For years, Bob and I and our girls went to visit his aunt and uncle, Linda Knox Cole and Bobby Cole and their children Sheila and Pat, in Kennebec, South Dakota, where they owned and operated a hotel. One thing about visiting relatives who own a hotel, is that you don’t have to worry about where you will be staying. For many years, we really enjoyed going over to visit Linda and Bobby once a year. While we were there, we didn’t do anything special. We visited and played some cards. It was a very laid back, unhurried sort of mini vacation. The girls always liked going over, because they had cousins to play with. We didn’t always have a week or more to go on the trip, so more often than not, the trip would take place on a three day weekend, and would end with the girls having to go to school the next day. That left the trip home for the girls, in a full head of curlers. The good news, is that I hadn’t started curling their hair in socks yet, so I suppose that made it a little better for them. They never acted like they were embarrassed about being in curlers…even when we took pictures in the curlers.
One year, the trips to Kennebec just stopped. The hotel caught fire when a bolt of lightning hit it. While they knew the strike was close, they did not know it had hit the hotel until they smelled the burning wood from the upstairs rooms. The hotel was a total loss…at least the income areas of the hotel. The last time I saw the hotel, it was a charred shell of what it had once been. It was a sad time for everyone, because it was the beginning of change…a change that would end the yearly trips to Kennebec. After weighing the options, Linda and Bobby decided to move to Winnemucca, Nevada. While my in-laws tried to see Linda and Bobby during their snowbird days, with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in my mother-in-law, and the advancement of COPD in my father-in-law, their snowbird days came to an abrupt end too. After that, Bob and I saw Linda and Bobby a couple more times, and now, sadly it has been probably five to ten years since we saw them last.
During the years when we were busy taking care of my in-laws, Bobby had a heart attack. He survived and tried to make some healthy changes in his lifestyle. The one bad habit he could not give up, was his smoking, and in the end, it would be his smoking that would bring on his death. A couple of years ago, Bobby was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer. They tried their best to fight the cancer, and hoped for a longer life for Bobby, but that was not to be. Bobby passed away on May 31, 2014. So much has changed over the years. Time and distance have kept family members apart, because of mounting health issues. I wish Linda had been able to see her sister, my mother-in-law, Joann, before the time came when she could not remember who she was. And I wish they had not had to go through Bobby’s last years alone too. Rest in peace Bobby. We love you and we will miss you.
Time flies by so fast sometimes, and suddenly we find ourselves a year out from an event that shook our world…the death of a loved one. It was one year ago today that my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg passed away. He was a quiet, gentle man who loved his family more than anything else in the world. He hated the years when his job took him away from the family, because watching his children grow up was so important to him. From the time they were dating, he talked about when they would start having children. He knew that he wanted a little girl, just like his soon to be sister-in-law, Margee, who was just six months old when they got married. Of course, he wanted sons too, but he was smitten with those girls, and while his boys were his helpers, and he was very proud of both of them; his little girls were always his little princesses. That seems to be the way life is for daddies of daughters, and he was no exception to that rule.
I never met someone who was more excited to be a grandfather. When I was pregnant with Corrie, his first grandchild, he seemed to have been transferred back all those years to when his children were little. He often asked me how I was doing. He wanted to be sure I was comfortable…because I was carrying his first little grandbaby. He made it such an honor, both times I was pregnant. His children and grandchildren were so important in his life. In fact they were the most important things in his life…with one exception…the love of his life, my mother-in-law, Joann Knox Schulenberg.
From the time they started dating, he knew that there was no other girl for him. I have had the opportunity to read some of the letters they wrote back and forth while they were dating, and he was working in another town. He wanted nothing more than to marry her and take care of her for the rest of his life…and that was exactly what he did. All those years that they were together, he made sure she had what she needed. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, he gave up much of what he would like to have done, so he could take care of her. She was his world, and to him, giving up a few little things to make sure she was going to be alright, was only natural. As the years flew by, he devoted more and more time to taking care of her, and did more than he should have in those later years…I couldn’t get him to stop overdoing it. To him, it was so important that she was always going to be ok.
The hardest thing I think he ever had to do was when we had to put her in the nursing home. It had become obvious that we couldn’t keep her safe at home, and there was no other option. He really took that hard. He was so lonely. We did our best to take him to see her, but that was hard on him too. Then he went through a series of hospital stays in a short period of time, and they left him very weak. The hospital suggested that he go into a nursing home, and he was very much against it…at first. Then I talked to the nursing home my mother-in-law was in, and they said they could take him too and they could share a room. It was a perfect plan. He could see her, stay with her, and make sure she was alright, all while he was taken care of too. It seemed the perfect plan, and in a way, I guess it was…except for the fact that he just couldn’t bounce back from those bouts in the hospital, and would return 3 more times before it was over. The thing that was good for him was the fact that, not only could he be near the love of his life, but before he left us, he was able to see that she would be alright. He could see that the staff took good care of her. That last year was a really hard one for my father-in-law. He was getting tired of fighting COPD. It was a fight for every breath, and he knew he was losing that fight. Still, he could not go, without knowing that those he loved…especially the love of his life, were going to be ok. Dad left us a year ago today, and while we know that he isn’t suffering anymore, we still miss him very much. We love you Dad.
For the past seven and a half years, my life has been largely defined by a series of responsibilities known as caregiving. For anyone who has ever been a caregiver, even for a short time, it is easy to understand what that entails, and what it means in the lives of those involved. Caregiving is not a job that usually becomes less demanding as time goes by, although that is not an impossibility. While caregiving is not an easy job, I can tell you from my personal experience that it is a very rewarding job. It is one that places you in a battle for life…or at least a battle to prolong life. While it is rarely a battle you can win in the end, you do win in that those final years are made more comfortable for the patient, and filled with the knowledge that you love that person so much that you are willing to make this sacrifice for them.
Now, after the passing of my dad, the recovery of my mom, the necessity of placing my mother-in-law in a nursing home, because Alzheimer’s Disease no longer allows her to stay at home, and the passing of my father-in-law, I find myself no longer in the position of being a full time caregiver. Yes, I still have minimal responsibilities with my mom and mother-in-law, like doctors appointments and visits with them, which are very important to their emotional well being, but the main responsibilities belong to others or are no longer necessary. So, I find myself wondering what do I do now that I am not a caregiver? What is life supposed to be like now? This has been who I was for so long. It was even all I talked about sometimes, as many of my family members can attest to.
A part of me is still very tired. At times during the day, I feel like I could sleep for a month, and yet, I have trouble getting to sleep at night. A part of me is ready to get back out on the trails…walking and breathing in the fresh air, and yet a part of me feels like I just want to sit and do nothing. Maybe it’s an emptiness because of no longer being needed as much as before. It seems like concentrating is very difficult…unless it’s about why we lost the battle for life, or what we might have done differently.
I know that I will get used to having more time again. And as with my dad’s passing, I will come to know that you don’t get over it…you just get on with it. I will get used to not being a caregiver, but I know too, that I will never be the same person I was before. I can’t be. I have seen too much…learned too much…felt too much…know too much, to ever be the same person I was before. I have experienced the adrenalin rush needed to hold myself together during life threatening illnesses reaching emergency levels, and making the decisions necessary to treat loved ones who can’t speak for themselves. I have held their very lives in my hands, and been responsible for trying to bring them back. And, I have lost that battle…twice. I will recover from caregiving and I will get on with it, but I will never be the same. I don’t think it is a bad thing, and I would not change any of it, except the loss of my dads, but while I would do it all again, I know that I have been forever changed by this experience.
When Rachel married my brother-in-law, Ron, it was the beginning of a new life for her…many changes were coming, including some that were impossible to prepare for. As you begin married life, you expect certain changes, such as moving, having children, or as is the case in this marriage, adding a step-dad to a family in which the children are already there, and down the road, becoming grandparents. Still, some changes are very unexpected.
Ron is the youngest of my in-law’s children…in fact, he was born 18 years after their first child, his sister Marlyce. That said, when he married Rachel, she was instantly moved into an ongoing family caregiving situation, due to her new mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s Disease, and her new father-in-laws, COPD and Emphysema. That is a lot to walk into for a 35 year old woman. Of course, she wasn’t the first line caregiver, but as we all know, when it comes to caregiving…it takes a village, and every person is important, right down to the children. The great thing about Rachel is that she can be counted on to come and help out with anything I ask, whenever he job allows. She also has a tendency to stop by, out of the blue, with lunch and just to visit our in-laws. It is a very sweet thing for her to do, and one for which we are all grateful.
Rachel has a daughter, that she had early in her adulthood. Cassie is quite a bit older that her two half-brothers, Riley and Tucker. Cassie actually got married on June 2, 2010, 10 days before Rachel and Ron. Before long Cassie would find out that she was pregnant, and due on August 3, 2011. Early on in the pregnancy, the doctors found out that something was wrong. This is a time when a girl really needs her mom. While Rachel lived in Casper, and Cassie in Powell, Rachel quickly went into action. Prayers were requested from anyone who knew how to pray, and Rachel immediately began to encourage Cassie and her husband, Chris. On July 3, 2011, one month prematurely, little Lucas Rae was born. While he dose have Down’s Syndrome, and had to have heart surgery, he is now a healthy 8 month old baby boy, who is as sweet as he can be, and who definitely loves his grandma.
Rachel’s life has taken many twists and turns, but because of the awesome person she is, it has all turned out to be a wonderful life. Happy birthday Rachel!! I’m so happy to have you for my sister-in-law. Love you!!