Counting Blessings


A year ago, we had Thanksgiving in the hospital.  Followed by Christmas, and then New Year’s.  It jokingly became known as the “Holiday Trifecta” between us and the team at UVA.

Many of you remember that we had Thanksgiving in the hospital at the University of Virginia because just a couple of weeks before, Patrick had had a liver/kidney transplant.

The week before that, I had lost my mother.

There’s no real describing the enormity of those two momentous life events, especially when they come at you with such lightning speed.  Still, we had much to be thankful for last Thanksgiving. And small as our celebration was, it was, in fact, very much a celebration.

Fast forward to now, one year and five more hospitalizations later.  We are home this time and most thankful for that.  But we are also just plain grateful that there is a “we” and not just an “I”  who are celebrating Thanksgiving this year.  It might not have turned out this way.

Recently, though, as things seem to have become a bit more stable and less fraught on the health front,  I’ve felt my thoughts turning more towards my mother.  Because in life you must focus your priorities on the living, I never really was able to grieve my mom.  Lately,  however, I find myself suddenly gripped with her loss at unexpected moments.  Those moments pass – and believe me they are as physical a moment as they are emotional – but I suspect the next few months may be kind of rocky.  The beautiful thing, though, is that while I do miss her dearly, I can’t in all truth be sorry for her.  She had lived a long (just shy of 94 years), happy life.  She bore the loss of her husband of 60 years bravely for over 4 years. But she was ready to leave us.

I’m very, very lucky to have had her for so long and I count my blessings every day that I had two amazing parents.

So, getting back to Thanksgiving, I thought of this picture (above) and the most marvelous memories just came flooding back. Memories of the Thanksgivings of my childhood and youth. Every year, we went “next door” (we lived in the country, on a family farm) to our grandmother’s for a family get together and a feast of Dickensian proportions.  It would be us (4), my grandmother (she was my dad’s mom – my grandfather died just before I was born), my Aunt Marnie, and a handful of delightful older cousins (elderly Cousin Mary and her daughters, the Fletcher sisters). Sometimes “Uncle” Rowland, another relative, would join us, too.  It was a spirited and fascinating group. After we had feasted near to bursting from a groaning board of culinary delights, we would hoist ourselves up from the table for a postprandial walk down the lane so we would not collapse into a tryptophan stupor before our annual intensely competitive game of “Guggenheim” (you might call it Categories).

Anyway, this photo was taken in the early 1970s, actually I think it was probably in 1973, my senior year in college. That’s my mother on the left, my sister in the middle, and me on the right.  We were just heading off for our Thanksgiving walk when our cousin, Mary Fletcher, snapped this.

Of all the characters we were blessed to have with us on those Thanksgivings so long ago, my sister and I are the only ones left.  But the memories are so vivid that it’s impossible to be sad.  Instead, I know just how lucky I am to have had them and the folks who peopled them in my life.

So today, Thanksgiving Day 2016, I’m especially grateful for my many blessings. I hope you are feeling thankful on this day, too.

I leave you with this lovely prayer:





Hello, 2016!

DSC_0021.JPGAnd goodbye to you, 2015.  Don’t let me keep you from going out the door. You were a most trying year.

In November, I mentioned that a lot had happened but I have not had the time nor the physical or emotional energy to write about it (and even now, it’s stretching things a bit).

I hardly know where to begin.

Purposeful Path

You may remember, that the husband has been very ill since last January and, was waiting for a liver/kidney transplant.  He had jumped through multiple rings of fire to be considered a candidate with the University of Virginia’s transplant team and, in August, they had accepted him into the program.  There is a scoring system for those waiting for a liver transplant; the higher the number the closer you are to the top.  But, the higher the number, the sicker you are, too.  Patrick’s number was pretty high right from the get go and we were told that it would not be a long wait.  A mercy, since it was a constant struggle to keep him stable and out of the hospital.  You have to undergo blood testing every week.  Every week, the test results can shift and so can your number.  So, you find yourself in the weird position of hoping to get a high number when your tests come back even though that means the person is actually pretty sick.

But the “short” wait stretched into weeks and then months.

In the meantime, as I mentioned to you last summer, my 93 year old mom was failing but I was unable to go see her because I could not leave Patrick in his precarious state, especially not knowing when that transplant call would come.  What if I were not home when it came?  It was unthinkable.  And, yet, not seeing my mother again was unthinkable, too.

The week of October 19th, two things happened.  First, Patrick’s score went down, which was pretty crushing news.  And second, my sister let me know that Mom, who was at home with hospice, would not be with us much longer.

I spent the next few days trying to figure out what to do.  After a couple of days of hand-wringing, I woke up Friday morning with the certainty that I simply needed to go hold my mother’s hand once more.  So, I threw Emma P. Buttercup in the car, dropped Patrick off at dialysis, and headed home to Pintail Point, intending to come back that evening.

When I got there, I realized pretty quickly that Mom would be leaving us imminently.  As the hours crept by, I found it impossible to leave her.  So, I stayed.  Friday became Saturday; Saturday became Sunday; Sunday became Monday.

At just past 3 AM on Monday, October 26th, my beautiful mother’s soul left us to fly home.  It meant the world for me to have been there for that.

For some people, divine intervention seems ridiculous, a fairy tale.  But I know differently.  I suddenly realized that if Patrick’s score had not gone down, I would never have had the peace of mind to leave Richmond.  Had I not been able to be with Mom, I cannot even imagine how I would have been able to cope.

After the hospice nurse, our wonderful caregivers, and the funeral director left, my sister and I were left wondering what to do next.  So, at 6 AM, I got in the car and headed back to Richmond.

Wings of the Morning

Monday is blood testing day.  And on that Monday, Patrick’s score went back up.  

Eight days later, just as we were becoming really discouraged, we got THE call.  It was about 5 in the afternoon on Election Day.

We believe Mom wasted no time dilly-dallying around testing out her new angel wings.  She just made it happen.  I could feel her spirit – as well as my dad’s – riding with us in the car on our way.

Divine intervention.

By 7:30, we were in Charlottesville.  We checked into the hospital and were up all night with testing and doctors coming in and out.  And at about 7 AM on November 4th, they wheeled Patrick into the OR to receive a new liver and a new kidney.  The surgeon came out to talk to me at around 4:30 that afternoon; the surgeries (there were 3!) had gone exceedingly well.

I checked into a hotel up there for the next 11 days after which point, the team felt things were stable enough for me to come back home and start commuting back and forth.  It was a bit of a bumpy road – lots of stumbles, wild reactions to the anti-rejection drugs, lots of pain, and the very disappointing news that the new kidney just did not want to function.  This required, to our immense distress, that he go back on dialysis a few days post-op.  The liver, on the other hand, was functioning beautifully.

Apparently, it is not unusual for a transplanted kidney to be slow in “waking up” in its new home and the team continued to feel positive that things would eventually even out.

In the end, Patrick was in the hospital up there for a month.  They discharged him on December 3rd.  He continued with dialysis in Richmond and we embarked on a mind-boggling medical routine that we need to follow to the letter every day.  It consists of taking vital signs, blood sugar testing, insulin shots, and about a hundred pills to be taken.  Twice a week, we have to go for blood testing early in the morning.  In between all those things are visits from home health nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists.

By the week of Christmas, the kidney was doing much better and they decided to take him off dialysis.  This was the ultimate Christmas gift.  But the joy was short-lived as on Christmas day, complications ensued that required heading back to Charlottesville for another stay in the hospital.  He was released on the 29th but on the night of the 31st, New Year’s Eve, he felt terrible and had a temperature of over 102.  Once again, we were summoned back to UVA.  I pulled into the ER at the stroke of midnight.

By Sunday the 3rd, he was doing much better and we once again came home to Richmond.  The doctors have said that the first 6 months after transplant can be pretty rough so I have tried not to be surprised.  Nevertheless, I can see improvement – he is already so much better than he was a month ago.  It’s a bit harder for him to see it because he is tired of feeling bad and being in pain.  I have the utmost faith in the transplant team – they are phenomenal and we are so lucky to have their amazing, compassionate, intelligent care.  They are fully invested in his complete recovery and that is a real balm.

Through the whole ordeal (and make no mistake, that’s what it is) I have been in awe of and so proud of Patrick’s demeanor and ability to retain his sense of humor and kindness throughout.  The doctors, nurses, and staff all love him.

The days seem to rush by, filled to the brim with everything that needs doing on a constant basis.  That will ease, too, over time.

The “99 and 3/4 percent projects” (the kitchen/bath renovations) are pretty much done (after almost 11 months!!!) and I am so in love with them.  The final tiny dots on the punchlist were finished just yesterday in my beautul new kitchen; all is put away, pictures are hung, and I’m thrilled.  The bathroom still needs to have the walls adorned and things stowed away but that will happen soon, I hope.

Good Fortune

In the end, though 2015 was quite possibly the worst year I have ever had to slog through, it was also quite wonderful.  There is something about being in the bottom of a valley that makes you realize just how many things there are to be grateful for.  The whole year through, so many good things happened to us; and it was precisely because so many bad things happened that that is the case.  Friends stepped up in so many ways to help us. People all over the world, some of them strangers, prayed and sent messages of hope and positivity and continue to do so even today. Neighbors brought us food and took care of our animals and the house when I couldn’t be home. Show organizers showed me a great deal of compassion and sympathy when I had to withdraw from their events.  My wonderful customers hung in there, too, sending messages of support and strength.  I was able to carve out enough time in the late fall to be able to make some pieces for Beekman 1802, who I admire greatly.  I had the good fortune to be asked to make a piece to be auctioned off at a prestigious charity event in NYC, and I had one of my wreaths featured in the LA Times. Currently, I have a pretty sizable list of people who would like me to make them something and I hope to get started on that in the coming weeks.  If all goes well, I will be back on the show circuit in late April at the Nashville Country Living Fair, followed by others later in the year.

I have not yet come to grips with life without my mother but I am filled with gratitude that I had her for so long.  As I said in the piece I wrote for her memorial service, my sister and I won the parental lottery.  My mother lived a long, happy, and fulfilled life.  She is now reunited with my dad, the love of her life. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Patrick has been given an incredible and rare gift of life from an absolute stranger. He is looking forward to getting back to a healthy state of being where he can offer something back to the world.

All is good.

Happy New Year to us all.

A Beautiful Smile-green