On April 6, 1949, the second of my three younger brothers entered this world. I was almost 4 years old when he was born. I barely remember his entry, because at 4 I was pretty self absorbed…a condition that has not proved to be easily shaken.
Thomas Ray Ivy had a difficult childhood. Before he was 6, he had a large benign growth removed from his thyroid and at age 7, after a bout with Strep throat that became Scarlet Fever, he developed a kidney disease that changed all our worlds. For the next several years, Tom endured numerous hospitalizations at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, OK, experimental treatments, and hovered at death’s door more than once. This was in the 1950’s but the school sent out a teacher to try to help him keep up with his peers.
His illness effected our family in every possible way, financially, relationally, emotionally, and even spiritually. I was 11 years old when Tom became ill, my brother Terry was 9, and Bill was only 5. We were scuttled between my maternal grandparents and my Dad through the weeks that Mom was with Tom in OKC. A whole coming of age book could be written about those years, but suffice it to say I only now truly appreciate the strength of character and nurturing spirit that my mother possessed.
In the end, Tom received healing for his kidneys and graduated from Oklahoma State Technology School in Okmulgee, OK with a watch repair certification heading out to a job in Weatherford, OK. During his time in Weatherford, my parents and youngest brother moved to Tulsa where Terry and I lived. Tom moved to Tulsa about the time my Dad was diagnosed with Cancer; he moved in with Mom and Dad, helping Mom, who had to work, care for my Dad until the time of his death in 1978.
After that Tom stayed, as steadfast and faithful as a son could be. Terry and Kay Ivy, Terry Kisler and I were busy with our growing busy families and frankly I was not as attentive a daughter as I wish I had been. I was family and career building….BUSY, BUSY, BUSY. Our brother Bill was wandering in and out of jail, struggling with drugs, homelessness, broken relationships, trapped by mental and physical demons. Tom worked, contributed, and became a companion to our mother never complaining, and I suspect we all took him for granted a bit.
As mother aged, her health began to fail. We moved to Kentucky and brought her to see us several times a year. She enjoyed those times, but was always ready to go back to Tulsa…to take care of Tom and to work their little craft business. I thought Tom would take care of Mom until she died and then do whatever he wanted.
December 28, 2009 changed that thought forever. Tom had a massive brain bleed while at work as a carpenter at a cabinet plant. Mom was taken in by our oldest son, Micheal and his wife, Jennifer, where she lived until her death in December, 2011. After four weeks in the hospital and rehab, the social worker called me and told me Tom would need 24/7 care. He was 60 years old and had cognitive and memory issues. While he could dress and bathe himself, he had an unsteady gait, which made him a fall risk. Frankly, they wanted him out of there as soon as possible.
I had already begun working with his finances, paying bills, filing for Social Security Disability, asking for charitable relief for his enormous hospital bill. I knew his bank account, his social security number, his debts, but was still learning about this 60 year old man who was my brother.
After discussion with Terry, we agreed to bring Tom from Tulsa to Kentucky to live with us until he was better. The goal was to get him well enough to live independently in his Tulsa home. Tom has improved, but Terry and I know now that he will be with us until we can not help him. He takes care of himself. He can drive, although he prefers not to. He loves our little dogs and takes excellent care of them. He depends on us a lot, but we depend on him as well.
Interestingly enough, Tom is a wealth of trivia information despite his lack of formal education and problems reading. As a child in the hospital, TV was his only entertainment, except for board and card games. Even today, he watches the History channel, or PBS and he is not afraid of correcting or inserting a bit of knowledge into any conversation. We tease him about it. All those years of taking care of mother have made him quite the gentleman with elderly ladies (probably some are about his age), he opens doors, helps them with packages, and shows them how to operate the bikes at the fitness center. He also loves kids although he doesn’t always know how to relate and he is kind of a big kid himself.
Having Tom in our home has challenged us, but through Terry’s cancer treatment when we were away so long it was Tom who took care of our dog Mitzi. I would come home on the weekends and get him stocked up with easy to prepare meals, take him to the pharmacy or wherever, but when we left on Monday’s for Vanderbilt, he was on his own till the next weekend.
Through it all, he hardly ever complains about anything…well,sometimes my cooking, but I know that is not my strong suit. Tom took care of Mother for more than 30 years after Daddy died. Terry and I are blessed to be able to return in some small way that care.
One of the greatest gifts is being able to love. Tom has expanded our hearts allowing us to love not as we would have had chosen but as we are called.