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Archive for the 'Family' Category

Riley Claude Prestenback

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Riley Claude Prestenback,
my grandfather, and the man I consider my 'father who raised me'...

Dec 9, 1926 - Jun 5, 2009

...I found this just this morning.  I must have written in shortly after his passing but it still expresses how I feel today.  I miss you so much....

I watched you take your last breath, I whispered encouragement and 'we love yous' as your spirit fled the confines of your broken body.

I was blessed to experience your transition with you; the palpable peace that filled the room connected you and I irrevocably and, for quite some time, all I knew was peace and contentment; it stayed with me for weeks afterward - a light weight in my heart, a buoyancy in my step. I was one with the Earth and everyone in it; I had experienced the peace of dying; of transitioning from one phase of eternal life to the next. I knew we lived on; and I knew, in the end, *everything* would be all right for everyone! I carried this in my heart as one might carry a treasured object in their pocket.

Slowly, it leeched out of me; reality rushing back in to chase out any remaining hope and joy; as it does. I remember it, but I cannot touch it - it is a dim memory that fades the closer I get to it. One isn't meant to live in a state of total bliss; not until their mind is ready for such, anyway. There is a life to live, reality to deal with, pain and suffering to mourn over.

None of this means a damn thing, when all I really wanted to say was that I miss you so much and I wish you were still here and that in some ways you totally are b/c it is NOT REAL to me yet that you are gone - it can't be. Goddamit, you were supposed to live forever! I thought we'd have you for decades yet, Pa-Pa! None of us were ready for you to go, and - though it has brought us closer - it has also killed something in all of us. You meant so much to so many people, so much to each of us in a special, unique way.

You left this world as a gentleman - who always knows when to leave - just as you lived your life. My Clark Gable-ish grandfather, as I read aloud at your funeral for your eulogy, and everyone smiled and nodded. There was no one else like you in the world and there never will be; you were made of special stuff and we were so so blessed to have been a part of that, a part of your family.

You were the best grandfather a girl could ever ask for, that is for sure! You taught me so much - how to dance, how to drive a car. I used to love going to work with you to the restaurant! I remember your reading to me when I was little, your voice so soft and your intoning just perfect for whatever passage you were reading. You loved to read - a noble trait you passed on to your daughter, who passed it on to all three of her children.

The last thing you said to me was correcting me when I joked - while you lay in the hospital bed with a blue cap on and a gown - that all you needed was your Elizabeth Taylor's "Passion" and you'd be ready to hit the town and visit all the old ladies.

"No," you corrected me, seriously but in a quiet, rasped voice because you were hurting and scared, "I'm wearing Polo Black now."

Just before that, when the doctors and nurses were crowded in that little room, detailing all kinds of crap to you and things you had to sign, you glanced around the doctor and met my eyes as I stood against the wall. You made that "I have no idea wth they're talking about" face and shrugged your shoulders. A total "screw it" expression with the shrug, and I laughed at you, like you wanted, and you smiled.

I was rushing to get to the hospital when they admitted you. They'd told me they were sending you straight to surgery and I couldn't see you. Thankfully, I had about 10 mins in the room with you and the family - I remember rushing in and relief flooding me just as panic swooped in - seeing you lying in a hospital bed; you were always so hale...this couldn't be happening. Mom says you smiled when I came in the room; I didn't see, but I don't doubt it. You knew your "Gypsy" would come, didn't you? Wouldn't have missed it for the world, Pa. It was the last time any of us saw you alive and conscious. I wish I could go back to that moment, to that room. I told you I loved you a few times, I joked with you to lighten the mood and even made you laugh a few times...I don't know what I'd do different if I'd known what would happen...if I'd known you'd have a stroke on the operating table and never wake back up. I just wish I had those few moments back.

I shouldn't be posting this, b/c Mom might see it - and she can't read anything like this about you right now; not yet. She wants to read the eulogy, she says she can remember bits of it but her mind was so jumbled she wants to actually sit and read it...someday. She isn't ready. Like me, I don't think she's ready to face the fact that you simply aren't here anymore. It doesn't fit, it doesn't seem right.

This is long and rambling, and I apologize to any that choose to read it. I just let the words come out, I needed to get them out - I hope you understand. I miss him so much.

My Little Sister’s Wedding

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Tomorrow, on October 3rd, 2009, at 5pm, my little sister, Amber, will be getting married.  I am honored to be the maid-of-honor at this event, one of the most important in her life, and Amber's fiance, Blake, has asked Baret to be his best man.  It will be a day of laughter and tears, smiles and longing.

Though he will not be with us in the flesh, none of us have a solitary doubt that our beloved Pa-Pa Riley will be there in spirit.  There's no way in this world - or any other, for that matter - that he'd miss one of his grandchildren's weddings.  Amber will have him close at heart and hand by wearing a pin he was fond of and wrapping one his handkerchiefs around the stem of her red rose bouquet.

The wedding will be fairly small (around 50 or so people) and intimate, at The Dreyfuss House in Livonia, Louisiana.  We are hoping for fair weather - no rain and some cool air to keep off the warmish humidity that has seeped back into the atmosphere after this week's earlier cool.  We will miss the full moon by one night, but that lovely, opaque orb will be high and bright enough to still cast a lovely glow among the guests choosing to socialize on the outside patio.  Indoors will be hot jambalaya, plenty of good food and treats, and of course, the gorgeous wedding cake - the work of Mom, Amber, and our stepfather, Tommy.

I cannot wait to be able to post back here with photos of the blushing bride - my sister is a consummate blusher, being so very shy, so I'm sure she'll have no problems filling that age-old tradition!  I've seen her once in her dress, and she was absolutely beautiful.  I cannot wait to see my future brother-in-law (my first anything-in-law, actually!) looking all dapper in his suit with his twinkling blue eyes that are always filled with sweet mirth.  They will be the most lovely just-married couple this side of the bayou, if I do say so myself.

And now, I am off to get some beauty rest before the big day.  It all starts fairly early, with Baret and I doing some last-minute running around before I go in for a mani/pedicure at 9am and Baret, a haircut.  From there, I rush to Maringouin to start helping Mom with the food trays while Amber and Amy, the matron-of-honor, start getting hair and make-up worked on.  Baret will be running all over Baton Rouge, picking up the keg, last minute items that can only be gotten in Baton Rouge, and (ssshh!) some things to "decorate" the couple's get-away car.

Look forward to photos and details on Sunday!

The Peaceful End

Friday, June 5th, 2009

After a short yet arduous journey that began - suddenly - last Wednesday, Riley Claude Prestenback, on June 5th, 2009 and at 5:12am, took his final breath and completed a sojourn on this planet that began eighty-two years ago on December 9th, 1926.

A gentleman always knows when to leave.

A prideful, private gentleman until the very end, I will simply say - for now - that his passage into the next stage of his eternal life was gentle and palpably peaceful.  I stood at his bedside, softly whispering words of love and encouragement as I stroked his silken hair; the lone, living sentinel aiding him in his serene transition and the final witness to the loosing of his Earth-bound ties.  It was a beautiful moment that has irrevocably altered my perceptions on life and death and profoundly altered my heart in infinitesimal ways.  It was an honor to see him to the end of his road; to bid him the final farewell as his spirit soared - free - to dimensions I, for the briefest of precious moments, glimpsed as he fled the prison his body had so recently become.

On this, I will speak more later; when my mind has had time to rest.

At present, I have yet to sleep since awakening at 5:30am yesterday morning.  Stringing together two words is an enormous chore in this state (my apologies, therefore, if any part of this post is rambling or nonsensical), and the full story of my grandfather's final journey deserves a clear head for its telling.  At such a time, I can better attempt to put words to something that is, nearly, indescribable.

For now, I can ease your minds by stating, simply, that his passing was "soft as cream", as they say.  Not only was it smooth and untroubled...it was beautiful.

My family - including extended family, friends, and a tangled, rambling mess of "adopted" grandchildren and children that spans a good portion of the United States - hopes that you can join with us in honoring and celebrating the life of Riley Prestenback; a life that - though filled with much pain, suffering, and loss - was also one of smiles, laughter, and unflappable love for family and "adopted" family.  His was a life spent in service to others;  from his time as a medic in the Army during World War II to nursing his mother, sister, wife, and mother-in-law (among others) through protracted illnesses, none of which had a happy ending.

As I said, we do hope that you can join us in honoring this special man.

Services will be from 4-8pm on Sunday, June 7th at the Fellowship Hall next to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church at 11140 Hwy. 77 in Maringouin, Louisiana.

Viewing will resume at 8:00 am on Monday, June 8th, same location but in the church itself, and will continue until services at 11:00am; followed by burial in the mausoleum at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Cemetery.

I choose not to view these services as en end, but - rather - celebrating a life beautifully well-lived.

A Tearful Update

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I wanted to write this last night, but I simply did not have it in me.   After yesterday I returned home exhausted and spent; wanting to do nothing more than lose myself in a computer game and stop thinking completely.  It was a small relief, but it was something that made me feel a bit more alive.  All of this has been like a waking dream, the last twenty-four hours sliding into a walking nightmare from which I cannot escape.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I adore my grandfather.  I extoll upon his charming eccentrities, praise his amazing cooking (best in the world, as anyone who has dined with my family can attest!), and share laughs about his wily sense of humor.  Friends, new and old, are often asked to come and have supper with us one Sunday - not only to sample some of the finest cooking that may ever pass their lips, but to meet an extraordinary man.   I wanted everyone to meet my Pa-Pa Riley; without fail, everyone who did so was as enamoured of him as was I.

Yesterday, my mother and Tommy, my Uncle Keith (Mom's brother), and my Aunt Lydia, and I met with the pallatative care doctor and his nurse.  While Dr. Kleinpeter - who has been nothing short of wonderful - had wanted to try and fight, Dr. Kanslow informed us that my grandfather was, despite all our best efforts, dying.

The words hit me hard.  Usually strong, I am almost ashamed to admit I broke down right at that moment.  Mom came and embraced me while the kind doctor went on to explain that samples of a certain nutrient from Pa's body were exceptionally low.  It indicated that his organs were failing; that his body was withering away from the inside - even though, on the outside, he looks better than he has since he entered the hospital.  His color is good and the swelling that causes his skin to weep from his under-functioning kidneys has recded from his face.  His beautiful, silky white hair recently brushed by the compassionate nurses, his soft glow belying the fight raging inside of his body.

Today, at 11am, we meet again to dicuss the hardest part of our venture yet; since this all beagn last week when Pa was rushed to the hospital by ambulance with - what we did not know then - was a ruptured colon.  The fact that has not regained consciousness since that initial surgery is telling; the doctors believe he may have suffered a stroke.  His reflexes are normal on only the left  side of his body and, it now seems, his struggling kidneys are the least of his problems.  Though nothing that has been biopsied to date has shown cancer, the doctors believe this prognosis is correct; certain enzymes in his blood indicate that cancer lives somewhere, currently hidden, in his body.  He has been "left open" since that initial surgery; unable to be closed, even through the last few procedures where they irrigated the toxins and infection out of his body, due to  acute swelling.  It is not worth it, Dr. Kanslow says, to even close him up at this point - no need to put him through such an ordeal, as it will only cause him discomfort in his final days.  Out of all we are faced with, I cannot fathom why this bothers me so.  Perhaps it is just the realization that his condition is so hopeless that they don't even feel it worthwhile to stitch him back up; the coldest, hard fact that there is no going back, no miracles left to unfold, no inkling that he could suddenly rally and begin to recover...no hope.

As Amber, my sister, and I lamented together yesterday, it just doesn't seem real.  It does not; as Amber said, "I just can't imagine a world without my Pa-Pa in it."  Neither can I.  He has been the one of the centers of my world since before I can remember.  Most of my favorite childhood memories revolve around my grandfather; picnics under the magnolia tree when I was around Ava's age (three), his tirelessly riding us around the yard in a never-ending circle on the ride mower with the little red wagon attached to the back holding all of us grandchildren, his teaching me to waltz before my first dance, his silly, thoughtful gifts and notes over the years.  He was always such an important part of my life.  He taught me to drive on a long, lonely road that led to the levee that ran behind our small town of Maringouin and, later, he took me to Price LeBlanc Toyota and bought me my first car.

Returning to 11am - forigve my rambling as my mind is so out of sorts at the moment - we will be discussing removing the ventilator.  At that point, it could be minutes, hours, or even a few days of precious time we have left with the man who was so central to our entire family unit.  He meant so much to so many people.  It has all happened so fast.  Just a couple of weeks ago he was getting dressed up in his dapper way, splashing on some Polo Black (which had replaced, thankfully, Elizabeth Taylor's Passion as his cologne of choice), and bringing fresh baked pies to each of the elderly ladies in town (all of  which were a little bit in love with him - how could they not be?).  He would get into his car - the one that used to belong to Lance - and stop by each house, visiting for an hour or two, before returning home in time to watch his much-loved soap opera, Days of our Lives.

He was wholly independent and, we thought, healthy.  God only knows how long he silently suffered after his colon had ruptured; stubborn to the end in not wanting to bother any of us with his pains or troubles and never wanting us to worry.  His family was always his greatest passion; a stout and almost cold-hearted German man who choked on his own sobs if tears dared to even wet his eyes - which they did, only rarely, only when he saw one of us crying.

Though all of us know, inherently, that he would not want to be kept alive artificially - mostly because he would vehemently oppose anything that burdened us - it still troubled us some that it was a conversation none of us could ever remembering having with him.  Then, like a flash of lightening, as I sat with him yesterday - alone - in his room, holding his hand and asking for a sign, a memory washed over me like a douse of cold water.  It was a holiday, and we were joking baudily and loudly - as we often do - in the kitchen as his house.  I cannot remember what the conversation was exactly that had us on the subject of life support, yet - as clearly as a bell - I remember him announcing to the room, but directed at me, "If I were on life support, I'd want you to be in charge of making the decisions for me."  I asked him why, and he responded in that half-serious, partly mocking, and mostly teasing voice with a hint of a smile, "Because you'd be the only one strong enough to pull the plug!  The rest of them are  too weak!"  I assured him then, smiling myself because I firmly believed my grandfather would live forever, that - were the situation ever to arise - I would, without hesitation, "pull the plug" rather than let him suffer on indefinitely.  "Good," he told me.  "That's what I'd want."   The conversation was all done mostly in jest, but that was his way of dealing with something serious he would rather not discuss.  His health being what it was, the possibility seemed so remote that none of us thought of it again and it was not until I stood there next to what will, I suppose, become his deathbed and holding his hand that I remembered it.  I realized that in that teasing treatise was a serious message; he had, without my realizing it at the time, imbedded a seed in my mind that told me exactly what he would want done in such a terrible situation.

"I promise, Pa," I told him then, squeezing his hand and brushing back his bone white hair from his forehead, "We all agree and want the same thing.  None of us want you to suffer; it is agreed.  As much as we don't want to lose you, we want you to be okay."

I put on my gentle scolding tone that I use only with him then.  "Listen to me, you stubborn, old goat.  Do not stick around just for us; do not let yourself suffer for us.  We want you to be okay.  We will be okay, I promise - don't I always take care of the family?  I will and we've got Tommy.  Mom will be okay; she has Tommy.  I have Baret, Amber has Blake, and Mom has Tommy.  Johnnie has all he needs in Ava, if he'll just see it and Robby...well, Robby has Chastity.  We will all be okay, and if you want to fight, we'll fight right alongside you.  But if you're ready to go, please do.  We want you to be okay, do you understand?"

I said it a few times, just to drive it home.  He's nothing if not stubborn, and he would be all too willing to hold on - regardless of his own suffering - if he thought we still needed him; especially for his little girl, my mother.  Their bond is the stuff of magic and fairy tales - they have always been so very close, even without much outward affection for that is not the stuff of which either of them were made.  Rather, it was an unspoken and unyielding bond; an affection that, without word or action, held more power than any other father-daughter relationship I have ever encountered.

Needless to say, this has all been literally heartbreaking for my mother - who I worry about more than any of us.  While it will destroy us all to lose this beloved patriarch and amazing man; though a piece of each of our hearts will, now, forever be cut out leaving them irreparably broken, it is my mother who will never fully recover from the loss.  A piece of her will die along with my grandfather, as a piece of her did when my beloved grandmother left this world over ten years ago.  Our small family will grow closer after this loss; closing in on ourselves to hold each of us up and together.

We will go on, but none of us will ever be the same.  Our lives were touched by something almost otherwordly; my Clark Gable-ish grandfather...forever the dapper gentleman, the sly prankster, the irrasciable flirt, the studious bookworm, the quietly passionate family man, the multi-talented craftsman, the unfailingly generous charitor, the quirky eccentric, the slightly chilled heart that could excise someone from it's small warmth without ever a glance back, the infamous chef and able provider.  He was all of these things and, oh, so so much more.  Riley Claude Prestenback made have made only a small mark on this world, but the mark he left on the lives of the people he touched is as wide and deep as the Earth itself.  Every one who has ever met him has simply fallen in love with him, charmed to their very core by a man like no other.

Saying goodbye to this man I love with more than all of my heart will be one of the most difficult tasks I have ever faced in my thirty some-odd years.  I ask that you all send your graces, thoughts, prayers, and affirmations to not only my grandfather for a smooth and soft passage, but to my family, who is nearly buckled in our grief over a loss that is almost too large to comprehend.

Thank you.

The Fight of His Life

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

As I am writing this, my beloved grandfather - Riley Claude Prestenback - lies in the Critical Care Unit of a local hospital fighting for his life.  Since he was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room last Wednesday, our lives have become a roller coaster of bleak distress and hopeful trepidation.

On Wednesday, May 27th, around 9:30am in the morning, my brother, Johnnie, called to inform me that our Pa-Pa Riley (pronounced "paw-paw", btw) - my mother's father - was en route to Our Lady of the Lake hospital via ambulance.  My stepfather, Tommy, was in the ambulance with him and Mom was in a tearful panic trying to finish up what she was working on so that she could rush to the hospital herself.  Thankfully, my sister - who my brother called just before me - had already left work and was rushing home to pick Mom up and bring her back to Baton Rouge.  None of us wanted her driving as upset as she was.

What we thought was a simply intestinal blockage turned out to be much more.  At some point in the past couple of weeks or so my grandfather's colon had ruptured.  Being his usual stubborn self - and not wanting us to worry - he had kept how bad he was feeling to himself.  Mom only knew that he was "constipated" and bloated.  During the initial surgery Wednesday evening, the doctors removed nearly 50% of his damaged colon.  He was very ill from the toxins, and all of the other waste the body normally eliminates through stool, that had leaked into his abdominal cavity from the rupture.  His very wonderful doctor, Dr. Kleinpeter, also informed us that several nodules were present on his colon and a few other organs.  Biopisies - to date - have showed them all to be benign, but Dr. Kleinpeter is still worried that cancer exists somewhere and is causing all of these problems.

By the end of Wednesday, Pa-Pa Riley was lying in the Critical Care Unit on a ventilator; his stomach "left open" from the earlier surgery so that the surgeons could easily go back in when he was more stable and they had the results of the initial biopsy back.  That night, his future was uncertain.  He has high blood pressure and diabetes, and the damage from his ruptured colon and the surgery had been almost too much for his body.  His blood pressure was in unsafe territory and his heart rate too high.

Just before his surgery, I rushed to the hospital from work to see him.  As we did not know he would need surgery when he first brought in, I hadn't left for the hospital as soon as he got there.  When they called to tell me he was being scheduled for emergency surgery, I feared I would be too late to see him beforehand.  However, as I pulled into the ER parking lot, my sister, Amber, told me on the phone that I still had time.  She met me inside and led me to the small prep room where my mother, my stepfather, Tommy, and my mother's brother, Uncle Keith, stood around a hospital bed that held my normally sprite and healthy grandfather.  He smiled when I rushed into the room and I thanked all the gods I could think of for letting me get there in time to see him.  Since he has not regained full consciousness since that time, I know now - more than ever - how blessed I truly was.  I had about ten minutes with him, wherein I joked around and made him smile and even a share in a few small laughs.  He was weak and in pain and, I know, embarrassed to be "in public" without his teeth in; even if that public was no more than us and the nurses and doctors who swarmed around, taking notes and asking questions.  Mostly, I could tell that he was scared and, though we all put on a brave front for his benefit, we were, too.

Since then, it has been a day to day - and often, hour by hour - vigil.  He is surrounded by kindhearted, competent nurses and astute, compassionate doctors who encourage us to continue talking to him and keep us wholly informed of his changing condition.  They talk to us personally when we come in and call us on the phone every morning or in the event of any sudden difference that occurs in his care or with his vitals.  We've told them all that when he gets better, he'll be busy making his infamous bread pudding for each of them.

When visiting hours arrive, always a couple or more of us are there to be with him.  We hold his hand, talk to him, put on his favorite TV shows (he will be so miffed about missing Days of Our Lives).  We know he can hear us.  In fact, last Thursday afternoon they tuned the television to his soap opera and his heart rake spiked a noticeable bit.

Presently, his condition is as follows:  He runs, off and on, a low-grade fever and his white blood cell count is slightly elevated as his body attempts to fight off the infection that still lingers from the ruptured colon.  A pocket of pus near his liver was removed in an emergency surgery Friday afternoon; one from which we were advised he might not survive as he was rushed into it with a fever of 104 degrees and dropping vitals.  Since then, his fever has been either non-existent or low.  Right now, a low-grade fever - along with the white blood cell count - is a good thing as it means his body is still fighting.  As I mentioned, around 50% of his colon has been removed and more may - as yet - have to come out.  If he survives this ordeal and is able to come home, he will be doing so with a small bag on one side of his body for his small intestine to drain and a colostomy bag on the other.  Being charmingly vain and always conscious of his appearance, we know he will abhor this aspect of what will be his new life.

He is, sadly, in acute renal failure and the doctors have spoken to us of his undergoing dialysis.  Currently, he is too unstable for the procedure, and his kidneys are producing just enough fluid on their own so that emergency dialysis is not yet needed.  Since yesterday, his kidney output has nearly tripled, and so that is good news.  His kidneys were already weakened as a result of his being diabetic, and the extra strain of trying to purge the toxins his colon could not caused the failure.

For the past couple of days his blood pressure has been holding steady.  While it isn't anything to write home about, it is considerably better than it was late last week.  None of his vitals are good enough for him to be labeled "stable"; he is still in critical condition.  While those numbers fluctuate - sometimes dropping enough for alarm - he is holding strong, for the most part, and his body is still fighting.  Not too surprising for anyone that knows the tough, stubborn, old goat we all love so much.

All of your thoughts, prayers, and well-wishes have been so very appreciated and I ask that you, please, continue to keep Pa Riley and the family in your affirmations as he needs all of the help he can get.  So, too, does this weary family; I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Tomorrow morning I start work at my new job - wish me luck!  I regret that I could not be going into this with a lighter heart and a less burdened mind, but life is rarely such a walk in the park.  However, I intend to be my best, give it my all, and shine as brightly as I can for that is what my grandfather would want.  He was always proud of my accomplishments at my old job, and I want to make him even more proud in this new venture (regardless of his ribbing that "state workers never actually work").

Once more, thank you all; I will keep you posted.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Remember all that you are thankful for on this day, especially your loved ones - don't forget to tell them how much they mean to you.

At 3am this morning my Great Uncle Roland passed away after a lengthy illness. I hope he knows how thankful I was to have him in my life; he is a staple in all of my childhood memories. We loved him so much and there will certainly be no other quite like him.

Don't forget to tell everyone you love how thankful you are for them on this day. There is plenty to be thankful for, but none of it as important as the people in your life.

Reason #12 – Why My Family Rocks

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Conversation had with my Mom in her car this past Monday on a shopping trip:

Me: "I finally got a copy of one of my favorite songs.  I can never remember the name of the band...uh, Downing Pool..uh?"

Mom:  "Drowning Pool."

Me:  "Yes, yes, that's it.  'Bodies' is the name of the song."

Mom:  "Oh yeah, I know.  I love that song."

Shopping trip & bonding time with Mom - $115.00
Greasy, favorite road trip lunch at McDonalds - $9.75
Awesome new sets of earrings - $5.00
Finding out your Mom rocks out to a song like "Bodies" - Priceless