion on my first morning, my umbrella was sacrificed to the notorious Chicago wind. I was a stereotypical tourist trying to fight the formidable gusts and rain with my tiny, inside-out umbrella. Within minutes, the fabric was torn from the ribs and the handle with in two pieces. Later in the trip, an entire bottle of water drenched the inside of my purse. Everything in my wallet is still damp.
But I'd sacrifice any number of umbrellas and purses to go back to Chicago. Damp money works just as well as dry.
I had never been to Chicago before, so when Bill announced that he would be attending a conference in the Windy City, I immediately invited myself to tag along. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see some of the works of art and architecture that I've been teaching for years.
Bill was to spend a week attending International Manufacturing Technology Show. I traveled on Tuesday after my classes. When I got off the airport shuttle after midnight, Bill was waiting. I dragged my suitcases past him to get my first look at Daniel Burnham and John Root's 1888 Rookery Building.
I spent every moment I could seeking out Chicago's late-19th-century skyscrapers. Look at the Reliance Building by John Root and Charles Atwood.
When this building was completed in 1895, people were freaked out by the giant, plate-glass windows. They had never seen anything like it. Now we take giant, glass buildings for granted, such buildings like Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower). When it was completed in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world. As if 108 floors of glass and steel isn't enough, they have added Skydecks which project out from the 103rd viewing floor. Here is Bill enjoying one of the Skydeck:
I couldn't even get close to the edge. I was happy to watch him through the window.
I'm lucky that Bill was able to spend some time seeing a few buildings with me. One morning, he was able to accompany me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House.
Like so many of Wright's prairie-style architecture, this building has no bad side, gorgeously photogenic.
But Chicago isn't just about architecture; it's chockful of world-class art as well. I spent hours at the Art Institute of Chicago, walking from gallery to gallery viewing some of the most important works in art history.
Here is me with Gustav Caillebotte's Rainy Day in Paris:
I discussed this work in my Art Appreciation class on Tuesday and found myself standing in front of the monumental work on Wednesday. It was magical. When I saw the room full of John Singer Sergant paintings, I even got a little misty. So much beauty and talent.
I walked by this stabile created by Alexander Calder (who invented the mobile ... babies everywhere thank him) numerous times as I walked more than 20 miles in three days trying to take in as much as I could:
It was a delight every time.
Actually, I was delighted by my entire visit to the Windy City. I may have ended up with a wallet full of wet cash, blisters on my toes and no umbrella, but it was just what I needed. This trip reinvigorated my excitment of discovery and stoked my passion for art and especially architecture. Thank you, Chicago. I needed that.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
I was given the opportunity to interview former NFL star Jerry Rice. Of course, I said yes, because even I know who Jerry Rice is. I've totally seen "Dancing With The Stars."
It's no secret however that I don't know much about football. Luckily, he talked all about the game and I just said "right" a lot.
He seems like a great guy who shared tips from Lysol's "playbook" for healthy habits that families can use all year long.
And, he talks about the upcoming football season including his prediction for the Broncos and the 49's. Right.
By Randee Bergen
Monday, September 8, 2014
Just past sunrise
With my training partner
We swam in shimmery water and bouncy raindrops
Rode along freshly-showered farm roads laced in sunflowers and blooming rabbit brush
And trotted ourselves up and down the lakeside trail and across the dam
To the finish line
Week seven of training
Next weekend is the real deal.
By Robin Dearing
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Lookit that little cherub. That's my Little Sugar, 9 months old. Let's all say, Aw!
By Robin Dearing
Friday, August 29, 2014
I couldn't sleep yet again last night, so I did what I always do, I started poking around the Internet using my phone. Clicking around Facebook, I was compelled to click the gofundme.com campaign created by my cousin, Cris.
What I saw there made me cry.
Two days ago, Cris created this funding campaing: Wheels for Jacob. Cris' sister Marie is a hard-working, single mother of three boys. Her oldest, Jacob, has been in a wheelchair for most of his life because he has Muscular Dystrophy (MD is on my list of diseases that get a hearty middle finger daily). Because they don't have a handicapped-accessible vehicle, Jacob spends most of his days at home. For him to go anywhere, Marie has to rent an expensive handicapped van. Did I mention she's a single mom of three?
Marie now has the opportunity to buy a handicapped-accessible van for $5,000. That's a great deal, but like so many of us, she doesn't have the cash. Realizing this is a life-changing opportunity for Jacob, Marie and Jacob's little brothers, Cris started Wheels for Jacob on gofundme.com.
With this van, Jacob will be able to go see his brothers play sports, go to the movies, go visit friends and family. Jacob will be able get out into the world and be a part of it. Jacob is an awesome young man and deserves this.
In the past two days, family and friends have raised over $3,000 of the $5,000 needed. The outpouring of generosity has been wonderful.
The donation that got my waterworks going last night came from another young man, just a couple years about of high school, Cris' son and Jacob's cousin, Austin. I'm sure he cleaned out his bank account when he made the biggest donation to date to his beloved cousin. It would have been easy for Austin to just let his mom donate, but he didn't. I've always thought Austin was a neat guy, but this shows what a beautiful heart he has.
This is a situation where just a few bucks can help change a good and deserving family's life for the better. If you want to help, http://www.gofundme.com/wheelsforjacob
By Randee Bergen
Friday, August 29, 2014
The day had arrived. The day I was looking forward to and dreading all at the same time.
I was in charge of one of the big suitcases and the rolling carry-on while she wheeled the other big suitcase and shouldered her overstuffed backpack. We followed the signs to Lufthansa and entered the ticketing/check-in line. After months of learning, checklists, paperwork, to-do’s, and last minute errands, we realized then that she still wasn’t ready.
“Amy!” I fake scolded. “Where are your luggage tags? You were supposed to write them out long before we got here!”
“I know. I forgot. I didn’t have my host family’s address.”
“What do you mean? It’s in your paperwork. Get it out.”
Down came the backpack and out came an envelope full of the documents she’s supposed to travel with: names and address of her first host family, the Rotary club in France that will host her, passport, birth certificate, permission to attend school, her insurance policy, parental permission, travel itinerary, and several other items. We pulled out the one with her host family’s address and I read it to her as she wrote it on the tags. She was nervous and her handwriting was atrocious, almost illegible.
As we fumbled with the tags and reorganizing some of her documents, a young girl got in line behind us.
“You can go ahead,” I said, scooting over the two suitcases I was in charge of.
She smiled and wheeled on past us, all of her luggage neatly stacked on a rolling cart.
“Mom,” Amy whispered, “do you think she’s an exchange student?”
“She might be,” I said. “I just don’t know why she’s all alone. It seems like someone would come to the airport with her.”
Once we felt organized, I told Amy to put her official Rotary blazer on so I could take her picture. All of the kids in our Rotary District – District 5470, the southern two-thirds of the state of Colorado – as well as all students going abroad through any of the United States Rotary clubs are supplied a black blazer. They exchange and collect pins and proudly display them on their blazer as they progress through their year abroad.
Amy gave me a look. I knew what it was about. Yesterday, as we were loading up to leave our home in Grand Junction and drive to Denver–where she’d be flying out of–she said, “Mom, what should I do with this blazer? I hate it; it’s so ugly. I mean, why don’t they just tell us to go buy an attractive, well-fitting black blazer that we actually like instead of SURPRISE! HERE’S THE UGLIEST BLACK BLAZER WE COULD FIND FOR YOU!”
I laughed out loud. Both of our emotions had been running high for the past two weeks as her departure day loomed and both of us had had a few outbursts and good cries over nothing, really. She wasn’t being ungrateful or disrespectful to the Rotarians who had helped her get to this point, just open and honest and funny. We all know that a heavy, black, too-big, too-constructed blazer is not what any teenage girl wants to wear, let alone travel in or meet their new families in. They want to wear comfort clothes and something in which they feel attractive and that represents the way in which teenagers dress in the country they’re from.
When my laughter subsided, Amy gave me a pouty look. “Mom, I’m scared I won’t be funny in France. I mean, how can I be funny when I don’t even know the language?”
“Honey, I think that anything you attempt to say in French will probably be hilarious. You’ll be plenty funny and interesting.”
I got the official departure photo and then helped Amy neatly fold the blazer and tuck it into her carry-on. “You should probably get this out right before boarding the plane and wear it for at least a little while on the plane. It’ll help other exchange students notice you, if there are any others on your flight. And make sure to wear it when you layover in Germany and maybe when you land in France. You’ll be safer in it – airport personnel are probably familiar with these blazers and they’ll know you’re an exchange student and a minor – and people will be less likely to mess with you.”
We then went to the counter, just as the other girl was finishing her check-in. “Hey, are you with Rotary?” she asked, looking hopeful. “I saw your blazer.”
“Yeah!” said Amy. “Are you?”
“Yes. I’m going to Croatia.”
“Where are you from?” I asked, knowing she did not live within District 5470. Croatia is not one of the 20 countries that students in District 5470 can exchange to.
“Boulder,” she answered.
“Are you here alone?” I asked, feeling at once both a little sorry for her and also that perhaps I wasn’t letting my daughter be independent enough.
“Oh, my dad’s here. He’s parking the car or something.”
“Are you traveling through Germany to get to Croatia?” I asked her. If so, that would mean she’d be on Amy’s flight.
“Yes, I’m on the 5:30 flight.”
“Cool,” said Amy, her eyes lighting up. “So am I!”
She gave the ticketing agent her passport and as he finished up his work, he asked, “Any seating preferences?” Not knowing exactly what that meant, Amy responded with, “Umm… no, I don’t think so.”
“Well,” I started, “is there any chance you could seat her next to the young girl who just checked in? The one in line in front of us? They’re both minors and they might feel more comfortable sitting together.”
“Sure,” he said. “I can do that.”
We were plenty early to the airport, but Amy was too nervous to have lunch or look around in the shops. So we made our way to the security area and plopped down on some seats there. I asked Amy how she was feeling. She seemed okay. I felt okay myself, compared to what an emotional mess I’d been the two weeks leading up to this point.
The line going through security looked long and I guessed the process might take about 45 minutes to an hour. After a while, when it seemed like it was probably time for Amy to make her way to her boarding gate, I said, “Hey, maybe I can stand in that line with you. That’d give us a little bit longer together.”
The woman in charge of the entrance to the line said it would be fine, that I’d just have to exit the line when they started checking boarding passes. “Unless, of course, you get randomly selected for Pre Check.”
“Pre Check? What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, we randomly select some people to go through a faster security line. You don’t have to take your shoes off.”
“Okay,” I said and we started winding our way through the serpentine straps used to create and manage a line of people. We didn’t go more than 20 feet before a man said, “Pre check. This way.” We veered off to the right into a different line.
I guess we were randomly selected, I thought. Amy was the one to notice. “Interesting. Everyone in this line is in a family. Look at the babies and kids. And us. The other line is all men. Nice random selection.”
I had it in my mind that I would be with my daughter for about 45 more minutes before I had to say goodbye to her once and for all, but the Pre Check line was only about two minutes long. The time was now. “Oh my gosh, Amy, we have to say good-bye now. Are you good? You okay?” I pulled her in for a hug.
“Mom, I’m sad,” she said, and started to cry a little.
I was sad, too, but tried not to let it show. “Don’t be sad, be happy. Go have the time of your life!” And I let go of her. And I walked away. And I cried, but not as badly as I thought I would.
I had to go upstairs to level two to exit the area. When I got up there, I realized I could look down on the security lines. So I found a quiet spot and stood looking over the railing, scanning like crazy to locate Amy. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out where that Pre Check line was. Or maybe she had already gone through it.
I glanced at my phone, it being in my hand, and saw a notification from Facebook that Amy had mentioned me in a status update. What? How? I thought. She’s in an airport security line. I opened it up and there was a picture of me standing on level two, looking for her. Randee Bergen spying on me it said. What? She saw me and I couldn’t see her? I wish I was spying on you! I wish I could see you one last time! I thought. Or, maybe not. Maybe this is for the better.
I exited the airport and went to find my vehicle in the parking area. Should I leave? Was it okay to leave the airport and head back to Grand Junction when she had more than an hour to sit at her gate? What if her plane didn’t show up or wouldn’t be able to take off? Maybe I should stay.
But I couldn’t. I drove away.
When I stopped to get gas, I texted her. Are you at your gate? Have you found your friend?
Yes, I”m here, but I don’t see her anywhere!
You will, eventually. I love you!
Not too long after that, there was a text from Amy. I found her and guess what? Her name is Amy!
Crying, I typed. No, that wasn’t texting language that I typically used; it was something Amy would have said. It usually meant happy tears, oh how special, how meaningful, something like that.
Then I added a smiley face and pushed SEND.