Friday, January 4, 2019

THE FIRST CHRISTMAS OF FORTY-TWO

We had been married just a little over a month in 1975 and we were young.  She was 20 and I was a mere 19 years old.  Neither of our jobs brought in a lot of money but we were doing well enough to keep a roof over our heads in the form of a little three room apartment and have food for us and a little dog named Babs.  We were happy.

We both decided together that we would not spend a lot on Christmas for each other, saving the money instead.  We wanted to get our parents Christmas presents and then a couple of small inexpensive gifts for each other.  A Christmas Tree was out of the question.  Either way we went, artificial or real, would be more than we could afford and besides Christmas was about more important things than a Christmas Tree and decorations.  At this point in our life together we didn't have any ornaments anyway, so best to just put off all the extras that come along with Christmas and target the must haves.

Our money would be spent for groceries for Barbara to make dishes to take to each of our family Christmas dinners and we would make a donation to the Salvation Army following in my grandfathers footsteps.  I was taught by both my grandfather and my father that every Christmas no matter what, make sure you take some of your money to help those who didn't have as much and the Salvation Army was the vehicle both chose to do.  I remember being out at Christmas time with both men and when passing a Salvation Army bell ringer, stop and drop a few bills into the red kettles.  It was the Christian and the proper thing to do.  God had blessed you during the year, it is only right to give to those who were struggling.  It became a habit with me and still is to this day.  I always drop money into the first red kettle I see during the holiday season.  It is a way to honor God, my father and my grandfather.

The first Christmas would also set a precedent for me.  I never seem to get my Christmas shopping finished for Barbara, and later Brett, until the last minute.  This was the situation I found myself as we approached our first Christmas together.

It was Christmas Eve of 1975 when I left the office to head home.  I drove my old blue Chevy towards the apartment knowing I would have to stop somewhere to find something for Barbara's Christmas the next morning.  My head was filled with thoughts of where I should stop to accomplish the task.  There was a Ben Franklin 5 & 10 store on my way home so I decided I would stop there to see what I could find.  Once that decision was made, my mind started wondering what I would get her.  Maybe some earrings?  Maybe a necklace?  I did not have a clue.  My first inclination when going to a Ben Franklin store or one of that ilk was to go to the music section of the store and buy an album of some sort.  That, however, was not a very good idea to give to Barb for Christmas that year,  Especially since it was our first Christmas.  I imagined she would think that I was buying her a present more for myself then for her and to a certain degree she would probably be right in that thinking.  Okay, no album I told myself.

It was kind of cold and the sun was just beginning to go down as I pulled into the Ben Franklin parking lot.  I had to do this quick not wanting Barb to know I had waited until the last minute to get her a present.  As I learned through following Christmas' she always figured I had not finished my shopping until pretty close to Christmas Eve.  She on the other hand was a machine of efficiency, carefully picking out gifts and getting it taken care of shortly after Thanksgiving.  This would be the pattern of each of our habits for the next forty two years together.  One thing that became a tradition for Christmas as the years went buy was that I would go to Lara Little's, a little candy shop at 75th and State Line to get her a half pound of sugar free chocolates.  Our last Christmas together, a couple of days before Christmas, we were heading over to my cousin's house.  I had not stopped at the candy shop yet.  As we headed up 75th Street I told her I had to make a stop first.  She knew exactly where I was going and what I was going to go there for.  As we pulled up to the candy shop I told her to close her eyes and not to peek until I said so.  She rolled her eyes at me and said, sure, but she didn't.  I went into the shop, bought the chocolates and coming back out of the store popped the trunk and threw the box in there.  As I got in the car she was looking at me with this all knowing little grin on her face.  I told her to forget we were ever here and she agreed to do so.  It was just my way to forget to do the little things until the last minute.

I walked into the Ben Franklin and started my shopping, wandering up and down the aisles trying to find the perfect inexpensive gift. I looked at everything that I could think of that might be as close to a perfect gift as possible.  I finally settled on a cheap earring/necklace set to get her.  Then over to the perfume area I went.  On my way to that part of the store though, something else caught my eye.

There, standing alone on a shelf, was a little three foot tall artificial Christmas Tree.  It stopped me in my tracks.  I looked at the boxes underneath the little tree and found out that it was on sale for eight dollars.  I knew that a Christmas Tree was what Barb wanted more than anything.  I stared at the tree while my mind raced through dollar figures and the budget we had set for Christmas.  Yes, it was a little bit outside our budget range if I got her the earrings and necklace, but it would make her so happy I thought.  Then it came to mind that I would need some ornaments as well for taking a tree home without proper decorations would be pretty silly.  Off to the side of where the tree boxes there were boxes of glass ball decorations.  The prices ranged from around $2.50 up to $5.00.  The cheaper balls were small.  Not tiny but small.  In short, they were the perfect size for this three foot tree.  I decided that Christmas only comes once a year, and it would be worth it to have a Christmas Tree for our first Christmas together.  I decided to forget the perfume and get the tree and a box of small red glass balls to decorate it with.  Heading back to the car with earrings, necklace, Christmas Tree and the glass ornaments in hand, I felt pretty proud of myself.

When I got home to the apartment, Barb was still at work.  I took my purchases inside and back to our bedroom.  After wrapping the small box that held the earrings and necklace I sat and wondered what to do about the tree.  Should I set it up and have it decorated before she got home?  Should I surprise her with it and let her decorate it?  Yes, that is what I would do.  I took the little tree out of it's box and located the small stand that was at the bottom of the box.  Taking it into the living area, I looked around for where to put it.  Barb's dad had given us a small television stand that we were using as a table for mail and books to be set on.  After clearing the little table I set up this cute little tree (yes, it had become somewhat cute to me by this time) on it.

It was about this time I heard Barb's car pull up in front of the apartment.  I sat and started to glance over the newspaper from that morning, pretending to read what I had already read and waited for her arrival inside the apartment.  As she entered I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye to catch her expression.  She walked in and started to take off her coat to hang it up when she suddenly stopped.  She had seen the tree.  She looked over at me then back to the tree.  She asked me where I had found it and so I told her the story of stopping at the five and ten store and seeing it on sale.  Her mouth turned up into that huge smile of hers.  She came over and gave me a hug and thanked me while at the same time asking me if this was her Christmas present.  As I got up to go into the bedroom to get the ornaments she expressed her happiness by telling me over and over thank you.  She loved it.  First Christmas, first Christmas Tree.  It was PERFECT.

I came out of the room carrying the box of red glass balls and told her there was more.  She looked at the box then asked "Lights?"  Dang, That had not crossed my mind.  I just told her no, no lights and she said ok.  It was then that we began a Christmas tradition that would last for 42 years.  I sat on the couch while she opened the ornaments and decorated the tree.  She went and got a sheet from the closet to wrap around and over the stand and carefully placed gifts underneath it.  It looked good.

She had bought the dog some treats for Christmas and had wrapped them and placed them under the tree with the other gifts.  It was about three days after Christmas when we came home to a dreadful sight.  Apparently we had left one of Bab's treats under the tree and Babs had sniffed it out.  The dog had tried to get at it by stretching herself up to the table and the whole tree had fallen on the hard floor.  The majority of the glass ornaments had broken but we manage to find four or five that survived.  After cleaning up the broken glass, the remainder of the balls were put back in the box and the Christmas tree was stored away.

It was the way every Christmas should, or would be.  A lot of fun and happiness added along with a tiny disaster just to keep things interesting.

Well, Christmas of 2017 would be our last Christmas together.  We were on our second tree since that first one.  It was five foot tall and had the lights already on it.  Over the years the little three foot tree remained a part of our Christmas as Barb and Brett would place it in his room for the Christmas season and it remains with me to this day.

Through the years, we have increased our collection of ornaments by quite a bit.   We began two other traditions over the years.  Each year Barb would by a new ornament for the tree and I would by a new Christmas album to add to the collection to be listened to over the holidays.  Our parents gave us ornaments that each of us had as children and they, along with the ornaments Brett was bringing home from Sunday School each year, made the tree just a little more festive each year.  We have had Cubs ornaments and Mizzou ornaments.  Last year one of my cousins who is a huge Kansas fan gave us a Mizzou ornament for Christmas.  Barbara loved it.  She loved it not only because it was Mizzou, but also because Eric had willed himself to purchase something that was Black and Gold.  Barb felt like it was a great showing of love for Eric to to do that and she promised that she would return the favor this year ... by getting Eric a Mizzou ornament.  Not surprisingly, Eric said no thanks to the offer.  We did not know it would be our last Christmas together and we were happy, as happy as that first Christmas forty two years prior.

So this Christmas I sat alone.  Barb had passed away at the end of July and my dad had passed away towards the end of October.  I had spent forty two Christmas' with Barbara and sixty one with my dad.  It was a quiet day this year.  There was not a tree set up and decorated but I did spend Christmas in what I consider a special way.

You see I decided to spend this Christmas with Barb and dad.  I would spend it with them by remembering special Christmas moments and memories that I had of dad over the last sixty one years and remember all those very special Christmas' with Barb.  All forty two of them.  Yes it was a quiet Christmas but not a lonely one.  All of those memories filled the day for me and all those memories were good and filled my heart with a peace and love for those two special people that were such a huge part of my life during our time together.

There will never be another Christmas like the Christmas of 1975 and there will never be another Christmas like the Christmas of 2018.  Both were very special.

I sincerely hope all of the my readers had as good of a Christmas as I did this year.  May God bless all of you as we head into another year that no doubt, will bring many changes to all of our lives.

Love you all

Bill



Wednesday, December 19, 2018

BARBARA ANN CLARK - PART TWO

Ok, this turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined.  I promised that part two on Barbara would be concerning her health as it worsened over the years.  I have been trying to write this for a week now.  I have written and then deleted several writings.  This took me out of my regular way of writing, which is to just write what is in my mind and let it flow.  I tried to be precise but at the same time convey the emotions and feelings that the two of us went through as we began down this road that would lead to surgeries and end with her passing.  I can't do both those styles.  I have decided to just write from my heart, use my emotions and throw in the visions of memories of Barbara as she put up a long fight to get well.  It hurts to write about this and may sound jumbled up and it might not even make sense.  What needs to be understood is that right now, after the last 5 months which involved losing not only Barbara, but my good friend Jim, his daughter Lori, my father and my Uncle Dale, this period of time has been extremely confusing, fast moving, and terribly sad.  I will do my best for you though.

Barbara had a heart murmur for as long as she could remember.  I think she just assumed she had it all of her life.  Maybe she did.  It was her aortic valve that had the mummer but it was a small one and the doctors were not really concerned about it. They kept an eye on it through the years and it just seemed to be a small problem that she would more than likely have throughout her life.  What brought us to July 23, 2018 was much more than a heart situation.  It was a combination of health issues that she had to deal with as the years ticked by.

So I guess we can say her health issues started with that pesky mummer. Other things about Barbara that would come into play as far as her health was that she was very small.  She stood all of 4ft-10in.  It wasn't only her height that was small but she had extremely small arteries.  When she was in her mid thirties, she developed type two diabetes.  She was very good at taking care of her diabetes.  She kept her diet under control and took all of her medications to keep the diabetes under control.  During this time she was a tiny bit obese but not bad at all.  She kept everything under control.  She was very active, keeping moving all the time and had a pretty healthy social life by way of the church and her high school classmates.  She took courses at local colleges and was very good at managing the office of the firm where she worked.  When Brett joined our family, she took off work to raise Brett, which kept her very active.  After Brett was in his teenage years, she returned to work and was able to work without any problem.

Around 2005 or so, her body started to change.  It was her back.  Her spine started to fuse together slowly.  As the spine hardened it began to curve forward, bending her over just slightly, not enough that you would really notice.  The fusing of the spine did start to cause her pain though and the pain continued to increase as the fusing of the spine progressed.  Eventually they tried to give her a shot for the pain thinking they could manage it that way, however the spine was so hardened and fused that they could not get a needle in to give her the shot.  They ruled out surgery for some reason but right now I can't remember the reasoning behind that.  She tried several things to try to loosen her back and ease the pain.  She joined an excersize club and that work for awhile but as the spine continued to deteriorate, it slowly became too difficult for her to continue.  She tried acupuncture at one point but that had no effect on the pain at all.  She eventually went to a massage therapist once or twice a week and that did seem to loosen the back just enough to relieve the pain just enough for her to continue on.  Eventually, the massage ceased to have an effect on the back as it steadily got worse.

Eventually her back had her hunched over to the point where she had to start using a cane to keep her balance.  The fusion of her spine continued up on into her neck and before long she could not raise her head, lower her head, or turn it from side to side.  Basically her entire spine was fused and hardened and unable to move. As the spine got worse, the pain increased.  She started using heat pads on her back and the heat would help ease the pain a little bit.  She finally got a TENS unit where I would place four electrodes on her lower back on either side of the spine and run the small electrical pulses through the muscle around her spine for about 15 minutes before bed when the pain was especially bad on certain days.  When she got to this point she could not walk very well at all and was using the cane constantly.

In 2011 or 2012, sometime during that period, she began having small chest pains and it was becoming more difficult for her to be active without becoming fatigued.  Her doctor referred her to a cardiologist and after taking some tests, they discovered that she had a couple of partially blocked arteries.  She went in the hospital and they inserted two stents to open up the arteries.  This was when it was discovered how small her arteries actually were.  The stents eased the chest pains a little but the fatigue was still an issue.  Her back and neck were totally fused by this time and she became pretty compromised.  It was about this time as well that her diabetes began to catch up with her and she began to retain water which caused her to gain weight which had an effect on her fatigue.

She continued to worsen over the next four years.  She never let on how much pain she was in or how tired she felt all the time.  When she was out in public, she always had a smile on her face and she was "pretty good".  I saw a different side though.  I saw her consistently getting less and less mobile.  I saw her ability to do things being stifled.  Soon we ended moving anything she might need down to a bout three feet off the floor.  The kitchen floor became her can goods shelf. In the bedroom, the bed, her desk, the top of the dresser became her closet.  I tried to be there as much as I could to get her things she couldn't reach.

Then in late 2015, after having some tests done, they diagnosed that her aortic valve was failing.  One of the leaves in the valve was disintegrating and her heart was not pushing enough blood through her heart to the rest of her body.  As the blood flow decreased, she began to show the effects of not enough blood to her brain.  It had minor effects but if you spent time with her, you could tell that she was having trouble with her memory.  The fatigue continued to increase and they finally told her she needed a valve replacement.  The date was set for January of 2016 to replace the valve.

We went and checked into the hospital early on that January day and she was taken to be prepped for surgery.  It was to be open heart surgery.  After hours of prepping her, they discovered she had a small infect in one of her fingers.  The surgery was called off and rescheduled until after her infection had been cleared up by antibiotics.  The next date was set for February, but after a week of testing to be sure she was healthy enough for surgery, her blood sugars stopped it.  The antibiotics had messed them up and so now it was a race to get her diabetes back under control.

Finally, March 6th of 2016 was set as the date for the surgery.  The day came and once again it was early morning when we arrived at St. Luke's.  She was taken in and prepped.  Things seemed to be going as planned.  They called me back to the prep room to spend some time with her before she went to surgery.  I watched as she was wheeled off into the operating room.  It wasn't long before a nurse came to me in the waiting room and informed me the surgeon wanted to see me.  She assured me that everything was ok.  The surgeon informed me that they had decided that the open heart option was too risky to take.  Her short stature and fused spine made it extremely difficult and dangerous to try to get to the heart through open heart surgery.  They had pulled her out of the operating room with out even making an incision.

However there was a new option that was brand new and you had to qualify to have it done.  It was called a TAVR, or trans aortic valve replacement.  This was just coming out of the testing stage and was being used as an option to those not able to have the open heart option.  It involved taking a pig valve, or tissue valve, through her groin and running it through her arteries to the heart where it would be placed inside the failing valve and then opened up sealing it in place and giving her a new valve.

They decided to keep her in the hospital for a week to be sure she was healthy enough to have the TAVR.  During this time they took her into surgery one afternoon to place a stent in an artery that was partially clogged.  After a week in the hospital the day finally arrived for her to get a new valve.

The surgery went very well.  They had to use the smallest size valve that there was because her arteries were so small, but it worked.  That evening, the surgeon came in to talk to her,  He informed her that they were going to try to get her up and walking the next day if they could.  Both of us were kind of doubtful if this would happen.  But the next afternoon, the nurses came in to see how well she could walk with the new valve.  All day long I was noticing how her coloring was better in her face.  She kept saying how she didn't feel very tired all day long.  She slowly got up and made her way to the hall.  The nurse handed the cane to her and told her to try to walk and see how she felt.  What happened next simply amazed me.  Barb took off walking at a brisk pace up the hallway.  The nurses were standing back with me watching but not for long.  They had to take off to stop her and turn her around back towards her room.  I stood there with what must have been a huge grin as I watched her power her way back up the hall.  Again the nurses had to catch up with her as she passed her room and stop her so she could get back and sit in the chair to rest.  She insisted she was okay but the nurses made her rest anyway.  She was amazed herself.  She had not felt this good in years.  No fatigue whatsoever.  She was still bent over with the fused spine but she had her cane and she could be mobile without any problems at all.  It truly was amazing.  She was out of the hospital and back home within three days of getting the new valve.

The timing was perfect.  A month or so after her surgery, I broke my leg while taking the dog out at night one evening.  I was helpless.  I ended up going in for surgery to put plates in my leg and was sidelined for several weeks.  She was healthy enough to help me through my own recovery.

The new valved held up for quite awhile after that but not long enough. through the year of 2017 and into 2018, she began to start feeling fatigued again.  The staff at St. Luke's were trying everything to think of to keep her going.  She did a trial study for new drugs that would treat her diabetes and at the same time keep her heart working.  She went through cardio-rehab for a second time and graduated.  She continued to try to walk up and down the street, but the distance she was able to walk became less and less.  The fatigue was coming back slowly but surely.

Wow.  Stopping to take a breath from writing and reread this discombobulation of words and I apologize for the poor writing.  Please be patient with me.  this is not an easy write so far.

You know, I think this enough writing for one post.  The tale of her last surgery may be long, or it could be short.  I am not sure how I will write it.  It definitely will be the hardest thing I ever wrote about her and I want to get it right.  So lets just finish it here for now knowing that her first valve was failing and it would take another surgery to replace it.  A very risky surgery.

Thank you for your patience with me on this.