Posted June 7, 2011
“I made really good macaroni the other day,” my dad says. “I used that hunk of cheese out there,” and he nods in the direction of the second refrigerator in the laundry room.
I feel like I have just been handed gold nuggets. Dad doesn’t speak much anymore, and just hearing his voice form coherent words is a tremendous prize for me.
“It wasn’t the other day,” Mom says, correcting him. She can’t help herself. She’s trying to be helpful and keep the conversation in the realm of reality. We all do it with each other, “It wasn’t the trip to Michigan,” I’ll correct my husband. “It was the year we went to Hilton Head.” It’s just that with Dad’s loss of the ability to tell time, in any kind of fashion, he gives Mom lots of opportunities to correct him.
But I don’t need Mom’s help to keep us in the here and now. I’m willing to enter the world of anything goes with my dad. I know Dad didn’t make macaroni the other day. . .Continue
Posted May 27, 2011
It would have been a good day if I hadn’t decided to clean out my parents’ van—a time capsule from two years ago
The van with the electric lift for my sister Annie, sits in my parents’ drive, its tire flat and battery dead. I don’t think it’s been driven except for a handful of times since Annie died. It really was her vehicle. They got it in 1993 to be able to take her places in her wheelchair once the electric lift was installed.
And they did go places. They went to their cottage on a lake. My dad spent lazy afternoons on his pontoon boat, fishing, and my mom enjoyed the change of scene with the view of the lake from the windows of the cottage, where she kept Annie company and read books, or worked crossword puzzles.
My parents, with Annie, drove the hour to our house when we were celebrating our children’s graduations or a bridal shower for my daughter-in-law.
They drove to my sister’s when she held a birthday party or mother’s day celebration.
They drove to church every Sunday, with Annie in her chair, it securely fastened to the floor of the van.
I opened the door of the van today, climbed into the driver’s seat, and felt like I had entered a time capsule. I was assaulted by the pent-up, locked away mementos of the time before, like a blast of too strong and too heavy perfume. Overdone. Stifling. Nearly suffocating. . . Continue
Posted May 17, 2011
Someone must open a window so the soul can leave.
I saw a commercial on television the other day showing the outside of a house at night with a light shining from an upstairs window and a feeble older voice saying, “Open a window so the soul can leave.” Then there was a voice-over about nurses and nursing care. At the end of the commercial you see a figure move to the window and gently close it. A different, younger and stronger voice says, “Not tonight.”
For at least another night, with the help of the nurse, life has won and death has been defeated.
It made me think of my sister Annie, and the evening not so very long ago when death won.
Did your soul leave while your little body remained, not seeing, not responding, not moving save for burdened breaths?
Or was your soul watching later with you and I, alone in the room, your visible pulse fluttering through your neck, slowing to one, two, three strong heartbeats, stopping? Was your soul there with me then?
Was your soul watching as we each said good-bye to your still body, leaving the room one by one, save for Mom who stayed with the nurse, gently bathing your body one last time? Did you hover about? . . . Continue
Posted March 12, 2011
We hung our children’s pictures on the brick wall above the mantle above the fireplace where flames danced on Christmas morning or a cold winter’s evening.
We sometimes filled the house with friends, with family, and with noise, but on the day our youngest went to 1st grade the silence roared.
Buddy the parakeet flew around the screened porch and Honey chased squirrels in the yard.
We played games around the kitchen table and ate outside on warm summer days.
I sat on the edge of beds in clean and tidy empty rooms after the kids left one-by-one to go to college, to a new job in another city, to a wife.
Memories kept me company as they came alive through every doorway, around every corner, in every room.
We left that house to go to doctors’ appointments, school, baseball games, soccer practice, rugby, swimming meets, driving tests, dances, weddings, funerals, Alaska, and the movies, but one of the hardest things I’ve ever done is walk out the door for one last time.
The house is no longer our house, but will forever be in my heart, our family home.
Posted February 23 2011
I’m writing this morning from Annie’s room in my parents’ house where I spent the night last night. Annie’s old room, I should say, as my mom has begun to refer to it. And it doesn’t really feel like Annie’s room so much with the hospital bed lowered, its rail tucked down to the side, without the wheelchair and manual lift, without Annie.
But there are still items in the room that remind me—a homemade envelope of red construction paper decorated with a border of lace and labeled in large print with black marker, “Annie’s Schedule,” hanging from a hook on the wall above the bed. The pictures of our now deceased grandparents holding us when we were small, I framed when Annie was sick and I feared she was dying, “Annie has these angels in heaven,” I had said to my mom.
A crucifix lies on a doily on the bedside table along with a small pink fairy and a stem of artificial sweetheart roses. That’s all new. And the four pink posters decorated with silk orchids, that Carol and I made, propped against the walls on the dresser and cedar chest, covered with photos of Annie smiling—they’re new too.
When I woke up this morning my eyes focused on the wall beside Annie’s bed and I noticed some light scratches. “That’s right!” I thought, “When Annie was young she used to scratch her headboard in the morning when she woke up. We’d hear it on the intercom and know she was awake.” A new memory reclaimed, even after the days, weeks and months of excavating my soul for memories to fill the pages of Annie’s memoir. I had forgotten that. . . Continue
Posted February 15, 2011
I was sitting at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, clicking through my dad’s slides of Europe on a projector that apparently cost a little over $16 the year my dad bought it according to the well-adhered price sticker inside the drop-down door. My dad sat beside me, saying very little. Since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in December of 2008, he has gradually stopped speaking more than a word or two or perhaps a sentence at a time.
Dad was drafted into the army shortly after high school in 1953 and spent two years in Baumholder, Germany in his early twenties while my mom was at home in Piqua, Ohio giving birth to their first daughter and my oldest sister Kathy.
While in Europe, he went on leave with a couple of buddies and did a whirl-wind trip through Switzerland, Paris, Venice and Rome via train and without little more than a general itinerary and his manual 35 mm camera hanging from a strap around his neck.
It was overcast and rainy the day my dad and his buddies toured Paris. At some point in the day they ascended the Eiffel Towel for a panoramic view of the city.
As they stood there in the drizzling rain, the sun broke through and a rainbow shot across the sky over Paris.
“I was out of exposures,” my dad said as we sat at the kitchen table flipping through his slides. . . Continue
Posted January 23, 2011
I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve got to get it off my chest. I miss the good old days.
Were people really kinder when times were slower, or is my aging memory fading the harsh colors of reality into softer, gentler images?
Here’s my point, which I think may be undeniable; people had more time for and with each other before the barrage of 24-hour newscasts, sportscasts, movie channels and reality television. People had more silence and fewer disruptions before the cell phones became the most necessary item to carry with you at all times with their jingling or sometimes jarring tunes announcing an undoubtedly urgent call, or a beep or buzz announcing a new text message of vital importance.
My grandmother’s family and a few friends seeking diversions, used to gather around the piano in the parlor. Grandma played the ivory keys while her father and brother coaxed lively tunes from their fiddles. They weren’t professional musicians, just farmers. Camaraderie, laugher, and shared endeavor could all be regularly found in that small parlor of an evening.
My parents used to gather with their respective families around the family radio for the broadcast of Only the Shadow Knows, or another favorite radio show. Intent listening, respectful silence and vivid imagination were all required in that living room of an afternoon. . .Continue