Beginnings and Endings

These past few weeks have brought us a pretty large dose of both.  Beginnings are cheerful, let’s start there.

David had his aortic valve in his heart replaced yesterday, in a remarkable process where they literally thread the new valve, safely tucked away in a catheter, up through the femoral artery from his groin to his heart, then “pop” that baby into place, pushing out the old malfunctioning valve, and poof — renewed heart.   ;-)

We take this stuff so “for-granted” these days, but when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing.  This particular form of valve replacement has been done in Europe for quite a while, here in the states for some 5 or 6 years [edit–for about 2 years, only 1 year at the University hospital here], and slightly oddly is still considered to be the “less optimal” option by Medicare, notwithstanding less risk, HUGELY less recovery time for the patient, and a whole host of other attractive features.  Go figure.

David didn’t initially “qualify” and we thought we were in for open-heart surgery.  The first surgeon who reported this to us was so matter-of-fact about it that we both just nodded and went “okay.”



Not okay.

It took a week or two of our various research and reading and basically “processing” the realities of open-heart surgery for us both to come up — independently and pretty simultaneously — with the decision we needed to re-open this conversation and convince them that he needed this less-invasive procedure.

We succeeded and have been anticipating this procedure ever since.  He was originally “scheduled” (using the term loosely) for the *first* of May, and it was only shortly before that when they broke the news to us that the necessary anesthesiologist wasn’t available then, so it would have to be pushed to the 29th. (There are multiple anesthesiologists involved in this complex procedure, but one that is particularly unique and, as it turned, out, unavailable.  Such is life.)

Part of the complication here is that most “catheter” procedures like angiograms and the like are done in a specially prepared “cath lab” but for for this more elaborate procedure, they actually have to convert an operating room into both O.R. *and* cath lab — “just in case” you know.  If things go wrong, they need to be able to crack you open. And they only do this elaborate conversion twice a month.

So, finally his date came but when we went for pre-op tests the day before surgery, there were some potential problems.  A plan was put in place to do all we could to still *potentially* go through with the surgery, but then would you believe it, the magical “live x-ray” machine that lets them see inside your body from the outside BROKE.

Yep, broke.  Nothing but static.  Luckily it broke BEFORE they’d actually embarked on any surgery, so it was an inconvenience, not a tragedy.

For the initial potential problem we’d been told he’d be in line for just the following week, but now with the broken machine, the other procedure they would have done that day got “his” slot and he was pushed back for three more weeks.

Can you say “frustrating”?  To his credit, he took it well.  And, as life sometimes has a way of doing, things worked out because in the intervening weeks, we were faced with endings.

Avila feeding her GaGa

A week before his scheduled date of the 29th, we’d enrolled Mom in hospice.  At the time it wasn’t so much that we really thought her end was that nearly upon us, but rather that she finally “qualified” and there are some wonderful services that go along with hospice (including the most amazing harpist — yes! — who comes to your house and plays the harp.)  Although our initial intake nurse had her own beliefs that Mom wouldn’t be with us long, we were still hopeful and, in fact, in a couple of days after antibiotics for some lung gunk, she really did seem to be a good bit better.

That turned out to be a final and somewhat false “rally” and right after that she was clearly in a decline that one had to think was probably her final one.  It seemed clear that her body was getting ready to release her, that her time in physical form was coming to an end.

Ironically, a full week before the actual final event, I woke in the early morning hours to realize I hadn’t heard a single peep out of her through the monitor.  The next couple of hours passed, and as I dozed in the pre-dawn I came to grips with the “fact” that she had passed on during the night.  It all fit, and I felt ready to deal with it.  (No, I didn’t leap up out of bed at 4:45 am to check.  If she really was gone she would still be gone at 7 am.)

But wait, around 6:45 when I was getting ready to get up, I heard her cough.  Okay.  Not quite gone yet.

But for me that couple of hours of “processing” proved to be key to the next week.  I had faced it. Now when it finally did come, I’d be ready.

Butterfly princess at rest

She never got out of bed after that, and was luckily pretty doze-y and didn’t seem to be suffering.  The wondrous granddaughter Avila came in once and waved her magic butterfly-princess wand over her to help her tummy feel better, and in fact that part of her DID feel much better over the next day, so we’re all for butterfly-princess-power.  Of course, the larger picture was likely somewhat beyond the power of those wings or wand.   It’s a tough one, with one so young who in the long-term won’t remember this, but in the short term is clearly keenly aware of her GaGa — how (and even *what*) do you explain.  We’re still working on that one.

Hospice was wonderful and we benefited, I know, by our acceptance over the past months that “Mom” was basically already gone.  It definitely made it easier to let go of her physical body.

And so, in the early morning of Sunday, 2 June, her body did, indeed, finally release her from this physical form.  I am comforted to know that her spirit — which has been so confused in these past months as she lost any knowing of who we were, or even finally who she was — has reunited with Daddy, with my baby brother David, her sister Dinny, her own parents, and certainly many others waiting to greet her on the other side.

I’ve often said over the past year or two that I was “half-prepared” on any given morning to go in to get her up and find that she’d slipped away during the night.  I did discover that there’s a lot to that “other half” — lt was still gut-wrenching in some ways. And I know for my brother, too, where distance can keep alive the feeling that things will “continue on” for a while longer.  Sometimes almost harder, I think, for those loved ones further away.  At least here, when you’re right in the thick of it, the course of nature seems more, well, natural.

But so it goes, right?  The circle of life continues, and my mom’s life had become a very small circle indeed.  I have to believe that her essential essence, her spirit, is far happier to be released from the prison of the damage to her brain, and be back with others who have gone before.

There are some weird “side-effects” of all this. Although there were clearly expenses associated with our taking care of Mom, some didn’t “disappear” with her passing — the house we’d rented in order to accommodate all of us, for instance, is still here.  So I’ve got some scrambling to do to replace a net loss of household income.  But, we’ve always managed before; I’m absolutely certain we’ll manage now.  (Hey, if you know someone who needs a writer/website designer/blogger — speak up!!)

As we know… life goes on.  In our case, a particularly poignant reminder with both a renewed life and a departing one.  It reminds us to always keep our loved ones in our hearts, say “I love you” often, live each day as though it might be your last…. we send to you all our loving wishes for your great happiness, in whatever circumstances life gives you.


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16 Responses to Beginnings and Endings

  1. Jennifer says:

    Our hearts go out to you and your family in your time of renewal and release.
    Much love,
    Jen, Bill and Callista

    • arden says:

      Hi, Jen,

      Thanks for your kind words. Hope all is well there with you guys.

      Hugs to you, Bill, and Calli.

  2. Linda Stevener says:

    So sorry for your loss Arden. I will remember the Thanksgiving that she sat next to me at your house and how much she enjoyed your pumpkin pie!

    Very glad for Dave’s procedure. Didn’t know they could do a valve replacement that way. Best wishes on a good recovery.

    Thinking of you often. Enjoy that little granddaughter. My first grandbaby (a girl) just turned 22!


    • arden says:

      Hi, Linda,

      Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I was sorry that our friends in Costa Rica never got to see the “real” mom since the disease had already taken away much of who she was, but I think her kind and gentle nature still came through. This valve procedure is really kind remarkable and we’re so appreciative that we had the option! We absolutely EVERY day are amazed at our granddaughter and can hardly imagine missing this. I have a feeling, though, that we’ll just *blink* and she’ll be 22 too!

      all the best,

  3. Kay McPherson says:

    So glad all wen well for David’s valve replacement and so much easier on him in the long run than the huge surgery. Know you are both happy and pleased with a new lease on life for him. They certainly do amazing heart procedures–Hughes Cox is certainly an example of that.

    We spent a delightful three days with the Penuels in little summer heaven. Home now for a while.

    Let us know if you come this way. Always a place for you here.


    • arden says:

      Hi, Kay,

      Yes, they all act so “matter-of-fact” about this procedure here, it’s easy to forget how truly remarkable it is. We found out our earlier “timetables” on how long they’d been doing it were off — it’s actually only been approved and done here in the U.S. for about 2 years. He’s doing GREAT and docs are planning on sending him home tomorrow unless something changes negatively (which they don’t expect).

      Glad you had a great little vacation “up north” — nice to get out of Louisiana for even a little bit of the summer. And we hopefully *will* be in Shreveport at some point since we’re still trying to get ourselves organized to put together some bit of “remembering and honoring” event for mom and dad there. We’ll stay in touch!

  4. Martha B. Higgins says:

    Arden, so sorry to hear of your mom’s passing. Transitions are so hard on those left behind. Glad to hear your husband’s procedure went so well and wish him continued good health. Enjoy your granddaughter and continue to talk to her about GaGa. Peace, hugs and love.

    • arden says:

      Hi, Martha,

      Yes, it’s funny that even when you feel that you’re “ready” (and CLEARLY her time had truly come), there’s still process and emotions and loss. But actually, interestingly, a number of friends who have cared for family members with dementia have said how there’s a wonderful thing that happens as time goes by and the sharp memories of the diminished person they had become will fade, and you re-connect with the memories of the person they were before. And that’s a huge comfort to me. Thanks so much for your kind words.


  5. Deborah says:

    Thinking of you as you as you go through this grieving period. Losing a parent is never easy. My thoughts and prayers are with you and I’m looking forward to hearing stories of your mom as the memories of her reemerge from their dormancy.

    So glad to hear of David’s surgery and its great success.

    Take care of yourself and keep writing. This blog was especially well done!


    • arden says:

      Hi, Deborah,

      So good to hear from you! Thanks for your kind words. Yes, already memories are re-emerging, so perhaps some good future stories will, indeed, come out of them. ;-)

      Hope all is going well there with you.


  6. Judy and Hughes Cox says:

    We are so sorry to hear about your mother. I know you were taking such good care of both your parents. Even though we all prepare for the end of a loved one’s life, it is always a very emotionally charged moment when it happens. You and Hans and your families are in our thoughts and prayers.

    We were also amazed with David’s heart procedure. And how wise you both were to keep checking things out to get the best for David that is available. We need to get together and just talk and talk and talk. You and your family have always been very special to all of us and we do hope you can make a visit back to Shreveport soon.

    Judy and Hughes

    • arden says:

      Hi, Judy and Hughes,

      Wonderful to hear from you! Yes it’s true that even feeling so clearly like it was “her time” and feeling like I was prepared, there is of course still a void there when you realize that she’s really truly gone. Also seems to bring back daddy’s passing a bit as well. Although we haven’t gotten any further in our specific planning, we *are* thinking very seriously of some kind of “event” there in Shreveport, whether something “public” at the museum (for instance) or just a “simple reception” of some sort somewhere, just some kind of time and place to allow folks who remember my folks well to gather, share their recollections, and so forth.

      We only discovered the other day that our initial impressions of how long this particular heart procedure had been done were “off” and that in fact it’s only been approved here in the U.S. for about 2 years, and only done at this one local hospital (part of the University) for the past year. And they normally only even do it on folks who are *so* old or infirm that they don’t consider open heart to be a viable option. So it really was amazing that we got him into the program — believe it or not we were actually walking out of the hospital exactly 48 hours after being admitted, him with a NEW aortic valve!! ;-) Luckily for him, this entire problem *appears* to be a result of his having had rheumatic fever when he was a boy, so around 65 years ago (he just turned 71) and OTHER than this, he’s in very good health, so we’re VERY encouraged about the future prognosis.

      We do look forward to having a chance to visit!! You, too, have always held a special spot in *my* heart so will look forward to seeing you.


  7. Martha B. Higgins says:

    Arden, my deepest condolences on the loss of your dear mother. For some reason I didn’t get this post and when reading the latest one about camping realized that your mother had passed on. When my parents died there were also some mixed feelings because of their illnesses so I do understand your feelings about her passing.
    So glad to hear that David’s procedure went so well. It is the circle of life, indeed.
    Love and hugs.

    • arden says:

      Hi, Martha,

      Great to hear from you and thank you for your kind thoughts on mom. Yes, it still seems odd, of course, that she’s no longer with us, although her extreme decline toward the end made it much easier to let go. We’re having a memorial of sorts — not a “service” but a gathering, a party really — next month in Shreveport to commemorate mom’s, daddy’s, and my “baby brother” David’s passings, so it’ll be great to have a place for all their old friends to come together and “remember” them. I have no doubt they’ll be there in spirit. ;-) Hope all is going well there with you!
      hugs back,

  8. Brad and Jessica says:

    Arden – I wasn’t aware that you had this website until today. I immediately went to this section and was so saddened by your loss. We spent time with your Mom and she was a wonderful person. You both took such good care of her. I’m so happy to hear that David is well after his surgery. Miss both of you.
    Hugs and Love, Brad and Jessica

    • arden says:

      Hi, Jessica,

      So nice to “see” you here! Thank you for your kind words about Mom. She was a sweetheart, for sure, although *that* person was pretty fully gone by the time her body finally gave up and left. I feel certain that she’s very relieved to have her essence released back into energy and not trapped by that body and brain. David’s doing great and we’re so much enjoying being back in the states. As we often say — we’re glad we moved to Costa Rica, and now we’re very glad to have moved back! Miss you guys, too, and hope you’re doing well.


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