Lunch Today, Lunch Yesterday

Yes, I was my parents' daughter as this birthday card from them attests. I was in my early 20's here, and, of course, I had no idea that one day, I would be their caregiver. I also only a glimpse of the friendship I would form with both of them as we would age.  (On a side note, the dress I am wearing here was one my mother wore as a young woman. I loved that dress!  Made from a crinkly fabric in pale lilac, it had a tight bodice and a full skirt. When I wore it, I felt like a spring flower.)
I received this “DAUGHTER” card from my parents when I was 21 or 22. Of course, I had no idea that one day, I would be their caregiver. Pictures like this and memories of times I shared with them help me realize how fortunate I was to have Mom and Dad.

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

When two women with ash-blonde hair — most likely a mother and daughter — entered the dining area of Panera Bread Co., I noticed them immediately. Four years fell away, and I was once again my mother’s caregiver. I tried not to stare as the younger woman pushed the other’s wheelchair under a table and arranged it at the optimal angle for eating.

“Oh, your sandwich looks good,” she said to her dining companion, a frail, slightly hunched woman in her 70s or 80s wearing blue dangling earrings and a tasteful blue flowered outfit.

I did not hear what the older woman said, but I chuckled to myself when she showed the apple on her plate to the other woman. She seemed to wonder why she had it.

“Are you okay with that?” the younger woman asked. “They try to get you to eat healthy.”

As the two women continued to converse and eat, tears pricked my eyes. I envied the younger woman; I did, I did. Sure, her life probably had its ups and downs, but I could tell as she leaned toward the older woman and rested her hand lightly on her arm that she cherished their relationship.

I thought about approaching their table, but I didn’t know what to say. I was sure they wouldn’t want me blabbering about how I had lost my mother and missed her. Perhaps, I could have said that they seemed to have a lovely relationship, but I didn’t want to seem intrusive. In the end, I stayed put because no matter what I may or may not have said, I didn’t trust myself to remain dry eyed. Furthermore, I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable.

Observing them made me think, of course, about the many times I ate a meal or shared a snack with my parents. One memory stood out; I wanted to recapture it the most.

On that particular day, I drove my mother somewhere — most likely, to a doctor’s office — and afterward, I realized we both could use something to eat. It was too late for her to eat lunch at the nursing home, and besides, I wanted to prolong our time together. We both were in a good mood; it was warm outside but not uncomfortable; and neither of us had any other obligations. We decided to take advantage of the drive-through window at Burger King.

She ordered a regular hamburger. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I do know we shared some fries. We didn’t want to eat in a parking lot — too ordinary — so I drove to a small roadside park, the size of about two parking lots. Only one or two cars were there. It was quiet and peaceful.

For once, neither of us was fussing at the other. She wasn’t telling me, “Lisa, you wear that jacket so often. Is it your uniform?” Likewise, I didn’t feel the need to remind her about anything or question her about any aspect of her life. We were just two friends who also happened to be mother and daughter. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but I don’t think it was anything monumental. I remember feeling relaxed and happy. Mom and I enjoyed our sandwiches, our fries, and our time together.

Since Mom’s death four years ago, I have thought about that day often; in fact, sometimes when I need to calm down, I picture us together and try to recapture the peace that surrounded us. The imagery works. My breathing becomes less shallow, and the tension in my shoulders melts away. I relax. Once again, life becomes manageable.

Trip to Joplin and Carthage Showcased Steps in Grief Process

The spirit tree in Joplin symbolizes the resiliency of humankind.
The spirit tree in Joplin symbolizes the resiliency of humankind.
At the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Mo., artist Sam Butcher painted this mural in a room dedicated to his son, Philip, who died in a car accident. The sign in heaven reads "Welcome home, Philip."
At the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Mo., artist Sam Butcher painted this mural in a room dedicated to his son, Philip, who died in a car accident. The sign in heaven reads “Welcome home, Philip.”

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

When my husband, Jim, and I went to southwest Missouri recently to support our son’s basketball team and spend some time together, I had no idea that the trip would help me deal with my grief. One stop gave me an opportunity to vent my sorrow while another convinced me that I can rise above grief and rebuild my life. In one weekend, I experienced the spectrum of the grief process.

At Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Mo., I quickly realized I had stumbled upon a place where I could grieve without worrying about concealing my tears. The chapel features more than 80 murals by Sam Butcher, creator of the childlike Precious Moments figurines, and it urges visitors to take time for reflection. I especially appreciated the memorial room that Butcher created for his son Philip, who died as an adult in a 1990 highway accident. The mural in the room depicts heaven and a sign “Welcome Home, Philip” as well as an empty bed surrounded by Philip’s friends and family members.

After reading the posted information about Philip, I felt compelled to sit and study the mural more closely. I felt peaceful, like I do when church empties out and I can light a candle, kneel, pray, and reflect upon … well, anything. At the chapel, I thought not only about the parents I had lost but also the baby I had miscarried and the pain my parents endured when my sisters Mimi and Susan died from physical ailments at ages 47 and 39. Sure, I cried, but it was a cleansing, therapeutic cry. It felt good.

The chapel’s measures of comfort didn’t end with Philip’s memorial. In the next room, I found tributes to children and adults who had died in addition to several over-sized old-fashioned ledgers for people to write prayer intentions or to jot notes to relatives and friends who had died. Given a chance, I could have commemorated every relative and friend who had passed away. I settled for asking for prayers for my parents and for writing a note to my mother.

“Let’s go,” my husband urged. “This is depressing.”

“I don’t find it depressing,” I said. “It’s comforting.”

This trip didn’t mark our first trip to the chapel. We also visited  in the Summer of 2004 with our children, who were then 2, 6, and 9. We didn’t have much of an opportunity to read the plaques and learn about the circumstances surrounding the murals. Elizabeth, my youngest, identified with the Precious Moments statues adorning the grounds because they were about the same height as she was. She had limited speaking skills, but she had no trouble excitedly pointed at the statues and then at herself over and over again. She also enjoyed tossing her Cabbage Patch swimming doll in the fountains and trying to retrieve her. Repeatedly.

Needless, to say that experience differed drastically from my most recent trip.

Jim and I next went to the city of Joplin. Jim and I had been there the night before for one of my son’s basketball games, but it was dark. I did not get a clear picture of the lingering effects of the EF-5 tornado in May 2011 that killed more than 155 people, destroyed or damaged about 7,500 homes and affected about 550 businesses, according to Internet reports.

After driving down one block after another of leveled ground, I was amazed more people didn’t die. Foundations of former buildings and remnants of former parking lots gave the only hints in some blocks of civilization. It’s a flat area that looks even flatter now.

However, it’s heartening to see the new homes, new churches, new businesses and other buildings. The human spirit is resilient. We watched two basketball games in the new high school that’s still unfinished. Like many modern high schools, it looks more like a sprawling college campus than a school for teenagers. I especially liked the gymnasium during the game Saturday afternoon. Windows line the upper level of the gymnasium, and during the day, natural light meshes with electrical lighting to produce an almost mystical aura similar to what it’s like outside after a hard rain. Too bad, the boys from Jefferson City didn’t win their championship tournament game against Francis Howell High School from the St. Louis area.

We spent more time driving around Joplin than we had planned, and I was glad. I had set my heart on eating at a barbecue joint another parent had recommended, and we drove up and down 24th Street, then 20th Street, then 4th Street, and finally under recommendation by a clerk in a convenience store, we found Big R’s on 15th Street. Great hamburgers, curly fries, and pulled pork, not to mention awesome pie.

While driving in the tornado-affected area, Jim and I quickly noticed that the tornado had destroyed not only buildings but trees. The trees that remained looked barren, even for a winter’s day. One tree, in particular, stood out.

“Stop the car,” I told my husband. “I’ve got to get a closer look at that.”

Crooked ovals painted in vibrant colors adorned its trunk and limbs. It looked like a tree version of the Edvard Munch works called The Scream. I sensed the tree was screaming in the face of adversity. Maybe, it was screaming at Mother Nature. Perhaps, “Leave us alone!”  or “Huh, you think you’re so powerful. Just you wait!”

I later found out via the Internet that multiple artists worked on the piece, known as the spirit tree. Inspired by Native American art, it gives tribute to the residents of Joplin who have rebuilt their lives as well as to the many volunteers who have helped them. I felt that the tree epitomized the resiliency of mankind.

I was intrigued. If the residents of Joplin can resurrect their lives after the tornado, I can rebuild mine after enduring seven years as a caregiver and losing my parents. In the future, when I become upset, I will try to find renewed strength by thinking of those who overcame so much. Like the spirit tree, I can scream, too.

A New Option for Christmas Trees: Holiday Trees!

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

Reach me at LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com.

For me, New Year’s Day doesn’t signify the end of the season, and I have no immediate plans to take down our Christmas tree. In fact, I am gazing at the twinkling lights right now.

The tree is looking a little worse for wear, but that’s okay. Our top branch broke on the way home from the tree farm, so we need to strengthen it with packing tape before replacing the angel. Yeah, we should have done that earlier — ideally, when we realized that the angel looked like a fallen cherubim and removed her. The tree also is looking crooked, but we can fix that, too. We already have straightened it at least once. (We’re used to the tree falling down, so a slight slant doesn’t bother us much.) Finally, half of a light strand doesn’t work, but I have so many lights on the tree, a casual onlooker probably can’t see the ones that don’t work. I may try to fix them, but my efforts might backfire.

I believe that the Christmas season stretches to at least Jan., 6, the day Christians officially celebrate Epiphany — the arrival of the three kings. But do I plan to take down the tree Jan. 6 or Jan. 7? Heck, no!

My reluctance to take down our tree stems partly from my parents’ example. They often kept it up long after Christmas. One year, they and my oldest sibling Susan, a schoolteacher, turned the Christmas tree into a holiday tree by replacing the ornaments with other decorations. I thought it was magical.

Mom gathered seasonal items from the house, and Susan shared items from her classroom, such as hearts. cupids, arrows, and flowers as well as leprechauns, pots of gold, rainbows, and shamrocks. I don’t remember for sure, but I think she also supplied cardboard eggs, chicks, bunnies, and baskets for Easter. She might have decorated for Presidents’ Day, too.

Believe it or not, our tree was live that year, like it always was. Dad must have picked an especially good one. It might even have been a recycled tree from our backyard. In the early years of their marriage, my parents picked some trees from nurseries that they could plant in the yard after the holiday season. Many of them later became Christmas trees once again.

Our holiday tree was a beautiful fire hazard. I keep hoping to open an envelope of pictures and find one or two photos of it. Fortunately, I have many of Susan’s classroom decorations, so one day, I will be able to have my own holiday tree.

Susan died in 1992 from natural causes. Nine years later, when I became the decorating chairman at my daughter’s elementary school, Mom and Dad sent me several boxes of her classroom decorations. Many of them enlivened the school day of a new generation of children.

 

Christmas Traditions Stand Test of Time

My father picked trees that were very full while my mother always wanted a tall, slender tree. This one from 1993 is both very tall and very full.
My father picked trees that were very full while my mother always wanted a tall, slender tree. This one from 1993 is both very tall and very full.

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

When my family and I sat down on a hay wagon last Sunday at Timber View Tree Farm in Hartsburg, Mo., we thought we were going to take a short jaunt to a nearby field. That’s why my husband, Jim, and I didn’t stop our son Tim from picking up our 40-pound Westie mix, Martha, and settling on the outward-facing seat of the hay wagon. However, when the driver headed in an unexpected direction and picked up speed, we feared for Martha’s life.

Over bumpy, dust-covered country roads, we rode for about 15 minutes down hill and up, around curves, and even over a creek. Tim braced himself on the red wooden bench while holding onto Martha. As the wind whipped through Martha’s strawberry-blonde fur, her eyes bugged out with surprise, anxiety, and excitement. For her,  it was like a roller coaster. Jim held onto Martha’s collar, and I held onto Tim’s T-shirt. I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally stopped at a tree-covered field we never had seen.

Visiting the tree farm constitutes one of our favorite holiday traditions. Sure, I’m not fond of prickly needles that linger well into the new year, but Christmas would not be Christmas without our tree hunt, the balsam scent of a fresh tree, and memories created from trees with scoliosis. Although these trees may look okay before we cut them down, at home, they require frequent adjustments, rocks wedged in the tree stand, and concrete slabs that tilt the tree stand at a precarious, but usually effective, angle. Do they ever fall down? Of course! (This year, though,  we picked a tree that has no trouble standing straight. We finally have learned a thing or two.)

When my parents began a family, they, too, chose live trees. They picked a small fresh tree with roots and soil bound in a burlap sack. After Christmas each year, my father planted the trees in the yard.  Years later, some of those trees became Christmas trees once more, minus the roots, of course.  Eventually, my father transitioned to buying trees from a lot, but I don’t think my parents ever would have bought an artificial tree. My mother probably would have said, “That’s not early American. ”

During the years my parents lived in Missouri, my siblings and I modified family traditions to suit their changing needs.

My sister, Elaine, bought a decorated wreath that we usually hung on their door. In Pennsylvania, my parents hung two wreaths because they had a double-door entrance. My mother adorned them with large full bows she tied herself and arranged at a jaunty angle.

In Missouri, I displayed my parents’ Nativity set at my home, in their apartment, or in one of their nursing-home rooms. Made in Italy, the set features brightly colored figures. My parents bought each piece in the 1950’s for 29 cents at a Woolworth’s five-and-dime. In Pittsburgh, we arranged the figures around the Christmas tree, usually on a snow-white sheet covering a wooden board. My mother hid Baby Jesus until Christmas Day, and the three wise men and their camels traveled around the board,  arriving at the manger on Epiphany, Jan. 6. 

In Missouri, my siblings and I also provided one or both of my parents with a tree. One year, my brother, Chip, bought a small artificial tree for my mother’s nursing-home room and decorated it with off-white wooden ornaments. The next year, I also hung a few of the cinnamon-and-applesauce ornaments I created with input from my mother. Last year, my husband suggested I set up in my dad’s room the artificial tree from his office. I think Dad liked the lights that twinkled and played Christmas carols.

My family and I also tried to take my parents to Mass on Christmas Eve, but it wasn’t always possible. In 2008 and 2010, my mother was in the hospital, and we visited her after Mass. Last year, my father had many ups and downs health-wise, but we were able to take him to the 5:30 p.m. children’s Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral. Afterward, I pushed his wheelchair to the front of the church so that he could see the life-size Nativity scene, another tradition I have carried over from my childhood. We lingered for about ten minutes, soaking in the good will and tranquility.

As I write this, I am sitting in the music room at Pioneer Trails Elementary School in Jefferson City. I am a substitute teacher, and since today is the last day before winter break, I have an easy schedule. That’s good because when I go home, I have a lot to do. First on the agenda: stringing lights on our Christmas tree. Although my father always strung lights on trees of my childhood, I put on our lights, using directions from Martha Stewart Living. I wrap the lights around individual branches, which hides most of the cords and creates a tree filled with light from trunk to branch tips. It takes hours and more cords than I care to admit. It also drives my husband nuts, especially when the time comes to take down the tree.

My mother first saw one of our Christmas trees thirteen years ago, when my oldest child was just a kindergartner. After admiring the shimmering light show, she said: “Jim did a good job putting on the lights.” I set her right. After all, some traditions are better off with a twist.

Deceased Grandfather Supported Grandson’s Athletic Endeavors

A year before my parents moved to Jefferson to live near us, we visited them in Pittsburgh. Here, Dad and Tim play a tabletop hockey game.
A year before my parents moved to Jefferson City to live near us, we visited them in Pittsburgh. Here, Dad and Tim play a game at my parents’ home.
Dad was a sports fan and a former athlete. He played football at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University, and he ran track.
Dad was a sports fan and a former athlete. He played football and ran track at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University.

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

You can reach me at LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

My husband, Jim, and I had anticipated this moment for years, and we were anxious. Tim was, too. While waiting for his name to be announced at the first varsity basketball game of the Jefferson City Jays, he leaned forward with his elbows resting on his thighs and his feet bouncing ever so slightly.

“And playing forward,” the announcer said. “No. 53. Six-foot-three junior Tim Nahach.”

Tim stood up, spun in a circle meant to simulate a hurricane, and jogged down a path created by athletes, dancers, and cheerleaders. At the end of the good-will gauntlet, he body-bumped one of his teammates. The crowd roared in approval.

I clapped and cheered as Tim and his teammates marked the first time he started as a varsity player, but the moment was bittersweet, at least for me.

“Oh, how I wish Dad could have been here,” I thought to myself.

My father, Ed Yorkgitis, was Timothy’s biggest supporter, apart from my husband and myself. Like us, he laughed at Tim’s propensity to pick up fouls. Like us, he wondered whether Tim would perfect his jump shot and play anywhere but inside. Even when Parkinson’s Disease robbed Dad of his ability to walk, use a urinal, and regularly feed himself, he usually could rouse himself to ask: “How’s basketball going for Tim?”

Last year, Dad could only attend a few games, but during Tim’s eighth-grade and ninth-grade seasons, he went to almost every home game as well as several away ones. When we drove up to his assisted-living center, he usually was waiting by the door, holding onto his walker. His hazel eyes gleamed with anticipation behind his wire-rim glasses.

At the game, we settled ourselves on the first or second row of bleachers. I helped Dad remove his coat and usually arranged it behind him to try to conceal any potential glimpse of plumber’s backside. Dad’s posture had changed so much with Parkinson’s Disease that even pants with elastic had trouble staying up and a belt could only do so much. (We would have tried suspenders, but he would  not have been able to figure them out in the bathroom.) When he stood up, my husband, I or one of our children usually stood behind him, ready to hike up his pants.

Ed was a lifelong sports fan and a one-time nimble athlete. He played football and ran track at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University. He walked quickly or jogged everywhere he went. When I was a little girl, he occasionally walked on his hands.  As recently as ten years ago, he climbed a ladder to a second-story window when we locked ourselves out of my childhood home in Pittsburgh, and until the last few years of his life, he enjoyed an occasional game of golf.

When my parents moved here in 2007, my father avidly followed many of his grandchildren’s athletic endeavors. Soccer, softball, baseball, basketball — you name it.  However, I will admit that he favored Timothy. My daughters accepted that fact long ago. It’s a guy thing. I think that he was reliving his glory years through my son.

One time, a few years ago I arrived at the dining room of his assisted-living center to hear him discussing with the other men a baseball game he was going to watch. Tim was pitching, and from what I could tell, he was building Timothy up as quite the pitcher.

“It’s exciting for a grandfather to have a grandson who plays well,” he told me while we walked down the hall.

Although Ed saw many good baseball and basketball games, Tim’s first basketball game in ninth grade stands out. He dominated the game, playing inside and grabbing one rebound after another and laying the ball up and in again and again. The guards also did a great job of feeding him the ball, and he consistently outmaneuvered the defensive player or players covering him. He scored 26 points.

“That was joyful!” Dad exclaimed at the end of the game.

He saw his last basketball game in late February or early March 2014. By then, Dad was confined to a wheelchair. He had been in and out of the hospital so often with infections, respiratory issues, and/or fluctuating blood pressure that he had been able to attend few games.

Tim played last season on both junior varsity and varsity, so we came early for the JV game. When Dad seemed alert at the end of the JV game, we stayed for the varsity game — a glorious affair complete with cheerleaders, the school band, and a boisterous crowd. I was glad that the nursing home had provided a ham sandwich, a piece of fruit and a few four-ounce cartons of thickened juice.

During the games, I pointed out when Tim entered the games and scored, but looking back, I don’t think Dad needed my help.

At one point in the varsity game, Tim picked up a charge — a defensive move that requires a player to plant himself in the path of an oncoming offensive player and not move, other than to fall down because of the “charge.”

“Tim. Tim. Tim,” the crowd chanted as Tim flopped down.

My heart stopped momentarily, but when I saw that my son was fine, I relaxed and relished the crowd’s approval. “Did you hear that, Dad?” I asked my father.  “The students were chanting Tim’s name when he picked up that charge.”

Dad smiled and nodded.

After the post-game powwow, Tim came out of the locker room to meet us.

“Good game, Tim,” Grandad told him.

“Thanks. Thanks for coming, Grandad,” Tim said.

When we left the gym, we found ourselves in an unexpected snowfall. I chided myself for having brought Dad, but I did not know that we were expecting snow. I bundled Ed in his grey gloves, green coat, and grey hat with ear flaps. When my husband pulled up in the car, I grabbed an umbrella to shield Ed. My husband drove home Tim and our younger daughter, Liz, in one car.

I drove home Dad, who stayed amazingly alert considering he had been up for several hours. As he cautioned me to slow down at stop signs and helped look out for cross traffic and slick patches of snow, I felt like I had my father of old back. When we arrived safely at his nursing home, I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked Dad for coming, and helped him get settled for the night.

Little did I know that the game would be one of Dad’s last outings. I’m so glad that I had not known about the potential for snow.

Daughter Appreciates Mother’s Sympathy after Miscarriage

My parents drove from Pittsburgh to Jefferson City in April 1995 to join us for Suzette's Christening. They managed to join us when we had our other two children baptized as well. I know they would have liked to have had another grandchild.
My parents drove from Pittsburgh to Jefferson City in April 1995 to join us for Suzette’s Christening. They managed to join us when we had our other two children baptized as well. I know they would have liked to have had another grandchild.

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach

Reach me at LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

My mother, Helen Yorkgitis, suffered from arthritis, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and other conditions. Despite her afflictions, however, she often exhibited an incredible capacity for sympathy.

One day in early 2009, I felt so overwhelmed by a recent sorrow that I had to share it with her. She was my mother, and I needed her. At her hospital bedside, I told her that I had had a miscarriage.

“Oh, Lisa,” she said. “I am so, so sorry.”

I cried then, and I am crying as I write this post. Up until that point, whenever I had told someone I suffered a miscarriage, he or she had brushed it off as if it mattered little. After all, I already had three healthy and beautiful children. Weren’t they enough?!

In spite of my mother’s illness, she showed more compassion than anyone else had, and I will be eternally grateful to her. She expressed her sorrow but did not mention my living children. She knew I was mourning another child — someone I already loved but never had the chance to meet. I didn’t want to hear about Suzie,Tim, or Liz even though I loved them as much as any mother loves her children.

Helen had not known about my pregnancy because I lost the baby very early. At my first doctor’s appointment in early December 2008, my obstetrician could not hear the baby’s heartbeat, and an ultrasound revealed that the baby’s growth did not correspond with the weeks of gestation. My baby, apparently, had died in the womb. I could have had the fetus removed surgically, but I decided to wait until I naturally miscarried. After all, I reasoned, maybe my doctor made a mistake. Maybe, my baby was still alive.

I felt the first cramps indicating the beginning of my miscarriage while walking to visit my mother. The cramps hurt so much that I had to grab onto a cement wall for support. The pain passed, and I saw Mom. At that time, I could not handle talking about what was going on, so I didn’t tell her then.

I miscarried a few days later while I was home alone. My husband had taken the kids shopping to use the gift cards they had received for Christmas. The date: Dec. 28, 2008.

My mother’s empathy stemmed, in part, from the miscarriage she experienced in the mid-1950s, but I like to think she would have been sympathetic even if she had not had a miscarriage, too.

At the time of her miscarriage, she and my father were living in a walk-up apartment in the Pittsburgh area with my oldest sibling, Susan. Like my miscarriage, Mom’s miscarriage happened within the first trimester. She wondered if all of the steps she climbed carrying baby Susan, laundry, and/or groceries hindered her pregnancy. She never found out, of course, just like I never found out what lead to my miscarriage.

As I write this, I am cooking a ham to accompany the turkey my sister-in-law is preparing for Thanksgiving Day dinner. I studded the ham with whole cloves, just like my mother taught me. My daughter Suzie is creating a glaze of orange juice, brown sugar, and mustard, just like my mother used to make.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom. I miss you. Thank you for the many ways you showed your love.

Recent Memorial Services Force Caregiver To Face Reality

Dad is enjoying breakfast with his grandson and my nephew Patrick Yorkgitis at Heisinger Bluffs, where my father lived from 2007 to 2013. Heisinger and its sister facility, St. Joseph,  held a memorial service  in honor of deceased residents.
Dad is enjoying breakfast with his grandson and my nephew Patrick Yorkgitis at Heisinger Bluffs. My father lived there from 2007 to 2013. Heisinger and its sister facility, St. Joseph, held a memorial service in honor of deceased residents. It was one of two memorial services I attended.
We celebrated Dad's 89th birthday in the craft kitchen at Heisinger's. A spacious kitchen with several tables, the craft kitchen provided the idea spot for preparing meals and celebrating holidays.
We celebrated Dad’s 89th birthday in the craft kitchen at Heisinger Bluffs. A spacious room with several tables, the craft kitchen provided the ideal spot for preparing meals, playing games, and celebrating holidays. Here, I am serving a homemade cake that consisted of an “8” and a “9.” I like how Dad is poised with the knife ready to cut himself a big piece. He appreciated the care he received at Heisinger Bluffs. (The hand in the bottom right of the picture belongs to my teenage son, Tim. He’s almost always hungry, and when cake is available, he’s the first to reach for a piece.)

By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach…..                              LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com

On a Wednesday evening in January ten years ago, my father called and told me that my sister Marianne “Mimi” Carl had died from an asthma attack. She was 47.

My left hand shook uncontrollably as Dad relayed the news. I was in shock. I remained numb as my husband, Jim, and I prepared to drive to the funeral in central Pennsylvania, about 900 miles from our home in Jefferson City, Mo. Reality did not hit until we rolled into town and passed my sister’s church. A sign announced the time and date for my sister’s funeral later that day.

“It’s really true,” I said aloud. “Mimi really did die.”

Based on my experiences, I think that the human mind allows us to suppress intense feelings until we can deal with them, usually a little at a time; however, sometimes, we receive a jolt, which forces us to face reality. These jolts often occur when we read a public notice or hear about an event in a public arena.

Earlier this month, I received two frigid blasts of reality when I attended memorial services honoring my father, Ed Yorkgitis, and others who had died within a specific span of time. Held in conjunction with All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2), the memorials occurred at the hospital where my father died and at the senior-living community where he lived for several years.

Until I heard Ed’s name read at the memorials and saw his name listed in the programs, I think I had subconsciously imagined my father on a trip – maybe to another planet — where I could not reach him. After the funeral last spring, my sense of self-preservation kicked in to allow me to continue living. Otherwise, I might have wallowed in grief over his death, sorrow over his suffering, doubt over my contributions as a caregiver, and regret about the things I did not do for him. I’m not saying I had not experienced  any of these feelings over the last several months, but I had tried to let them surface in a controlled manner. Naturally, I wasn’t always successful.

The memorials forced me to probe my feelings further than I had done in several weeks. My father really was dead, and I knew that I had to traverse considerable miles of emotional terrain. Otherwise, I would not have felt so emotionally drained on the days leading up to the memorials and for a few days afterward.

My wake-up call also made me realize that I still was trying to deal with the deaths of my mother and other family members. Some of my emotions are so murky that I can’t pinpoint them. They frequently overlap and conflict with each other. Sometimes when my feelings surface, I feel a tightening in my chest and my breathing becomes shallow. At other times, I may sob so vehemently that I scare my husband and/or children. So far, my sense of self-preservation always has kicked in. I calm down, and I set the feelings on a shelf to be examined later on.

Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.