Saturday, March 11, 2017

Homeschool Journal: When Terminal Illness Casts Shadows

It will be 14 years in October since my mother passed away.  The keeper of my memories left behind only me, my step dad and my grandfather.  Grandpa's heartache was so fierce he joined her only 3 years later.  Dad has hung on.  Dad.  He has been my stand-in father since I was 3.  A lifetime. 

Every Sunday evening the family knows mom is off-limits because she is talking to grandpa 1200 miles away.  Every Sunday we gab about life from the week, family, politics, faith and passions that run deep.

Every now and then I miss a Sunday, usually for good and agreed upon reason.  We often make up for it with a phone chat somewhere else in the week.  This week was one of those weeks and as Wednesday approached with a new storm brewing outside, my eyes on my computer screen setting to work on bloggy things, my phone rang.  Dad's picture readily showed and I figured it was time we made up for the missed call.

It wasn't what I expected though.

He didn't waste any time with small talk.  This wasn't his usual.  I could hear a form of nervousness in his voice as the words; blood, hospital, and growth in kidney began to paint a picture I knew did not look good.  The doctors hadn't confirmed it yet but I knew the news which was forthcoming.  He silently did too.

He didn't ask me to temporarily leave my family here and make the trip across the miles, but with NO ONE, not a soul, to look out for him there, wild horses couldn't keep me away.  The screen on my computer switched from blog post to bounce between Orbitz and the medical boards to better understand the little bit of information we had so far.  He didn't fight me when I explained how, as soon as surgery was schedule, I would be getting on the next flight out to be at his side.

This was serious.

He always fought me on such things.  Fiercely independent.  He hates being alone but he hates compromising just as much.  He's a 6'2" viking built version of Chuck Norris.  Nothing keeps my dad down.  Nothing.  This time was different.  Like hearing the foreign sound of his heaving sobs the night my mother died, I knew we were in uncharted waters.  He did too.  He didn't fight for a second but instead, relief almost seemed to wash through his voice as he went on about directions to the hospital, security codes and spare money.   

Homeschool needs, home needs, family needs all suddenly seemed to change shape.  Then came Thursday's call confirming cancer in the initial imaging and blood tests.  I drove hard into the core of needing a plan and needing to be ready.  This coming week a follow-up with the Urologists will, hopefully, give a better glimpse at a departure date while, in the meantime, I live life on-call.

What happens when terminal illness casts a shadow over your homeschool?  

Simply: life becomes a teacher.

Shouldn't life always be the teacher?  Of course.  But most of us supplement life lessons with good curriculum and lesson plans (unless you un-school). 

I feel so blessed to have read a plethora of articles and books over the years which provided perspective into the varied forms of teaching/learning.  Two, out of the masses, have stood out to me most to this day:
1) A mother who was diagnosed with cancer and given barely a year to live.  Homeschooling mattered not, as she collected her kiddos around her each day just to be with them and drink in every moment they could before the Lord took her home.  She was a miracle though.  Healed and thriving.  She looks back on that year as some of her greatest challenges coupled with not-a-single-regret over an entire year off of homeschool.

2) Another family, not by the result of illness, rather, through circumstances of life and the Lord's leading to take a year and learn by interaction.  ONE YEAR out of her children's academic careers was spent in living books, hands-on home projects and interacting with the unexpected circumstances of their lives.  This mom (and her husband in agreement) did not regret a single moment of their off-the-beaten-path year.  As a matter of fact, her article raved about the amazing skills, knowledge and understanding which ignited and grew in her children as a result and fed the fervor of their traditional academic studies once they returned to them.
So, what now?
I wait.  I'm fully aware of the long healing process which often accompanies cancer, and just as often doesn't end with healing on earth.  I can't leave my family for months on end and neither can I leave my dad alone to manage all that lies ahead.  We do realistically know I can easily be gone for a month or more before the opportunity to see my family here again arises.  The potential and process of moving him from the home he has lived in since he was 10 will do nothing to shorten my time away or the stress at missing everyone while caring for my sick dad. My heart aches no matter which way I look.  But there is work to be done.

So I plan.  A sort of floating-on-call-ready-at-any-moment plan.  I'll share about my household-in-my-absence plan on Monday.  As for today....

I am re-evaluating schooling needs. I am grateful my children are high school age so they can self-pace.  If you have smaller kiddos don't feel bad for a second about taking a few unexpected months off, I promise, it won't destroy them!  If you really want something, educational videos and hands-on activities are great teachers in your absence or inability for a season.  LIFE is an amazing teacher when mom can't stand at the head for a time.

My plan:
  • Follow the over-all outline of our science by way of videos on YouTube.  To drive the lessons home, the kids can then draw and jot in their science journals about what they learn
  • History we will switch to mainly living books.  I am thinking of combining history with writing and giving them time period topics to research and put together papers or outlines on (we are studying American History this year)
  • Algebra I am thinking of switching to Khan Academy or CTC Math in my absence.  Both are great programs we have used in the past.  We have made it far enough through their text book I feel absolutely comfortable with this.
  • Spelling and Vocab I am considering having them continue independent.  Ashley will be here and she can issue spelling tests and grade them for me.  (Believe it or not, my kids actually like this!!  Otherwise, I would probably drop this subject off their plans until I return)
This overall plan provides almost complete independent learning.  I will probably put together some log-sheets they can fill out each day for the purpose of record keeping and transcripts.  I will only need to go over their history writing and, of course, I will check in with them about the rest as we go. 

I talked with them about this and they are completely on board.  Having missed a month and a half in the fall for some curve-balls life threw at us then, we really can't afford to miss a bunch more with Brenden graduating next year.  Besides, I believe the school work will be good for them to keep their minds on something other then nothing in my absence.  It will be good for me too, since my involvement will be minimal but I also won't feel stressed about all they are missing on top of everything else.

If terminal illness casts a shadow on your homeschool... the #1 thing to consider isn't what lessons your kids can't afford to miss.... it is what is best for the family as a whole while someone you love battles illness.  Your answer might be to put the books down altogether or it may be a trimmed down version of school. To know for sure, simply seek God, He will show you the best path.  His plans are always better then anything we could try to devise ourselves!  Don't over-think it, just follow.  After all, some of life's best lessons are not found in books.

Our Homeschool This Week...

 Even in the midst of un-settling news, we managed to wrap up our study on the ocean in Earth Science.  I even brought in a clear bowl of water with salts and dirt to throw in as we discussed salinity one day and waves the next!  In light of the news on my dad I do believe we will jump to the geology unit in our book and save chemistry for later.  I don't want to get in the middle of a beefy topic and then have to leave town.

 I pulled down my white twinkle lights and evergreen garland with snowflakes as a nod towards impending spring.  Hanging vines and flowers in their place while the kids did their school work and we all watched this happening outside:
Most our snow had melted a week or more ago but the good Lord decided to send more in the form of a snow storm that lasted around 24 hours in the middle of the week.
It wasn't a bad storm, this picture was taken after the first round hit, but since it started with rain and then progressed to snow... it was sort of messy out on the road-ways.  Brenden is such a great sport keeping the walks maintained.

 You've heard of parakeets?  We have a para-kitty!  He LOVES riding on shoulders and backs.  While Brooke tended her rabbit Friday morning he hung out on her back.  Ashley went to relieve Brooke of her cumbersome buddy and Jay (the kitty) readily jumped onto Ashley and road back to the house.... then hopped down and went right back to Brooke for another ride around!  He is too funny.

This is one of my favorite pictures this week.  I went into the hallway outside Brooke's room and glimpsed her in the mirror as she sat in the rocking chair in her room while doing her Bible Study.  I couldn't help sneaking a shot!

What have you been up to this week?



  1. I'm so sorry about your dad, and will be praying for all of you in the days ahead.

  2. Sorry to hear about your dad! I came across your blog through weird un-socialized homeschoolers.Thanks for the dose of perspective this morning. I will be praying for your dad and your family as you face un-chartered territory.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and thank you for your prayers.