|Report from Connie|
Since Connie's visit, Mom has spent time on our new screen porch on multiple occasions. What may look like snow in the background is Florida's substitute, sand.
Above and below: I (Blake) once learned in a layout and design class for the high school yearbook that one should not position photos so that people are looking off of the edge of the page. Oh well.
Photos taken September 22, 1999.
By Connie Williams Walsh - September 15, 1999
Note from Blake: Connie is a family friend from the Northfield People's Conference, a yearly, week-long, multi-generational, multi-denominational conference in Massachusetts which we Esselstyns attended most every year in the eighties. For decades, "Northfield" has provided an opportunity for families and individuals to learn, worship, sing, play, and develop lasting friendships. What follows is part of a message that Connie sent to the Northfield community (reprinted here with her blessing), offering a perspective from outside the family.
I returned last night from 5 days in Florida with Micki and Erik Esselstyn. A week and a half ago Erik called and asked if I could fly down and help him care for Micki while both Blake and Jody were away. He knew I was a nurse, had offered to help and had directed a hospice for 4 years. To me, it was an opportunity made in heaven.... to finally give something back to them for all they had given me. When I arrived at Northfield for the first time in 1982 Micki was my "shepherd" who helped me get my bearings. Our first Northfield meal was with her, her daughter Jody was [my daughter] Gabrielle's roommate, and she went out of her way to be welcoming to this young single mother still recovering from a painful divorce. Over the years she taught me to express my anger, to prepare healthier food, the importance of putting myself on the list of all those I cared for, to ground my fears in mother earth, to trust my instincts, and that maybe God was a She. She was, and is, everything I wanted to be: a beautiful strong authentic loving powerful woman.
I flew down 9/10 with Micki's older sister Sherry. When Erik met us at the plane we were shocked at how haggard and gaunt he appeared and caring for him became as important to us as caring for Micki. Erik has given me carte blanche to share my experience. He told me several times "Micki gets 99% of the cards and attention and that's as it should be," but I think he really needs and would appreciate Erik-focused support. I brought with me two pictures of my father: the first looking exhausted and old beyond his years as he cared for my Mother in hospice, the second taken 6 months after her death, with him looking stronger, happy and healthy again. The photos meant the world to him, gave him hope that someday, as he says, "I'll laugh again."
Micki's life takes place in her hospital bed with regular assisted trips to a bedside commode. Several weeks ago she'd been in pretty rough shape and had been put on an intravenous morphine pump. It's made a huge difference in the quality of her life. The continuous infusion keeps her headaches under control and, when she has breakthrough pain, she can give herself an extra "bolus" of morphine to handle it. She loves having direct control of her pain. Most of her other meds are now given intravenously, too, and her side effects are at a minimum. With her pain, nausea, constipation and tremors under control, she's like her old self much of the time. She can be sharp as a tack, loves a good joke, is busy wheeling and dealing with everyone's lives. "Sherry, I really think Northfield would be good for you and Downes... it's intimacy with no strings attached!" "Bear (her name for Erik) let's have a housewarming for Blake's new apartment!" "Sherry, I want you to contact the Rosewood Foundation and get the exhibit up to New England... could you open doors for them?" Truly amazing. She loves her two home health aides who care for her personal needs during the day and early evening. They are fabulously gentle and caring with her.
It's not all roses though. She can be confused. She can sleep through the day and be up all night with a poorly timed "surge" of energy. She has real trouble taking the few steps to the commode in that there can be a disconnect between the spoken instructions and her feet's response. Her appetite comes and goes suddenly. When I told her I'd prepared roast chicken she replied, "Wonderful! For my condiment I would like cranberry sauce!" Sherry drove out into the night to buy it only to have Micki lose her appetite after a spoonful. Sometimes Micki has "spells" of seizure activity where she stares unresponsively for several minutes but can still hear.
My helping consisted of giving the IV meds at times (a lengthy and exacting procedure), giving her personal care, preparing food and shopping with Sherry, sleeping in a bed near Micki "on call" so Erik could sleep in another room as long as he needed, getting her up and down to the commode, and encouraging Erik to eat, rest, etc. And Erik did eat, sleep, go out to a meeting of friends and even went jogging for the first time in months. I tried to impress upon him the lesson he and Micki taught me years ago: you'll be unable to give to others if you don't remember to care for yourself. Caregivers need care.
Watching Erik and Micki love and care for each other was almost too intimate for me as an outsider to witness. He is so patient, so gentle, tender and loving with her. She is totally dependent on him now yet he, seemingly effortlessly, acts as though she is calling the shots. They still don't agree on everything, but treat each other with a degree of respect that I've never seen before. When she is afraid he comforts her. When she's planning plans which will probably never come to pass he deftly keeps the options open. He is 110% there for her. He has been so protective of her, such a gatekeeper, that Sherry was amazed he trusted anyone else into the house. Like our Vision Quest Northfielders, I am still processing all that happened to me. I feel like a nurse again. I feel forever changed somehow... for the better. I realize that death is the great leveler...we all need love and care at the end. My only sad moments were when I had to leave... I cried like a baby with Sherry. Being there felt so great and leaving the cocoon of love and purpose was difficult for me. Leaving Micki was very hard. She on the other hand was probably relieved to see me go; I have a snoring problem and one night she called out "Connie! Turn on your side!" "Was I snoring? Micki, I'm sorry..." "Not snoring really... just heavy breathing..."
Jody is back now and Blake will be back this weekend. I got one of the last planes out before Floyd with lots of evacuees from the coast. Truly an adventure. One last blessing: Sherry and I really hit it off, worked very well together. She deeply loves her sister and worked tirelessly, quietly, in the background doing the work that needed to be done. The kind of person who often goes unrecognized for her contributions.
So thanks for letting me share. My heart is full. So, dear friends, what goes around comes around. Seventeen years ago a Northfielder began generously helping an insecure newcomer heal. This week a strong Northfielder was able to generously and gratefully give back. This community rocks. Love to all and happy new year to many, Connie
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