Handling a Visit from Joe Btfsplk


This morning, I felt like Joe Btfsplk had moved in.

He was a character in the old Lil’ Abner comic strip. (In case you’re wondering how to pronounce his last name, creator Al Capp said it sounds like giving someone the raspberry.)

Joe’s distinctive visual quality was a dark cloud over his head. He brought bad luck to everyone he met.

Before getting out of bed this morning, I catalogued all the things that were going wrong:


  • My mother has Alzheimer’s, and we’re in the process of moving her into assisted living (which is making her more confused)
  • My stepdad fell and is paralyzed from the neck down
  • My dog Simon is limping, and the vet can’t figure out the cause
  • A letter arrived from the IRS claiming I owe back taxes from 2016
  • So did another one with a bill for my colonoscopy
  • I caught a cold

(Feeling better about your day?)

I have learned not to ask, “What more could possibly go wrong?” That’s like tempting the evil eye.

Looking for the Lesson

Alright all you folks who say, “God never sends you more than you can handle”—back off! That doesn’t help.

Instead of asking ,“Why?” which is my go-to, I asked, “What am I grateful for?” It wasn’t an easy transition.

Fortunately, there were plenty of answers:

  • My stepdad, who—while facing uncertainty and great difficulties in getting back any movement—always has a twinkle in his eyes and a joke or kind word for everyone
  • My brother Mark, who—despite disabilities from a stroke—offered to leave sunny Tucson to come to wintery Minnesota if we needed him
  • My stepsister Jody, who is making sure my mother gets to the hospital every day and spearheading the sale of their house
  • A wonderful friend, Cathy, who—when I described what was happening with my parents—said, “I can live with your mother for a week so you can get some relief and do some work”
  • My former husband, Larry, who has taken Simon so I can go back and forth to Minnesota 
  • My mother’s brother and sister, who started calling her every day (knowing they’d just have the circular conversations with a person who has no short-term memory)
  • Good friends who call to see how I’m doing, and others who post their prayers and support on Facebook

Yes: I’m struggling. There are plenty of times I break down and cry for things that are now in the past—like how my stepdad used to sneak off to gas up my car before my return trip to Chicago. And how my mother and I used to laugh and wince about the ironies of life.

This also is teaching me about living in the moment—something I’ve really sucked at. Paying attention to the little good things I would have missed before and spending a moment in gratitude.

I write this not so that you’ll feel sorry for me. But because I know other people are having tough times, too. Know you’re not alone. Know you’ll find the strength to keep going. And know amazing people will pop up out of nowhere to help you.

We’ll get through this. And then we’ll be there for other people.