The Virgin Islands Caregivers Cared for Me!

We had been looking forward to going to St. Croix for months. Tim of course had looked forward to laying on the beach and swimming in the pool while I spoke at the Virgin Islands Family Caregiver Support Program retreat sponsored by the Department of Human Services. We also had big plans to visit another island by ferry or sea plane. One of the worst moments after Tim’s death was having to cancel his ticket with American Airlines and to tell the retreat planner that Tim wouldn’t be coming with me after all. I remember her screaming into the phone in disbelief and she hadn’t even met him.

When I arrived in St. Croix on Friday afternoon I wasn’t sure how I’d feel or what to expect. I knew that someone would be picking me up, but I didn’t know the person’s name or where to meet them. I was a little worried but exited the airport with the rest of the passengers. A woman walked up to me and said “Ms Veney?” And I said “Yes”! We hugged as if we’d known each for all of our lives.

The trip to the hotel was only about 20 minutes and very scenic. I got to the gorgeous hotel and the room was huge and beautiful with a balcony overlooking the pool and the ocean. With my briefcase still in my hand, I was immediately overcome with grief that Tim wasn’t with me and burst into tears! After getting myself together I stood out on the balcony and smiled because Tim absolutely would love this resort.

blog-pic-of-hotel

The retreat was held at a beautiful casino and conference center across the street from the resort. I had a couple of hours to relax on the balcony before the opening session of the retreat and dinner. I learned a lot from the first session on providing care that is safe for both the patient and the caregiver. After spending six days in the hospital with Tim, I learned the proper way to roll a patient in a hospital bed without injuring them or myself. I’m hoping I won’t have to use those skills again, but I’m happy to have learned them.

The buffet dinner was awesome. I tried kallaloo soup, a traditional Carribean dish made with fish and leafy green vegatables, and sweet potato stuffing, an amazing dish that reminded me of sweet potato casserole and tasted like a decadent dessert. Thankfully I had done my Cize workout before heading to the airport Friday morning.

My first session on Saturday morning was amazing! I gave my Being My Mom’s Mom presentation, but tailored it to the retreat theme of Building the Spirit of the Caregiver. I received a standing ovation and they said they’d love to invite me back for next year. There were lots of tears from caregivers when I shared the news of Tim’s death near the end of my presentation. I was discussing the necessity of having a plan and a backup plan when it comes to caregiving. I stated that Tim’s death was shocking for our family, and that I didn’t have a backup plan in place for all Tim did for my Mom, except for what Kim can do when she isn’t busy with her own life and with Kendal. I shared with the group that after Tim’s death, my great friend Jan Lipscomb volunteered to help with some of the things Tim used to do with Mom and how relieved I was to have her offer of help.

After the presentation I was swarmed with hugs and much love as if I was a member of the Caregiver group. It was a spiritually fulfilling and bonding time. The Dept. of Human Services staff then announced that everyone in the goup would be receiving a copy of my book which I had shipped in advance. Caregiver bags with an adult coloring book, colored pencils and my book were distributed. Everyone cheered and clapped as if they had won the lottery and an immediate line formed for me to sign their books.

The group then piled into vans for a field trip to Cramers Beach where a lunch of chicken, ribs, and salmon with lots of side dishes was prepared on the beach. The fun time was kicked off with a great Zumba session, and that was followed up with plenty of dancing and relay games in the water!! The energy in the group was amazing! They encouraged me to dance with them and I did! If you know me well you know I love to dance, and I must have danced for more than an hour! It was freeing and healing and I believe I was dancing away some of my grief!

blog-pic-2

After returning from the beach, there was another retreat session Saturday night and another scrumptous buffet dinner. After dinner I hung out at the casino with the Human Services staff and had a great time.

On Sunday morning I gave my final presentation which was the theme of the conference “Building the Spirit of the Caregiver”. It was a BLAST!! There was more laughing and tears and clapping during the entire presentation. We discussed having faith, being grateful, thankful and cherishing every moment we spend with those for whom we care. I know that this presentation was just as much for me as it was for them! It was very healing for me and I so appreciated the lively and thunderous applause from the group.

I’ll treasure forever the gifts I received from the group for my presentations. Both were made from glass by a Virgin Island artist. One is a plaque and the other is a beautiful clock which has the hibiscus flower on it.

blog-pic-3

One of the most amazing parts of the weekend for me was how it ended. After the other morning speaker spoke to the group about healthy eating, the last session was entitled “Words of Inspiration” but no speaker name was listed. Instead of having a church service that everyone could relate to and enjoy, the session was an open forum for the caregivers to share a song, a prayer, what they were feeling at that moment or their impressions of the retreat weekend. It was one of the most moving hours I’ve spent in a long time. Caregiving is hard work and the folks in attendance poured their hearts and souls into what they said or sang! I was flattered that so many of those who spoke or prayed said how strong a person I was, and how much of what I had shared with them this weekend had moved them or changed them. I didn’t speak during the last hour, because I really wanted to hear from those I hadn’t heard from over the weekend.

I came to the St. Croix a little worried about how things would go, and more specifically how I would be. I left having shared both my Mom and Tim with them and knowing that I’m a stronger person now than when I arrived. I believe I needed this trip maybe even more than the caregivers who attended. They embraced me and loved me as if I was one of their own, and by the end of the retreat as we dropped them off at the sea plane or the airport and shared many hugs, I HAD BECOME a member of their caregivers group! Thank you Virgin Island Caregivers for caring for me! I’m honored and thankful and can’t wait to see you again!

 

Advertisements

31 Years Ago Today – My Anniversary Note to Tim! 

Thirty-One years ago today we said I Do! We loved each other unconditionally and stuck together like glue.

On our first anniversary we brought our house, though it took us a while to save for a table and couch.

We worked hard and supported each other in every pursuit and event. When my book was published you loved being my “unpaid agent”. 

We laughed, played with LEGO bricks and had a fabulous life, not even my long illness could cause us strife.

For 13 years you nursed me back to health, then we traveled the world even without great wealth.

We cruised many ports and soared in hot air balloons. We rode gondolas, trains and camels too.  

We drove through Tuscany, dined in the Eiffel Tower and explored the Greek Isles. We gambled in Monaco, hiked the Swiss Alps and sailed down the River Nile. 

We renewed our vows in year twenty-five, believing we’d have many more loving years to enjoy our lives.

We brought an RV and named it Memory Maker, we toured Utah, the east coast, and the next adventure was ours for the taking.

We couldn’t have been any happier, we couldn’t have loved each other more, and then suddenly in one week’s time you were knocking at heaven’s door. (I’m sure the door is orange.)


In our final days together we shared our thoughts and feelings, I stayed strong and never left your side though inside I was reeling! 

I begged you not to leave me, but you were very sick, so God spared you any pain and the call to take you home was quick. 

I miss your wide grin,incredible hugs and amazing cooking skills. In Memory Maker II you’ll be with us forever experiencing all of our family thrills. 

I’m devastated that you’re gone, but I feel so blessed too. It’s ok if I never love another because I had a lifetime of love with you. 

You’re God’s angel now Tim, so enjoy your new role. Thank you babe for loving me with all your heart and soul! Happy Anniversary! 

A Team of One!

If you ever ran into Tim and I when we were camping, you probably heard us before you saw us. There’d be laughing and joking and teasing. There was squealing when we rode our bikes or cheering when I made a great turn in Memory Maker I. We were a Team of Two.

I’d been sick for a few days before I picked up Memory Maker II on Friday and drove it home. I realized I probably wasn’t really sick, but instead was anxiety-filled over the first huge purchase I’d made without Tim. I was also terrified about driving it home solo….Who would tell me I was doing a great job, or that I needed to slow down or pay attention to my mirrors? For 36 miles, I was a Team of One, trying to encourage myself that I could do this! But I could still hear Tim’s voice saying “I’m right here in the passenger seat”. Good thing too, because a few people cut me off on the highway but I stayed calm through it all. I was really surprised when I arrived safely because I didn’t have one problem driving Memory Maker II home.

I could see the end of the RV in the mirrors, and the backup camera is spectacular! My confidence was high. I was proud. But when I got out of the RV as a Team of One, there was no one to hug or high-five with… (though my neighbor across the street came over and took my picture with Memory Maker II.) So what did I do? I burst into tears right on the sidewalk…I was happy, sad, proud, and nauseated all at the same time. I cried and cried until I couldn’t cry any more. I then spent about 7 hours over the weekend getting to know Memory Maker II and reading some of the briefcase full of instruction manuals on operating everything contained in the RV. A Team of One might be ok, and it’s better than no longer camping right?

On Saturday, I had planned to go see my Mom. But I didn’t. I stayed in and worked. Why? Because on this weekend, I wanted and needed my Mom. My Mom who could give me a hug and understand what I’m going through. I wanted her to listen to how I feel and tell me that she was there for me. As much as I love my Mom, I’ll admit that I this weekend I didn’t want to see the Mom she is today, I wanted my Mom from years ago, the best listener ever! I’ll go tomorrow instread to see her, because I’m almost back to my reality that Mom is probably going to be different every day for the rest of her life, but she’ll still always have the title of being my Mom.

Fast forward from Friday to Sunday. If you know me at all, you know that I’m a huge football fan. I dream of the opening weekend of football every season. While I’ve been a life-long Skins fan, I’ll watch any two teams play on any day. Yet I was very aware that I hadn’t watched one second of a pre-season game and didn’t see one snap of football yesterday. I was dreading this season like the plague. Sundays were our favorite day! We’d spend from the time we got home from church until late Sunday night watching football!! Tim and I would discuss play calling, penalties, and commentators, not your typical standard conversation for husbands and wives! Tim would make snacks or an amazing cheese tray and we’d have a ball scrutinizing every play as if we were a paid commentator!!

Of course I was very aware that the Skins were playing tonight. I got home from work and began to do other work… Prep for presentations and my upcoming security course in October. As 7pm arrived I got more and more anxious…. would I watch, how would I feel?? Then I got a text from, Alvin the best man at our wedding, wishing the Skins well…. so I turned to ESPN…. I’m not wearing my Skins hat, sneakers or jersey…The players came out on the field. That’s always when Tim and I would go over the game plan as if we were coaching (and they’ve never done anything we recommended!!). Tonight I didn’t feel excited, and as the National Anthem started I began to cry (and not because of the recent protests over the anthem.). I wanted my Team of Two back, the best crazed football fans ever! (you’d agree if you’ve ever watched or attended a game with us)… but my Team of One would have to do. I switched back and forth between the game and my favorite Investigations Channel, which I’d never ever do in the past.

I am learning a lot about grief, and it’s most certainly about doing things you’ve never done before, because you’re having feelings you’ve never had before. Now that it’s the third quarter of the game, I’m trying my best to embrace the Team of One. I had a piece of Tim’s favorite cheese in his memory, and cheered a first down. That’s all I can muster at this point, but it’s a step and I’m happy with any forward progress (notice the football analogy). I’ll probably go to bed in a few and look forward to the new day tomorrow. Who knows, maybe next game I’ll wear Tim’s favorite jersey – then at least I’ll be a Team of One with an Angel! Love and Miss you Tim!

“Why Are You Still Wearing Your Wedding Ring?”

Yep, someone actually asked me that this week…AND pointed out that Tim had died more than a month ago so therefore I should take the ring off. For an instant, I thought about hitting the person, a violent thought that I’ve rarely had in my life. Instead, I walked away.

But then I thought about it for a moment…is there some rule I don’t know about that says I need to take my ring off after a certain period of time?? Hmmmm, I had no idea. So I did what most of us do when we have a question, I Googled it!! There was an amazing amount of information on this topic, and I read a lot of it. There’s all kinds of advice, including  widows and widowers sharing their feelings on removing their rings, or not. Bottom line, it’s a very individual and personal decision.

Tim gave me the wedding band I’m wearing at our 25th anniversary vow renewal. I remember the day like it was yesterday! Kim and our nephew Damon who were in the original wedding stood up with us, as did our awesome friends and neighbors of more than 20 years, Jim and Mary Gilewski. We had the best event coordinator in the world in Pontheolla Mack Abernathy who created a spectacular ambiance and the best preacher who knew us inside and out in Paul Roberts Abernathy who perfectly captured in his words the then 25 years of married life Tim and I had shared! People who were at the event still talk about it today!


My truth is that I need this ring right now, so please don’t ask me about taking it off!! Here’s why I’ll be wearing it for the foreseeable future…

Tim picked this ring out with his heart and soul and gave it to me.

When I look down at my ring, I still feel loved, protected and comforted by him.

It brings me peace when I’m alone and scared at night. 

And MOST importantly, It’s a part of me and I’d feel naked and vulnerable without it. 

When you’ve already lost your soul mate the last thing in this world you want is to feel naked and vulnerable too! So when you see me, plan on seeing the ring too! Miss and love you Tim!