Saturday, April 15, 2017

Aunt Merry

Merry Jo in 2008
Two weeks ago today, I woke to the heartbreaking news that my beautiful and beloved Aunt Merry--my mother's only living sibling--had passed away. This wasn't especially surprising since we knew she was extremely ill, but it was gut-wrenchingly sudden--she was diagnosed with cancer just six weeks before.

Aunt Merry's 80th Birthday
As some of my friends might remember, back in December my Aunt Merry came for a visit with my cousins, and we had the amazing blessing of celebrating her 80th birthday with her. She was in a terrible amount of pain throughout their trip, from what was thought to be stress fractures and pinched nerves. After arriving home to Houston and getting in to see a specialist and having lots of tests done, they determined she had metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her liver and almost every bone in her body. Within days, she was receiving hospice care. While it was certainly hard to come to grips with losing someone so quickly, I am incredibly thankful that my sweet aunt is no longer in such horrific pain. I'm thankful that she is now in the arms of Jesus, of her husband Gerald, and of my amazing (and terribly missed) Grandma Seaman. I am also incredibly thankful we had that time with her in when she visited in December.

Merry Jo on her 80th with Mom
Since I grew up in Kansas and my Aunt Merry lived in Houston, as a child I only saw her once every couple of years--so we obviously didn't have an extremely close relationship back then. In the last ten years, however, my aunt became an incredibly important part of my life. When my mom was being treated for breast cancer in 2006, she immediately started showing signs of cognitive impairment. I began taking care of Mom's medical affairs, so Aunt Merry and I began talking more frequently about all of Mom's health concerns. In these last few years, especially since we moved Mom to Lawrence, my dear aunt was such an incredible support to me. She always expressed her love for me when we talked, but she also showed her love by her actions. She called regularly to check in on Mom, but she was just as concerned about my health and well-being. She allowed me to vent when I needed to, listened without judgment, prayed for us continually, and never told me what I should do--even when I wanted her to. She cared for Mom for over a week on two separate occasions when Chad and I needed a break. We talked about our churches, our faith, our struggles, and about what God was teaching us through those challenges. In short, she gave me the support that my own mother was no longer able to give.

Mom and Merry Jo in the mid-50s
While she was being an amazing aunt and mother-figure to me, she continued to be a wonderful older sister to my mom. While most of the people who were closest to Mom before her illness started acting as though she was already gone, Aunt Merry was one of the few exceptions. She wrote cards and letters, she sent presents, and she continued to call Mom regularly just to check in. Even when Mom could no longer have a conversation, Merry Jo would call for a quick hello. She always told Mom how good it was to hear her voice, even if the call lasted only a minute. Aunt Merry was one of just a handful of people who still took an interest in Mom's life, and my mom absolutely adored her. From the time she was a little girl and throughout adulthood, Mom idolized her older sister. Merry Jo was the person she cared about most in this world. I was a constant reminder of that reverence, since when I was born I was given the name Kimberly Jo.

Mom and her sister in 2008
Everyone who knew my aunt will tell you she was elegant and classy--always so perfectly put together. As gorgeous as she was, she was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. She was loving and loyal, caring and strong. She was a godly woman who was passionate about her love for Jesus, her church, and the prison ministry she was actively involved in. Her voice, mannerisms and appearance were so much like my mom's, but in every other way she reminded me of my precious grandmother. She was strong, stoic and reserved like Grandma Seaman, with the same faith, loyalty, and love for her family. Like Grandma, Aunt Merry rarely said an unkind word about anyone and also had little use for drama. The similarities were so strong, there were times we were on the phone that I actually had to stop myself from calling her "grandma." I think that's why her death is extra heartbreaking for me: it's like losing Grandma plus my mom all over again. Aunt Merry was the perfect combination of the two most important women in my life--the women who made me who I am.

At the Christmas Parade in December
Making this loss even more difficult is the disturbing fact that we haven't told Mom her sister is gone. I know this sounds so horrible initially--it did to me as well. In fact, when we first found out about Aunt Merry's cancer, my primary thought was when and how to tell Mom to help her comprehend and then remember. However, after talking with professionals, reading great articles on the subject (like this one), and reaching out to people in my caregiver support group who'd been through similar situations, I eventually came to understand the reality. Telling Mom devastating news that she is unable to process and unable to remember would actually be cruel and unfair. Although not telling Mom feels terribly wrong in my heart, I know in my mind it's the best thing for her. Mom can keep the few memories she has of her sister happy and untainted by grief and trauma--and what a blessing that I can help her preserve the memories of Merry Jo's most recent visits through all the pictures I have of our adventures!

Since I was unable to travel to my aunt's funeral last week, grieving and closure have been difficult, but for me, writing about her has been helpful. Thank you for letting me share all the reasons my dear aunt will be greatly missed, by me and by her four children, her thirteen grandchildren and her thirteen great-grandchildren. Thank you so much to all of you who reached out to offer condolences after her passing. Thank you for understanding why there's no need to offer those condolences to my sweet mother as well. Thank you for allowing me to honor this wonderful woman who was such a blessing in my life. I'm so honored to be her namesake.
 A damaged but treasured picture of Aunt Merry, Grandma and me in 1999

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The 2016 Luce Family Review

Happy New Year, dear family and friends! It's okay to wish everyone happy new year since it's still January, right? ;) We hope everyone had a lovely 2016 and a joyous Christmas season. I fully intended to get a real letter in the mail again this year, but clearly we’re a little (okay, a lot) behind with our holiday greetings! I barely got all of the Christmas shopping and wrapping done and only completed a portion of the decorating, so I finally decided that an online letter would have to suffice for 2016. Thanks to all of you who sent us such lovely holiday greetings--you guys are way more on top of life than I am!

Overall, our family is doing pretty well and we feel incredibly blessed. As I start composing this update on a chilly New Year's Day (yes, I started this weeks ago), Mom is sitting next to me working on an iPad puzzle and Chad is in front of the fireplace reading with Flower and Fresco nearby. I was careful to say as I START composing, because I knew full well that I wouldn't finish this post in one sitting. My brain is all over the place these days and I have such a difficult time focusing and composing a coherent thought! Hopefully this is all due to the unique stress of caring for my mom, which is pretty much what our lives revolved around in 2016.
Celebrating Mom's 70th birthday in March

While Mom is still living in her own home (with our help and the help of nighttime caregivers), we are usually together about 10 hours a day--except for on the weekends when my amazing husband gives me some much needed breaks. She is still pretty physically active and looks amazing for being 70, but as with any degenerative disease, her dementia has progressed significantly in the past year. I try to keep her busy with activities and outings, but there is less and less that she enjoys and can engage in. I treasure this time with her and am so thankful that Chad’s amazing support allows me to be her primary caregiver, but to be completely honest, the emotional exhaustion is overwhelming at times. I certainly wouldn’t have survived this far without Chad--did I mention how amazing he is? :)

Us at Hoover Dam
With all that said, we’re really managing pretty well and enjoying life as much as possible. We had a lot of great moments during 2016, including two pretty wonderful vacations. In May we took Mom to Las Vegas, where we met up with Eric and Jiffy (and their dogs). We didn't do any gambling, but we enjoyed lounging by the pool during the day and going to shows on The Strip in the evenings. After a few days in Vegas, we road-tripped a few hours to the Grand Canyon, where we spent a couple of nights in a beautiful cabin and a whole day hiking the rim.
Us with our friend Linda in Mt. Rainier National Park

In October, Chad and I took Mom to Seattle, where we were able to visit two of Mom's best friends from our years in Salina. We did a little hiking at nearby Mt. Rainier, took a ferry to a quaint island in Puget Sound, spent a day seeing some of the famous sites in downtown, and even briefly visited some friends from Lawrence who'd moved there. We also took mom down to Houston for a visit with her sister in early March, which was a lovely vacation for us since for 10 days we only had to take care of her cats! 
Horseback riding with Mom

Mom and I also took lots of little day trips, exploring all the little towns within an hour or so of Lawrence. We spent as much time as possible outside, walking every nature trail we could find in city and county parks, around Clinton and Perry Lakes and at the Baker Wetlands. When it was too hot to walk, we spent many hours swimming at the pools in Mom's neighborhood. In addition to our walking and swimming, Mom and I attended musicals at Theatre Lawrence, went to a few museums, went to the library every couple of weeks, started a weekly yoga class, and even went horseback riding at a nearby ranch (which we hope to be able to do again soon)! We went to every parade and every festival featuring art, music, food, animals, nature or buskers in our area--we even dragged Chad along to some of them! Most of the time though, Chad's entertainment consisted of his new favorite stress-buster: disc golf! When not playing disc or traditional golf, his weekends were filled with KU football games, which mom and I usually enjoyed right along with him!

Speaking of Chad's stress level, it was a little higher than normal this year--he was promoted in April after his boss Terry's retirement (yay!), and found out in May his company was being acquired (boo!). The year consisted of him trying to do his new job but also serving on the team trying to figure out how to integrate the two companies. The sale should be complete this spring (assuming it goes through), and we are super thankful that Chad will most likely still have a job (though not his current job) when the dust settles.
Thanksgiving with Joanie,
Mark, Jen and family

Thanksgiving with Chad's family--
Mark and Ginny and Grandma Luce
In less stressful news, we enjoyed several visits from family members this year--my brother and Jiffy in April, September and November, my dad in July, my Aunt Merry in December, and Chad's mom Joanie a few times in the fall. Mom's cousin Janet also came to stay at Mom's over the summer, which enabled us to keep our string of annual Old 97's shows alive with one in KC (that one was our 20th, if you're keeping score at home). We got to visit with Chad's Grandma (as well as aunts, uncles and cousins) at the Luce family reunion in June, and on Thanksgiving we saw all of them again in Salina along with Chad's parents Mark and Ginny. The day after Christmas we spent a lovely afternoon in central Kansas celebrating the holiday with Mark, Ginny, Chad's brother Mark and wife Jen, his brother Matt and wife Julie, all of our nieces and nephews--and of course Mom! It was great having everyone together for the first time ever!

Chad and I scaled back on our volunteering in 2016--partially because of our duties with Mom and partially because the church we had called home for the last 5+ years closed its doors in April. It was very bittersweet--we were ready for a break from leadership and yet super sad about losing the close-knit community we had at EastLake. The good news is that a) our church family still continues to be our Church family even though we no longer meet with them regularly, and b) after many months of visiting at least 15 different churches in town, we found a new church home all three of us enjoy! We certainly miss the irreplaceable worship band from EastLake, but we're excited to see what God is going to do at our new church--a very small and fairly young church called Relevate!

So that's the year 2016 in a very large nutshell. The year certainly wasn't always pretty, but we are super thankful we survived and made it to 2017. Hopefully the update hasn't put you all to sleep and the pictures and links helped to keep you entertained! For more entertainment in the upcoming year, feel free to follow our adventures via Instagram--my username is kluce99.

We hope that everyone is having a fantastic start to 2017 and we pray the year is full of blessings and joy for all of you!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year

So... Obviously I'm no longer an active blogger, but since I completely failed to get a Christmas/New Year's letter of any sort into the mail, I thought this would be a great place to post one so I could share it with family and friends via email. When I took at peek at my blog I realized I hadn't even updated it last Christmas, so I set out to find the letter I sent (after Christmas 2015) and upload it here. That's when I discovered it had been saved as a draft in blogger, but never uploaded. Good grief. My brain is mush--completely unfocused and constantly thinking of other things!

For what it's worth, here's the synopsis of 2015. Hopefully in the next couple of days I can get one written for 2016 too!
-----------------------------------------------

Happy New Year, dear friends and family! While my plan to do Christmas cards was obviously not successful this year, I did want to compose a quick letter to let everyone know that we haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Our Christmas letter wasn’t my only holiday fail this season--there were two boxes of decorations that never even made it out of the storage room!

This year has certainly been a challenging one, but we survived and are hopefully better people for it! Chad is starting his 13th year with Westar Energy, and although his job keeps him busy, he usually enjoys the challenges--except when they involve being the on call person during an ice storm. Over the Thanksgiving break he answered/made over 200 power outage phone calls (at all hours of the day and night) in a 48 hour period! He travels all over the eastern half of Kansas on a regular basis and took a couple of longer trips to Phoenix and Houston this year as well. In non-business related travel, he went on his annual golf trip to Florida last month with Dante and some other friends, where they played eleven rounds of golf in five days. I guess it’s obvious that he still loves golf. :)

Thankfully, we had a few opportunities to travel together this year as well. For our 21st anniversary in June, we went to Omaha for a couple of days to see an Old 97’s show and hang out with Chad’s brother Matt and his wife Julie and their family. For my birthday in August, Chad surprised me by flying my brother in to hang with my mom so that we could take a quick weekend trip to beautiful (albeit very hot) San Antonio. We saw another 97’s show while there, visited the Alamo and spent lots of time on the gorgeous river walk! Although Chad wasn’t able to join us, Mom and I also made a trip to Houston to visit her sister Merry Jo and my many cousins in the area.

Speaking of my brother and my mom, the most exciting trip of the year actually happened in September when Chad and Mom and I flew to California for my brother Eric’s wedding! We spent a fantastic five days in a cute rental house, did some sightseeing, and enjoyed the beautiful wedding celebration with Eric and our new sister-in-law, Jiffy. We are so thrilled to officially have her as part of our family!

While this letter sort of makes it sound like we had nonstop fun in 2015, in reality our lives completely revolved around my mom (who is in the latter stages of dementia) and her care. I spend around 60 hours a week with her, as she can no longer be left alone unsupervised for more than a couple of hours at a time. I try hard to fill her days with joy, so this year we spent lots of time going to art galleries, shopping, swimming, doing puzzles and art projects, taking day trips to nearby towns, going to plays and concerts, taking walks, and attending other local events. We even did a little horseback riding! Although she still has days in which she can enjoy life and certain activities, her memory for anyone besides her immediate family is virtually gone. I laugh/cringe when people ask me (usually in front of Mom) if I work, since even though I’m not technically employed, this is by far the most emotionally and physically demanding job I’ve ever had! With that said, I’m so thankful I am able to do it and I’m so thankful that my Mom is still with us. It probably goes without saying, but I most definitely would not have survived the year if it weren’t for the amazing support (emotionally and financially) of my incredible husband!

With Mom keeping me busy, our furry children haven’t received the amount of attention they were once accustomed to, but they have adapted pretty well. At age 9, Fresco is pretty laid back and can deal with just about anything (except a person walking by in front of our house). Flower, however, continues to be a challenge! She needs multi-mile walks daily and still has lots of energy to burn. Although we’ve had her for almost 2 years, she still acts like she’s six months old most of the time. She still has major issues with strange people and other dogs, and unfortunately my lack of schedule flexibility has made it nearly impossible to get the training help we need to correct her behavior. Even though she’s pretty high maintenance when she’s outside our home, she’s a pretty good girl when it’s just Chad, Mom and me! We love her and she definitely adds lots of laughs and excitement to our lives.

We hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas season full of peace, love, joy and all the things that make you happy! We pray that 2016 is full of blessings and happiness for each and every one of you.

Much love,

Kim (and Chad)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Christmas Greetings

Hello Dear Friends and Family!

I'm guessing that most of you won't receive our season's greetings until late in the week, so I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas filled with lots of quality time with loved ones! As I started our Christmas shopping just last week while lamenting the fact that the Christmas decorations weren't completely in place, it became very clear to me that I would be writing a “Happy New Year” letter this year instead of a “Merry Christmas” one! As you might have guessed from my tardiness, life has been a little crazy for us the last few months!

The most recent change to our lifestyle and our schedule was a result of my mom's move to Lawrence in the middle of September. As most of you know, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago, and since that time I've been handling her financial and medical affairs. Since her move, I've also become her primary caregiver, which means I'm lucky enough to spend 6-8 hours with her almost every day! Despite her disease, my mom is still an amazingly lovely person, and I am so blessed to be able to spend this time with her. I'm also incredibly thankful that Chad's support allows me the freedom to do so!

Spending my time with Mom would have been a much easier transition if it weren't for the second biggest change for us this year: our most recent canine addition named Flower! We started fostering this abused pit bull mix in January of 2014, and let's just say we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into! Flower came to us through a rescue called Game Dog Guardian, which pulled her from someone's basement in Kansas City where she'd been tied up by her face for the first year of her life. Her scars are significant—both physically and emotionally—and she is definitely a work in progress. She is incredibly time consuming and needs tons of exercise and training, and spending enough time with both her and Mom has been a bit of a challenge! Needless to say though, we adore this snuggly little head-case, as evidenced by the fact that we officially adopted her in April. She' s our third “failed foster” in a row! Ack!

Fresco handled the transition back to sharing our affections with a sister pretty well, especially considering this one is often antagonizing him in an attempt to start a wrestling match. He is so patient and tolerant, and despite his advancing age (he turned 8 this year) he can still keep up with his two-year-old sister's energy level pretty well!

Chad and I did get the chance to enjoy some traveling this year despite the chaos, first with a quick trip to Colorado in March, where we went skiing after a hiatus of about 8 years. On the way there, we were able to meet Chad's half-brother Matt (who grew up in Iowa) for the first time. It has been so great to get to know Matt and his wife Julie and their four kids and so cool to see how much Matt and Chad have in common!

Near the end of May, we celebrated our 20th anniversary a couple of weeks early with our first trip to Hawaii. We spent a week on the island of Oahu, where we snorkeled, hiked, body-surfed, biked and toured Pearl Harbor. It was amazing! We also each took a trip sans the other—Chad to Florida for golfing earlier this month with his golfing buddies and me to Pelican Lake in Minnesota with a bunch of girlfriends in August!

Chad's love for golf obviously hasn't changed, and his day job hasn't changed either. He celebrated 11 years with Westar this year and continues to enjoy all things energy related. He took on additional volunteer responsibilities at church this fall and now pulls the equipment trailer almost every Sunday morning in addition to being in charge of set-up and tear-down. This means he works 6 days a week and also provides back-up support for my mom's needs as well! He is pretty darn amazing and I'm so darn lucky to have him!

I also absorbed some additional volunteer duties at church this fall and now spend about 8 hours a week doing data entry, handling prayer requests and leading my volunteer teams. Prior to my mom's move I was still able to provide photography services for friends and volunteer at the food pantry monthly, and although those things have fallen by the wayside, I'm still able to occasionally volunteer with the homeless ministry Family Promise and still sit on a couple of boards for non-profits around town. We try to balance our volunteer gigs with other fun stuff too—like attending concerts and KU football games and watching KU basketball! We are super blessed to have so many hobbies we enjoy and activities to keep us busy!

We hope you all have a very happy holiday season and a blessed and beautiful 2015! We hope to see more of you all in the upcoming year!

Much love to all,

Kim (and Chad)

Monday, January 06, 2014

Don't Get Body Slammed by a Lowland Gorilla

Obviously I haven't found it necessary to blog regularly here in the past few years, but this commercial's a keeper, although I definitely might be biased. :)