An Arm or a Leg

Experiencing the death of a spouse, child, parent or other loved one can be excruciatingly painful. When a loved one dies, it can feel like a piece of you is missing. You hear people say that losing someone they love is like losing an arm or a leg. In other words, it’s as bad as if they had lost a limb, a part of themselves. I have lost people I loved. It was difficult, and painful.

I have also lost the use of parts of me. That was and is a loss that hugely impacts my life. These body parts of mine are part of my everyday life and have been loved. People and things become more dear to you the longer you’ve had them in your life, and I had had my legs all my life. Since I lost the use of my legs, I miss them and long for them every day. The memories of things we did together are endless. We walked, travelled, hiked, and explored. We climbed castle walls and walked through catacombs. We waded in the waters of the ocean and worked the pedals to fly an airplane. We walked my babies in the middle of the night and ran to catch my toddlers during the day. My legs took me up and down stairs, into any building, and inside of normal vehicles. Without the use of my legs, I mourned the freedom of walking out the door of my home, of driving a car, of being able to do many things I loved. My legs didn’t die suddenly, it was a gradual withering away of use, similar to watching a person slowly die of cancer or old age. The transition to life without them was overwhelming at times.

When a loved one dies, it is life changing and requires adjustment from the way life used to be. It feels you cannot do the same activities that you’ve always enjoyed. Although it’s never the same, in time you do resume your life. It is possible. The loss of my legs prevents me from ever participating in some of the same activities again.

I understand the parallel people refer to when saying that losing a loved one is like losing a limb. For me, losing a limb, or two, was a terrible time of required grieving. I believe that the grief in that loss is as real and as debilitating as the death of another person. The loss cannot be forgotten, not with circumstance or time. Others may not understand.

As a group of us sat around a table, a young man was telling us about a friend who had lost a loved one and the impact that the loss was having on him. I shared that I know and understand the necessary process of grief after any loss and I referred to my own experience with grief after losing others and as I watched pieces of myself die. A set of eyes looked at me, half confused and half angry, and with criticism in his voice he declared ”It’s not the same thing!”, inferring that losing parts of myself was not as devastating a loss as losing a loved one. Then everyone else at the table walked away….WALKED AWAY, because I made a comparison that, in their opinion, did not compare at all. My intention was to help them understand the friend who was going through the process of grief. My experience and opinion were discounted by those at the table. The lack of willingness from others to hear, understand and learn from my experience was a form of rejection, and it compounded the difficult adjustment I was facing.

The young man was right. Losing two legs is not the same as the death of a person who is special to you. The losses are different, but grieving is required for both. Circumstances vary, and it may be different for each individual.

People say that losing a loved one is as difficult as losing an arm or a leg. I say losing an arm or a leg is as difficult as losing a loved one.

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Texas Birdhouses

We lived in Texas for four years, a long time for a military family. The nice neighborhood we lived in had a lot of military families, so neighbors came and left often. I believed an exception to the transient lifestyle was the older couple who lived next door. They were good people and good neighbors. We exchanged pleasantries and occasionally had longer conversations. After we had lived there for about a year, we were sad to see a “For Sale” sign go up in front of their house.

It didn’t take long for the house to sell, and the older couple was preparing to move. I saw the man outside one day and he seemed to be deep in thought. He told me that he had made bird houses, one for each of his grandchildren, labeled them with their names, and placed them on the posts of their privacy fence in their backyard. When the kids visited, they would run out to check their birdhouses for activity. The grandkids, he said, were asking about their birdhouses and wanted to know what would happen to them when their grandparents moved.

The grandfather felt, in good conscience, that they should stay with the house. After all, he reasoned, they were affixed to the property; and according to real estate contracts, such things should stay with the property for the next owners. He was also concerned about disturbing any nests that birds may still be using or might return to. He was conflicted between what he reasoned was legally right and what his heart wanted to do.

I don’t recall if he asked what I thought, or if I simply offered my opinion; but there was no question in my mind, no question at all, that they should take the birdhouses with them. If the new owners wanted birdhouses, they could easily buy some new ones. They could place new birdhouses wherever they wanted to, but his grandkids’ birdhouses were irreplaceable for his family and should go with them to be enjoyed for many more years. I was glad when I saw that the birdhouses had moved with the older couple.

That conversation took place in 1996. Some of the details are fuzzy, but I still remember it. Twenty-six years later, I have two of my own grandchildren, and there are more to come…..so I bought some birdhouses.

We will label them with our grandchildren’s names and we will place them on the posts of our privacy fence in our backyard. And when the time comes for us to move, there will be no question, no question at all, that we will take them with us.

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Goodbye, Hello

I have a friend whose body is stricken with a condition other than MS, but her struggles are similar to mine.  She made a comment once about how she and I both “must repeatedly say goodbye to body parts”. Her wording explained so simply, yet so profoundly, the necessity of grieving losses.  As our physical abilities decrease, our choices become more limited. We know that that’s the way it is with a progressive illness.

One of the things I used to enjoy doing was cooking.  Cooking is, in a way, creating, and it improves with experience; so it’s both an art and a talent.  Being a stay-at-home mom for many years, I had certainly invested a lot of time in preparing meals.  Now, with MS having taken away many of my abilities, tasks such as cooking have transferred to others.  As duties were being shifted, and still today, I was and am challenged with explaining in words, both simple and complicated tasks that had become second nature to me.  It’s usually easier to do a task ourselves than to explain how to do it to someone else. Translating actions into words can be a challenge, especially actions that have been so repetitive and routine that they were done without even thinking.  Describing actions, when the task cannot be demonstrated, stretches my patience.

When my eyesight and other abilities were changing, I decided to type and print my favorite recipes and put them in document protectors inside of a binder. The sheets can be taken out and put on the counter or hung from a cupboard pull.  As I used them, I made notes to indicate how I personalized the ingredients and/or instructions.

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The recipes are also in a file on my computer called “Kerri’s Cookbook”. Because of that, they can be changed or shared easily.

Mr. Legs and I plan meals together now. We use many of the same recipes I used when cooking by myself. Having them quickly available, and easy to read with notes, has been helpful. He has adjusted them to his liking, added his notes and made them his own. He finds healthier ingredients and has a special knack for presentation. It’s easy to give my compliments to the chef here.

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I am grateful for the many years I could carry out tasks. And now, after I have said goodbye to some body parts and abilities, I have said hello to the new cook in the house and am grateful that Mr. Legs is so capable and willing to complete many tasks for us.

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Additions and Subtractions

Inventions through the years have changed the way people live, but none as dramatic in my lifetime and for me as the internet.  The internet has added great access to information and the speed at which it is available.  What used to take hours or days to gain knowledge through physical visits to the library and scouring through books can now be found by tapping a few simple keyboard buttons in your own home.

In houses around the country and in libraries everywhere, encyclopedias used to be lined up or stacked on bookshelves.   Each book in the set was designated for one letter or more of the alphabet, and the books explained/described almost anything you were curious about.  

My family had a set prominently displayed and available for homework assignments or to simply satisfy a curiosity to learn more about anything.

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Mr. Legs’ family also owned a set. Theirs was a gift from a grandfather who sold them. The photo below shows him with his display at a local fair.

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Those heavy books, along with a plethora of other paper, are no longer needed because they have been replaced by machines and screens that deliver information instantly before our eyes.  All that is needed is a light touch of a fingertip or a verbal question, and a list of resources rushes to your disposal. The convenience afforded to us now is almost surreal when someone my age or older considers the changes that have taken place. JoAnne Simon aptly says “Our information source has gone from World Books to a world box.”

Generations before the internet could never have imagined how easily and quickly it would be to access information today; and generations after this may find it difficult to imagine the steps that used to be necessary to achieve results even close to that of using the internet. Only those of us who have experienced life both before and after the internet and the changes it brought can fully grasp its impact on our daily lives.

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We must be discriminatory about sources, and we must also be aware of and on our guard for scamming, cat fishing, cyber bullying and more; but we can enjoy the conveniences of the technology we have with information instantly available and even premade pictures to express emotion. We’ve gained so much in the realm of knowledge availability and time saved, but we have lost things too.

Our libraries are quieter.  Shopping online alone is replacing trips to the store with family and friends. Social media is everywhere but our in-person social networks seem smaller and our personal conversations seem fewer.  We now send texts to schedule phone conversations.  Convenience seems preferred over personal interaction. Email has been replacing handwritten letters. In fact, the printed word has mostly overtaken handwriting in general. Everything is faster and more convenient, but is it better?

We, as a human race, may (even if unknowingly) miss the things that are being replaced.  I, personally, am missing handwriting the most.

As a face represents a person, handwriting is a visual representation of the personality that drew the strokes. Unique to each of us in size, shape and style, handwriting with its curves and loops is a symbol of the person who wrote it. I think back to the many times that written communication arrived in the daily mail. The immediate recognition of penmanship on an envelope created excitement. When email arrives, I recognize the name, but there is no personality in the printed letters – no jump to a facial image because of the custom strokes on paper, just letters of the alphabet. A typed word and a handwritten word convey the same thinking, but there is more substance, more meaning, to them when a pen in hand reflects personality.

Some people still send thoughts the old-fashioned way, and I appreciate the extra time they take to hand write a message, address an envelope, affix a stamp on it, and physically send it off.

I have kept special letters sent to me. When my eyes see my name on the envelope and my hand holds them, I identify the sender by their unique style of writing, which is shown in the slant of each stroke, and I sense the connection of relationship. Letters from those now physically gone are a material memory that stirs emotion. My email inbox’s typed letters, even with emoji’s, is not and never will be the same.  Emails, texts, and documents, they are all “digits that eventually disappear in cyber dust”, says Mr. Legs.

With the advancement of technology, it seems the art of cursive may eventually fade away completely. That thought brings about many unanswered questions. What would our signatures look like then? With no physical piece of paper in envelopes to touch, will there be love letters to keep and cherish? Will graphology/graphanalysis still play a part in solving crimes?

I appreciate my computer, my “world box”, and all of its conveniences; but I do miss the special connections of yesterday’s handwriting.

For those at an age to remember, is there anything you miss from your pre-internet days?

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Hotel Review-HOMEWOOD SUITES, KC AIRPORT

In March of 2021, we stayed at the Homewood Suites in Kansas City. The suite had a living area (similar to the picture below) that was a great setup for having a meal together with family who met us there.

The bedroom was lovely. The motorized draperies were a fun surprise.

The space between the end of the bed and the dresser was rather narrow, allowing my wheelchair to barely get by, and making turning around a challenge, but it did work.

The bathroom sink area had a large counter. The front seemed low, but the sink was reachable and the large mirror was practical.

The shower configuration of flip-up bench, controls, nozzle, sprayer, soap dish and grab bars was very user friendly for both able and disabled guests.

The grab bars at the toilet were generous and well placed.

We were very pleased with our room there, especially the well-designed bathroom. We also appreciated the great breakfast there and will definitely stay there again.

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What Were the Odds?

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of a story that my friend Jim shared with my son who was embarking on his own military journey.

It’s a war story, but a love story at the same time. One might think they wouldn’t go together, but when the darkness of war surrounds people, the light of love is magnified. Adding Christmastime to the story makes it magical.

Here is a picture of Jim’s story. It is typed below the picture for easier reading.

“As a member of the Army Armed Forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations – a Tank Battalion –  attached to New York’s famous and finest Infantry Division during WWII, I can honestly tell you that war is hell. There’s just no way getting away from that.

            But I can also truly add that following Japan’s dastardly air attack at Pearl Harbor – of which most of us didn’t even know of its location prior to the attack – we very clearly understood that there would be no choice as to whether or not we’d rapidly become involved in a counterattack. It took just a month or so short of five years, but no one even thought of getting back home until the war was won. Sure we wanted to get home, but until we defeated Hitler and his Allies including Japan, we knew we were in for the duration no matter how long it would take.

            As we hip-hopped across the Pacific, recapturing island after island – for our outfit it was Guam, Leyte and Manila in the Philippines, Hiroshima, just off of Okinawa and Okinawa itself – we knew our next battle would be the Japanese Island itself until President Truman, thank God, had the courage to order the atomic bombing of Japan itself. Sorry about those who felt it wasn’t necessary, but as far as I’m concerned, it saved millions of lives, mine included.

A very interesting miracle sideline is worth hearing at this point, with which I’m sure you will agree “When we arrived at Leyte – it was Thanksgiving Day – we came in under a Jap air attack until our faster air fighters coming in pairs, attacked their fighters, knocking them out of the sky, a beautiful sight to see, granting us free access onto the island. Shortly thereafter, we received a message from MacArthur congratulating us on our safe arrival and promising us we would not miss our Thanksgiving meal. He added that unfortunately one of the Jap bombs hit and sunk the lone cargo ship carrying our Christmas gifts, so we should prepare ourselves for this disappointment. Well disappointments are a part of fighting a war so we knew we’d live with it.

            True to his word we got our Thanksgiving dinner the day before Christmas and the next day our Christmas dinner. A week later on New Year’s Day night I, along with a buddy was assigned guard duty from midnight till 2 AM. It was a beautiful moonlight night and moonlit nights are like daylight in the Pacific, when in the distance I saw something white reflected by the moon’s light. Approaching it carefully my buddy warned me to be careful or it might be a buried hand grenade. But I said “No, it can’t be, because a hand grenade is black and this is white. Still I did approach it carefully, getting down on my knees with my arms outstretched as far as I could get them, I carefully dug under the item when up popped a very soggy brown papered box, out of which popped a very soggy wrapped Christmas box, out of which stuck this very white item reflected by the moonlight. Reaching for its top I lifted it from its Christmas box and in my hand I held a silver ID Bracelet, one side of which was engraved with my name and serial number, and the other side “With my love, HEW“, my wife’s initials, a term of endearment that I gave her because she did not like the name of Hazel.

            Call it what you like but I call it a miracle from God. What are the odds not only that I should be the one to find this box, but that the box should belong to me?

            And here’s the kicker. Three months later, now in Okinawa, I finally get a response from my wife acknowledging receipt of my letter explaining how I received my ID bracelet, to which she simply wrote “What happened to the cookies“?

            And that’s the way it is with my wife. She firmly believes that the less said keeps her out of trouble.”

Hazel and Jim Kistler

Jim’s writing can also be seen in several of my blog posts titled Treasured Traditions, starting here: https://climbingdownhill.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/a-treasured-tradition-part-1/

[NOTE: The story shown and quoted above is not my own, but expressly belongs to the Jim and Hazel Kistler family and is not to be copied without permission or proper credit given.]

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Treasure Box of Memories

One holiday season, as Christmas was approaching. I wanted to do something meaningful for our mothers. Gone were the days when they needed things. Plants and flowers get repetitive. What our mothers had done for us through the years was treasured, and I wondered what we could give them that would convey our love and gratitude for them.

These are the kind of images I think of when I hear the word treasure.

So I set out to make our own treasure box. I found small boxes that resemble a treasure chest (see below – pretty close, right?). From a gold colored posterboard, I cut circles small enough to look like coins, but big enough to write a message on. The family came together at the table. We thought of favorite memories and things we appreciated and wrote them on the circles.  

We glued pictures on the other side of some of the circles, and gold foil covered chocolate coins on others.

It was fun to make the coins. When they were all done, we put them in the box.

We put a note on the top to explain the contents. It read:

“Life’s true treasures are the priceless memories we hold in our hearts. They shape us, strengthen us and motivate us. Thank you for the memories you have created in our lives.”

We mailed the boxes across the miles and imagined our mothers opening the boxes on Christmas morning and reading the memories.

My mother-in-law passed from this life last year. When she had moved from her home, we found the box on her dresser, just as we had given it to her. I hope she felt loved by the box she received that Christmas years ago. It’s not the price of the gift or the wrapping, it’s the thought put into it.

To make a box like this, you will need:

– 1 Box (Hobby Lobby has a good selection)

– Poster board – I used two-sided silver and gold (found at Staples). We made about 50 circles 2 1/2″ in diameter (I used a drinking glass as a template).

– Gold foil covered chocolate coins (I saw them at Big Lots this year).

– Scissors. glue, glue gun and markers

– Pictures to cut

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Windows to Weather

There’s a window in the front of my house. When I look out of it, some days I see the sun shining bright and some days it competes with clouds. Some days water sprinkles from the sky, while other times it falls in sheets, waving with the wind. In winter months, the snow might fall slowly as if dancing to the ground, or fall harder and faster as if it is racing to meet a deadline. During autumn, leaves can be still, slowly float to the ground, or swirl wildly in the air. Wind, temperature, sunlight, precipitation, humidity, barometric pressure – they all play a role in how the weather looks and feels.

There is another window I have. This one I look into. It’s the window to my spirit. If I look intently enough, I can assess the climate and determine the forecast for the day ahead. The state of my spirit has as many varieties as the weather outside. Happiness, stress, guilt, excitement, pain, sadness, fear, anger – they all play a role in how my spirit’s weather feels.

I cannot control what weather Mother Nature blows my way. Some days are destined to be gloomy outside. The gloomy days make the days with sunshine brighter. John Steinbeck said “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” Both the rain and sunshine are needed to make a rainbow. That’s true for the spirit also. Difficult days make the simpler ones easier to appreciate. Just as I have no control over what Mother Nature sends as weather, I have no control over many circumstances in my life. However, I can influence, and indeed determine, the weather of my spirit at least to some degree (pun intended). Some days it is especially hard to do.

Below are some words that remind me to choose the weather of my spirit instead of allowing circumstances to determine my personal forecast for the day. I hope they help you too.

Stitched message made by my mother-in-law
Stitched message made by my dear friend Melissa

QUOTES FOR A SUNNY DAY: (Credit is given where credit is known.)

After every storm there’s a rainbow, no matter how long it takes to show up. -Grace V., Ohio, on Dove chocolate wrapper

Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect.  It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.  -Gerard Way

Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie

Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity. -J. Sidlow Baxter

Get rid of stinkin’ thinkin’ in your life.

Happiness doesn’t come from doing what we like to do but from liking what we have to do. -Wilford Peterson

Happiness is an internal issue, not an external circumstance.

Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.

He who lives for himself will have small troubles, but they will seem to him great.  He who lives for others will have great troubles, but they will seem to him small.  This is the spirit that is called Christmas.  – E. Paul Hovey

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life.  -Henry Thoreau

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions. -Stephen Covey

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. -Jimmy Dean

I find that it is not the circumstances in which we are placed, but the spirit in which we meet them that constitutes our comfort.

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough. -Oprah Winfrey

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. -Aristotle Onassis

It’s easier to act yourself into a feeling than to feel yourself into an action.

Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your blessings in stone.

Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you do hold well. -Josh Billings

Life is like a piano, what you get out of it depends on how you play it. -Tom Lehrer

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. –Charles Swindoll

Live life in the moment as if you only have today to live, but learn as if you are going to live forever. -Ghandi

Make the most of the best and the least of the worst. -Robert Louis Stevenson

No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is. –Ernest Hemingway

Thankfulness becomes your barrier between you and anger, bitterness, envy, strife.  It doesn’t let them in the door.  – A Thankful Heart is a happy Heart.

The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything.  They just make the best of everything. -Andreas Tsatoumas

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

The rich person is not the one who has the most, but is the one who needs the least.

The winner says it may be difficult but it is possible.  The loser says it may be possible but it is too difficult.

Things work out the best for those that make the best of the way things work out.

We can’t choose what happens to us in life, but we choose how to tell the story.

What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity?  Our attitude toward it.  Every opportunity has a difficulty; and every difficulty has an opportunity.  – J. Sidlow Baxter

What life means to us is determined not so much by what life brings to us as by the attitude we bring to life; not so much what happens to us as by our reaction to what happens.  -Lewis L.Dunnington

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. -Plutarch

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. -Henry Ford

When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life you have a thousand reasons to smile.

When things go wrong, you don’t have to go with them.

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. -Henry Ford

Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, and its power of endurance.  The cheerful man will do more in the same time, will do it better, will persevere in it longer, than the sad or sullen.  -Thomas Carlyle

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet. OR You can be sad you don’t have shoes or be grateful that you have feet.

You can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

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Merci Train Car

Sitting on our state’s fairgrounds is a train car with an written explanation.

This train car grabbed my attention. After learning more about it, it grabbed my heart. For it proves that even after things as senseless and barbaric as war, there is love.

In 1947, after World War II, $40 million in relief supplies were sent to France and Italy by Americans. Seven hundred carloads of food, fuel, and clothing, donated by the citizens of the United States brought relief toward Europe.

In response, two years later, a French rail worker and war veteran initiated a French thank you train project. The Gratitude Train, a gift from France, contained 49 box cars, each filled with gifts to the people of the United States from the people of France. Those cars were distributed to our states.

In a world where war is threatened and hate often seems rewarded, I am drawn to the generosity and gratitude expressed between two countries and their people.

Love and hope ring loudly through the actions shown in this little known part of history. I cling to the goodness of humanity shown here, knowing it still exists in many, if not most, people. It’s a story worth telling and retelling.

Some states’ boxcars have been destroyed or lost; but most states still have one, and the location of yours can be found at this website:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merci_Train

I hope that the picture of this train car and the story summary behind it give you an interest in knowing more, and that it provides encouragement to you in the circumstances of our world and even in your own difficult personal situations.

Love is found in surprising places.

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