I’m not sorry to see this year pass. the last half of it has been a series of trials that have really rivaled my generally optimistic nature and sunny disposition. I haven’t written a post since May. Generally speaking, I have been off line with the world.
Our hopeful brood of chicks was wiped out by November, dinner for the fox, weasel and whoever else got the news that chicken was on the menu. I never thought I would miss the eggs so much, but I do. I put the basket in a closet so I wouldn’t be reminded of what it used to hold. The empty coop was a sign of more loss to come, a portend of a none to favorable change in the wind. My small view, though the larger part of me knows that all wind changes are ultimately favorable if faith can hold us long enough to see what they are really meant to bring. I am waiting, not so patiently.
In August my brother and I summoned up our collective courage and drove our mother to her new home. I am inserting a story I wrote a month after we moved her.
How could I not put down some words about this past week, or month for that matter? I’d like to just keep pedaling on through, but I think I must pay justice to big doings in my life. Presently, on the down hill-side of such a noteworthy event I must acknowledge that there is no way to measure the value of spending time amongst beauty. It is soul medicine at its highest potency. A week on this gem of an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Prince Edward Island is such a place. We pull our home, an 8 ft cabin tent, right up to a bluff overlooking the ocean. For eight nights we are lulled to sleep by the sounds of sea, rocked gently by the hand of the wind. The straight edge of blue horizon is our ever-present view, the evening stars and rising sun sealing one day and greeting the next.
Everything I need is within reach-the tissues, the water, the toothpaste, my book. We have three plates, two cups, two bowls, a few pots and pans and cooking utensils. We eat glorious meals, most brought from our home soil and some from the red earth and salt waters of the island. Salads of hard-boiled eggs on radicchio, boiled new potatoes, sliced beets and fresh basil, mussels steamed in wine and freshly canned tomatoes, French bread grilled with butter and garlic for dipping. The table always set in front of the wide blue ocean and the red sand fringed with beach grass. Our friend the crow comes and dines with us, perched on the spigot, drinking the dripping water. The Ospreys glide overhead searching for fish. A perfect world, made mostly so by being so simple. I pay a lot of lip service to the virtues of simplicity, but I’m no longer convincing myself. I can see by the stern look in its eyes. I better get real, and quick. Did I miss T.V, the phone, the cyber world that steals hours from my day and money from my wallet? Not one bit. I had all the information I needed, a couple of good books, a cribbage board, maps of hikes and biking trails and a schedule of the local ceildhis, a ten-day immersion in simplicity.
I’m up early and on my bike, pedaling through woods that smell like spice and warm sugar from the apples that are ripening overhead. There’s nothing that takes me back to the lanky nine year old in me like riding my bike. The trail is flat and easy, meditative, allowing the vision of the past few weeks to rise up and play before my eyes. I see Corey and I arriving at my mother’s home, the one she’s known and fought to stay, to take her to the next home in which she will likely spend her last days. She thinks her house is being painted and she has to go to a hotel, but actually, it’s a nursing home and she will not sleep another night in the bed she has slept in since she was married.
She’s quiet and gentle as we help her put on her coat. She kisses the aides goodbye. They say cheerfully,” We’ll see ya tomorrow, Mama. Be a good girl.” I see the tears on their cheeks as they follow the script we have rehearsed. They will miss her terribly. They have been more like family to her these past seven years than Corey or I. We each take her arm and walk her down the familiar path to our car. She’s quiet as we drive the country roads through Fairfield to her new home, perhaps calmed by the sounds of her children’s voices circling around her.
Corey guns the accelerator as we pull into the driveway of this attractive brick building. He doesn’t want her to see the sign that says Jewish Home for the Elderly. Mom seems oblivious. Maybe the notion that she’s going to a hotel holds some promise. I am feeling a combination of my stomach knotting in an old familiar way and the heaviness of overwhelming sadness. All the memories of first days of leaving flood my mind, the rear lights of the departing school bus pulling away from my front door, the last hug in front of the camp cabin, the final wave as the car pulls away from the college dorm. Each of those twists my heart so tightly that I have to shake myself to break the hold. And what feels harder is walking my mother down the corridor to her new room, knowing there will be no returns for her. Harder still, knowing that she doesn’t know that.
I wrap my arms around my fragile mother, softer and gentler than I have ever known her, and kiss her warm face. As the nurses distract her, my brother and I slip away. We stop at the Chapel on the first floor. Corey sits close to me, so close that our thighs are pressed against each other. I wrap my arm around his shoulder. We sit there, our mother’s
children and say our private prayer.
The bike bumps underneath my sore bottom, returning me to the present view of dunes, red sand and blue sea. I nod to the power of time, how it shifts and changes the scenes of our lives, how in one short week, I made it over that hill, the one that seemed so steep and impossible. Now I pedal easily, grateful for the smooth trail beneath my wheels, happy to be enjoying the glide for a while.
I really had hoped for a longer glide. It seemed no sooner had we returned from that glorious camping trip that life as I had known it changed. Though I know I denied it, my mother’s move to the nursing home lived inside me, not yet digested. And then there was another project in the making, that we would sell the farm and welcome in a fresh change of lifestyle, that had me totally unprepared for the disruption and disorientation that would descend upon me as I faced such a decision.
Within a month’s time, we took on the project of cleaning out. Black contractor bags marched like an army of ants out our door and to the landfill, Goodwill, and maybe to some of you. Ready for presentation, we called a realtor and asked her to view the farm and do a market analysis so we’d know what we could consider spending on the new house in which we hoped to spend easier days and bring us closer to cultural activities.
That was the day the glide officially ended and I found myself hurtling headlong into the abyss…without my helmet! Sounds dramatic, it was for me. From that day forward, life was no longer the same. The fancy cover that was my life and that I had come to believe was real, insuring my comfort and success in all things was just a cover, no realer than my imagination, an allusion, and suddenly it was whisked away with a flourish. “Ha ha”, I heard the magician say,” I fooled you, didn’t I?” Yes, you surely did. Even with all my years and accumulated wisdom, I was feeling like I was standing there with my drawers down.
On December 8th, 2012 what would have been Mom and Dad’s 67th anniversary, once again, Corey and I and our families go to my mother’s former home to empty out its contents. The new owners will be moving in by the end of the month. It’s hard to say which day was harder, taking mom to the home or dispersing her things amongst us and the liquidator. Touching the intimate objects of another’s life in this way is to feel a kind of energy that seems to catch us off guard, one we’re not used to experiencing in the day-to-day exchanges we have with our loved ones. Like finding her tissues in the pockets of her pants, or her few pennies and odd pieces of mail, some of them old cards from her grandchildren tucked inside her purses, brought me too close to her life and the state of her mind over these past years. The box of handmade birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day cards that Corey and I made, the annual hand written anniversary poems my mom wrote to my dad every year, and his funny love notes to her buried in her lingerie drawer were a picture of who we once were, long ago, when innocence and obedience had us tightly drawn into the circle we called family. That was less than a month ago, and the images and thought are still so fresh in my mind. I think I am writing this more to myself than to you, as a way to pay respects to the life that was drawn for me by two parents whose greatest gift was to teach us love, above all else, love. Not that the love was perfect love by any means, but it was the road they traveled, that they struggled to stay on. And not that we didn’t at one time or another get caught under its wheels and suffer the pain. The message was constant, always the same, love one another.
I’m sending out this old year, this hard old year with the acknowledgement that hard times make way for good times, that pain and sadness soften the tough leather of our souls and make them more pliable. These last few months are teaching me that.
I dedicate this post to my mother, Louise, whose hard lessons have made me both soft and strong.
Please may this New Year bring hope and light, renewed delight in the wonders of life, destinations as yet unexplored, the love of friends and family, and love, always love!