I’ll fly away, Oh Glory, I’ll fly away… or Just Another Black Friday

22 11 2012

How is it possible that it is Thanksgiving? This week – this year… hell, this decade plus in fact, has been what it’s been (past tense for “It is what it is”).

Two Saturdays ago, the Mrs. saw me answer my cellphone then turn to tell her that her younger brother had lost his year-long battle against stomach cancer. Instantly, her shoulders heaved, sobbing like I don’t remember seeing four years ago when Billy took leave of us. It occurred to me that just her reaction to that news could have sent her careening off into Glory and I’d be liable.

Not five minutes later, the front door flew open and in bounced Donny Diva, happy to see his GGma. He brought his younger brother to meet her…their ages spaced just about what the Mrs. and her brother had been. “Littles” was tenderly placed in her trembling arms and through a watery lens, she met her 10th great-grandchild for the first time. After all, this was the intent of the trip north. Little did we know how good it was that she was here with us to get the sad news.

I can’t get over how this works – how we are constantly in this mix of intense pain and joy at once. Held in the tension, we precariously place one foot carefully in front of the other as we make our way forward on that tightrope stretched thin over the Niagara Falls of Life. The last decade and a half for me has been at once exhilarating and exhausting. I feel closer to God and further away than ever (at least in the eyes of others). While it is often a silent, still place, the roar of voices in my head can be deafening. I both love it and am terrified by it – all at once.

My sister-in-law’s birthday was last weekend and as they turned the calendar on a new week, her 91-year-old mother turned suddenly ill and was gone within a matter of hours. Of course the family knew their dear, sweet mother wouldn’t be on this earth forever – and no, they weren’t ready to let her go. In an email she shared,

“Earlier though, something happened. When she was still battling the pain and going in and out of consciousness— her eyes were closed and I was holding her hand and silently praying—- then she turned her head toward me, and opened her eyes —- she looked up not focusing on me, but past me—-and her eyes became wide and blinked in what appeared to be awe or incomprehension –she faintly smiled but then looked almost as if she could cry—all I can think to describe it is that her face had the look of someone seeing a returning loved one whom they had not seen for a long,long time. Almost as quickly as her eyes opened then they closed and from that point on she remained unconscious until she slipped away. K was standing at the foot of the bed and she saw it too and we both felt as if (Mom) had seen past the veil of this earth—-

Exactly a week ago now I drove the Mrs. five hours to the south for the memorial service for her brother. It was a really joyous occasion yet punctuated by many tears. It wrapped up as he had requested. Singing one last favorite bluegrass hymn. I too was able to see past the veil…and it was good.

For that song – stuck in my head now for days – I am grateful.
And you do NOT want to get me started on what I think about Black Friday, or do you?

 

 





christmas cookies

19 12 2009

The Mrs. was a working girl.  When I was in elementary school she went back to working full time and continued to do so until after she and Billy had put three kids through college and I was married.  Elaborately decorated Christmas cookies were never her style but she’d find time to bake between doing laundry and housekeeping on those weeks leading up to the Holidays.  Mexican wedding cakes, pecan tarts and peanut butter blossoms to name a few would be around the house for snacking and sharing.

This year it was just before Thanksgiving that she started to make noises about getting the ingredients for the peanut butter blossoms – those ones with the chocolate Hershey’s kiss on top.  It used to be Billy’s job to unwrap the candy as she prepared the dough. It goes without saying that lots has changed since those days.

There was a profound bewilderment in her eyes as she said, “I just get all screwed up…I don’t know what’s wrong with my memory.”  She wonders out loud about why a simple recipe that she’s done so many times before with such success seems so overwhelming to her now.  I talk about the realities of aging (I chose to not use the D word – dementia) and motor planning.  I’ve been witness to hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy working as an interpreter at a rehab hospital and with wonder been a casual observer of the fragile nature of our gray matter.  Sometimes I’d get to see the lights come back on and other times – the lights were out for good.

She insisted that she’d made the peanut butter cookies and another batch. “You know those ones with the cereal and the melted marshmallows?” I got excited thinking that I’d be soon snacking on rice crispy treats while I balanced her check book, filed bills and spent time on the phone taking Billy’s name off all the utilities and switch over the auto-pay billing to a new checking account we had to open in her name alone.

But she couldn’t remember where she had put them.  I defaulted to what I had told the Fabulous Mrs. T not long ago. “There is always a thread…there is always some logic behind the twisted thinking.”  A few months ago our dear family friend had stopped by for a cup of coffee with the Mrs. and as soon as she got home to her computer – she quickly pounded out an email to me concerned about the confusion in the Mrs. mind about when Billy had passed away, etc.  I could easily explain all the faulty thinking probably because I am a lunatic myself at this point and it all makes perfect sense.  Some call it denial – I call it coping.

Back to the missing cookies – as if I am a a principal actor on CSI, I try to uncover the truth.  She had gone to the store to gather ingredients – the receipt I found proved that she’d found the baking aisle and brought home brown sugar, powdered sugar (enough to make cookies from now until next Christmas) and a box of puffed wheat cereal.  She explained that she’d not been able to find the one that was specifically listed and figured if she just got one of the same brand (Post) then it would all be the same.

I had a hunch…I went to the front closet and there sat a pan of “cookies”.  See, that closet is cold and not insulated and if the recipe says to “store in a cool place”…then why wouldn’t she put the cookies there?  And once I got a look at the pan, there was even more clarity.

There is a fine physics involved in baking.  Baking powder and baking soda can’t be substituted one for the other.  Rice crispy cereal can’t be substituted with a puffed wheat cereal – or at least not without a very distinct result.  I gently reminded her that a Ford Fiesta is not the same as a Ford F-150 truck…but when she doesn’t really understand or comprehend she gets this look on her face and nods with a half smile like you do agreeing with a two-year old about some preposterous statement they’ve just made. To her it was all the same.  And in a way, it’s all the same to me too.

She just wanted to make some cookies for the Holidays.  I learned a valuable lesson.  I need to hear her words…listen to the intent behind them.  I need to stop my busy life and with grace – as much as is humanly possible –  just help her do those things that give her some sense of fulfillment.  I could have avoided this whole mess if I would have taken the time to be with her while she made those cookies she felt she needed to have in the house.  But I live on a teeter-tooter full of tensions…struggling to keep my balance between the things I want to do, should do, have to do and those that are my responsibility to do. Always straddling the center – never really in one world or the other – always somewhere in the middle.

I feel her slipping away – tired of things that once made her excited.  Maybe it is happening to me too – I haven’t decorated for the last three Christmases and if I stop to review I find the thread that I told the Fab Mrs. T about…this time of the year has become sad to me.  One year it was a Dec. 17th pink slip for the Dr., another was a Christmas morning visit with Billy that I called 911 when he couldn’t get out of his chair – (the paramedics were sure it was nothing but I stood there watching him have a TIA), another was spent in the hospital with Best Boy having his gut re-opened.

There will be new memories soon enough when Donny Diva is up and running around and I’ll be that Momo that decorates and bakes. I’ll get it back.  Right now I’m stretched…doing it for the Mrs. makes me not want to do the same here and have two messes to clean in January.  Mine own is mess enough any time of the year.

So here’s a big head’s up to Sister Sib and Nascar Guy about the cookies awaiting them.  Enjoy them with big smiles on your faces next weekend as you sit with her around the tiny little pitiful tree sparkling away in her TV room.  Know they were made with lots of love.  And please let me know if you find the peanut butter blossoms she supposedly made.





optics

26 01 2009

img_38171

My maternal grandfather was a watchmaker.  Half of the “livingroom” of his itty bitty tiny trailer was taken up by his wooden workbench.  Half-blinded by cataracts, he was no longer working when he lived there that I know of…but the workbench was still the center piece of his life.  Staying overnight was an adventure, amusing myself by going through all those little drawers and tinkering with all the tools and half assembled watches.  

Of all the gadgets, springs and gears living in those drawers but by far, my favorite were the magnifying glasses. All kinds of them – eye pieces, hand-helds, big, little, the whole gamut.  Making the tiny look huge was just as much fun as looking through the opposite end of binoculars to make things look like they were a million miles away.  OK – so I’m easily amused.  But I’ve often wondered if all those early experiments with lenses imprinted on me my love of looking through a camera’s viewfinder and manipulating the optics to bring things into sharp focus. If I had my druthers, I’d always choose portrait work over landscapes…coming up closer on things – magnifying life, not broad sweeping vistas.  

Keeping my focus on the task at hand isn’t always as entertaining as playing with those lenses when I was six.  It had been exactly seven days since I’d been here. The weather had been horrid and gray and freezing.  I was reveling in being all alone in my space – all alone. But her voice cracked over the phone when I asked a question. She was being brave but it was getting to her.  

I changed my plans but didn’t tell her.  There is no reason to have her worrying about whether or not the roads are snowy.  And they weren’t anyway.  But when we quietly share this space – she speaks her mind.  Things come to the surface and she tells me why last week was so hard.  Post-non-61st anniversary she was surprised at church when the year-in-review flashed up a photo of the two of them from a few years back – followed by a long, too quiet, winter week.  Grieving is in focus.

I will leave in the morning because there is a very special package being delivered to my northern door step the day after tomorrow…and I’ll have new lenses – ones free of the Sahara sands gritting in their guts – to play with. Trusty little point-and-shoot is on an exotic vacation and has been pried from my grip.  There are those who want me to get serious again about getting behind the viewfinder.

So here’s to new focus – be it magnified hours of loneliness or sweeping new vistas I record on a memory card.





wee small

5 12 2008

img_3806Not to worry.  I’m not spying on my neighbors, it’s just that this vision represents the breaking of dawn.  Like I just got done boasting about a post or so ago, I have been able to enjoy  a new dimension of sleep that I’ve not enjoyed much in the last few years.

When I was time-card-punching for a living, I’d have to be downtown sitting at my desk after parking 5 blocks away, changing into my uniform and finding my way to the “front of the house” (that’s hotel speak for anyone who has direct dealing with the public) before 7 a.m.  There was a season (I refuse to say how long that was…it could have been years, it could have been once!) that I’d be at the YMCA waiting as they unlocked the doors at 5 a.m. to get a work out in, run home to shower and change and still open the Business Center by 7.  What was I thinking???

Needless to say, that’s not my life in a lot of ways anymore.  The YMCA part is being seriously reconsidered – especially in the winter when lack of sunshine puts in peril my very existence.  The least I could do is to get the endorphins flowing.

There are times that the old pattern sneaks back in (or if there is a full moon and I can never sleep anyway) that I’ll be the first one up, tend to the animals (this isn’t unusual around 4 a.m.) make myself a stiff cafe con leche (latte to those of you who only learned “coffee” speak from Starbucks), and go back to bed for how ever many hours I can take.

I did that this morning and now I’m deeply disturbed.  My most vivid dreams happen in that after-a-night’s-sleep-have-coffee-go-back-to-bed space.  For the first time since Billy’s departure – I dreamt that I walked into their kitchen and there he was at the table as fit as a fiddle with a huge smile on his face, loving every minute of the surprise.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he’d come to get her.

Then there was more.  It didn’t include him but it was like flying around with the ghost of Christmas Past to see her go through a disturbing journey to the end.  It’s still too early to call her but Lord knows I will as soon as I’m sure she has her hearing aids in and cranked up.  

So I’m a tad haunted today.  Regardless of the circumstances, it was good to see him.  Time to go make my bed.