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Home for the holidays

I left Cleveland on December 23, 2003, having worked most of the day to get caught up and comfortable with closing my office at the Cleveland Orchestra through the New Year's holiday. Christmas concert marketing and sales: done. Major grants: done. Budgeting/cash flow projections: done.

I left my office of the past seven years, never once giving a thought that this might be the last time.

I went home, loaded the car, and made necessary provisions for my cats when a thought passed through my head "You should just take them with you; it will be much easier." Nonsense, I thought as I was leaving, and yet I couldn't shake this dark premonition that I was leaving Cleveland -- permanently.

The road trip was uneventful and I arrived home in Colorado Springs on Christmas Eve. Homecomings are always a joyous occasion for me. Despite our ups and downs, we have a close family. My stepfather died suddenly in 1992; with his passing all of us -- my younger brother and sister, Mother and I -- became very close and have remained so ever since. I am the eldest of three children, 10 years senior to my sister, Alice, and almost 13 to my brother, Tommy. It's an interesting fact of aging that the older each of us gets, the less the age difference matters.

When I arrived into town, I met up with Alice and her two small children. Mother was working and had not yet arrived home. I made my way to Mother's house in the late afternoon. The instant I arrived, I knew that she was not well. Mother had been battling an ongoing feeling of malaise since late September. She visited the hospital in October with severe anxiety. Full cardio tests were run, chest X-rays, etc. and she was diagnosed with emphysema. Constant doctor visits throughout November and December yielded nothing, no relief, no improvement -- only an ongoing sense of worry and anxiety.

All of this I knew, but nothing or no one had prepared me for what I was to see when she came home that evening. She had lost a great deal of weight, had a deep wet cough, and was experiencing weirdness in her left arm -- something her doctor attributed to sleeping wrong, certainly nothing to worry about.

The day after Christmas we went to Texas to visit Mother's family and to stage a health coup d'tat. Shortly after arriving home I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be more involved in her healing and care. I would come home from Cleveland every four to six weeks. I also knew that my Aunt Cynthia, Mother's sister, would help bridge whatever gap necessary to convince her that she needed some serious medical attention.

After a family dinner on Saturday night, I dropped Mother off at her sister's and went back to the hotel. The next morning while Alice and her children went to our cousin's for breakfast, I went back to Cynthia's for coffee. Mother had passed a restless night and in the morning she asked my aunt to feel her neck as she thought she'd slept funny and pulled some muscles. When I arrived, my aunt asked me to feel Mother's neck and see if I thought she had muscular knots.

Having danced and been a teacher of modern movement over the course of 20 years, I am somewhat familiar with muscular physiology. As I gently inspected the left side of her neck, it was clear not only that it was not muscular, but that there were two definite masses -- one the size of a marble, the other, the size of a pea. A nervous silence descended over the room, and Cynthia spoke frankly, with determination and love. Alice and Tommy arrived shortly thereafter, and the coup d'tat was held. After honest words and some tears, Mother decided that she would take a leave of absence from work and would care for herself, get her strength back, work out, eat regularly -- all those things we know, or hope, will keep us healthy and alive.

We left for Colorado the next day, and I called her primary care doctor from the road to try and get an appointment for Tuesday morning. Our long, treacherous journey had begun, but we had no idea what lay before us in the days and months to come.

-- Subtitled "One family's journey to living," Prisms of Hope is Carolyn Carroll's diary of adult caregiving for an aging, sick parent. This is the first of a multiple part series. Domestic Bliss will return when the series concludes.

  • Home for the holidays

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