The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cecil Departs October 7, 2014

Saratoga Springs’ beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie, died this morning. While I haven’t heard directly from his family yet, what I gather is that he was likely asleep when he passed, as for the past few days he’d been heavily medicated to relieve the terrible pain he was experiencing. Earlier this past summer, Cecil was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone cancer, and the pain he felt at times was excruciating, as his very ribs themselves were fracturing from the cancer. He was one tough cookie though, because even while uncomfortable he still wanted to play music – still had it in him to pull out not one but two banjos at our last visit – plus the bass box too. I’m not a string player by any means, but he coached me as I stumbled my way through the three all-important chords. Bless him for giving us that last precious hang. I wish we’d heard him one last time on the street, but I’m grateful we were able to hear him one last time at all.

Over the past week we visited him a handful of times; sometimes he could barely open his eyes, other times his face would light up and he would try to talk to us. But recently, with the morphine, plus the dryness of mouth that the drugs were giving him, it was even more difficult to understand him. And hey – it was hard enough to understand him to begin with on account of that thick Jamaican accent of his! On one visit I had a moment alone with him, and I leaned in and stroked his head. I told him he was loved by so many, and that all of his friends and family were thinking of him. I told him that I was sure he would soon be in a much better place, that soon he would enjoy that perfect freedom… I’m not as scared as I once was about talking about death with the dying, so I pressed on, hoping for some insight into the thoughts of one who is so very close… “Cecil, are you afraid of dying?” I asked him. “No, no, not really” he said, in a thoughtful way. Then he went on to say more, but try as I did, I couldn’t make it out. He was obviously elaborating on his answer, but I would have to be satisfied with what I got. No, he wasn’t afraid. Good. Cuz I can imagine a lot of people are. I wondered what he was lingering for then, were there any family members yet to see again? I heard he was caught up with everyone. Maybe it’s just hard to let go of your loved ones, maybe one lingers so as not to break the hearts of those left behind. Who knows. As wonderful as the next world may be, there are still a lot of wonderful things about this world that might be hard to break away from.

Yesterday I’d had a flash of inspiration. I looked into my music closet and found my grandmother’s ukelele, now almost a hundred years old. I figured out three chords and quickly jotted down the lyrics to a couple songs, played through them through a couple of times, then with Elihu and his djembe, headed to the hospital to play for Cecil. How happy he would be to hear someone sing for him, I thought. When we arrived, he was in a peaceful sleep, with a CD of his from the old days in Jamaica playing softly, and the article from the weekend’s paper had been taped up on the wall for him to see. We lingered a moment, and looked at him. What to do? We both knew it made no sense to wake him. Elihu cautioned me not to kiss him lest I wake him from his rest. So we just stood for a moment, and watched him sleep, the soft calypso music gently filling the room. The song playing was the last on the CD; fittingly, it was Jamaica Farewell.

Today we returned to the hospital, again ready to play for Cecil, but my heart sank to my knees when I saw the cleaning cart in front of his room. I knew what that meant. We entered the room and were surprised to find our own next door neighbor there. She worked in the housekeeping staff, and was just finishing up with his room. She’d known Cecil too; she always knew the patients. A week or so ago we’d told her about having a friend in the hospital – and she now learned who it was we’d meant. Wherever Cecil went, he was known and loved. He possessed an understated congeniality; pleasant, low-key and friendly to all.

I want to thank you Cecil, because you’ve got me excited to learn a stringed instrument now! More than that, you’ve hipped me to a whole new world of songs, and you’ve opened up a new way in which my son and I can play music together. I’d never thought that I could learn anything new at my age, and with my arthritis, no less. But you’ve got Elihu and me looking eagerly to a new musical future. There’s not a soul who can take your place, but we hope it makes you happy to know that a piece of you will continue to live on in us and all the music we’ve yet to play.

My love and wishes for peace and healing go out to all of Cecil’s family and friends in this deeply sad time.

IMG_4951My last picture with Cecil, just day before yesterday. I hope it didn’t hurt when I made him laugh.

IMG_5048A beautiful fall day on which to leave us.

IMG_5437We thought of you as we dusted off our old, almost-forgotten banjo.

IMG_5486Elihu can even make some good sounds on it already.

IMG_5482It’s a sad day, yes, but we think Cecil would want us to enjoy ourselves…

IMG_5530Lying on our backs in the leaf pile, we look up to the heavens and think of our friend.

This is the song Elihu sang for Cecil on one of our visits.

 

Yearful May 19, 2014

It seems I should be feeling some enormous weight removed from my chest; a great lifting of spirit at the conclusion of a stressful Spring full of performances and commitments. And to some degree I do, I guess it’s just not quite the experience of bliss I’d thought it might end up being. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than relieved it’s all behind me now.) Last night the 8th through 12th grades of the Waldorf School did their end-of-year performances in Skidmore College’s ultra-modern and gorgeous Zankel Music Theatre. After having secretly dealt with the idea of panick attacks resurfacing at such an event – and meditating daily to mitigate their probability, and even in spite of having taken 3x the normal dosage of Xanax to stave off such attacks from hitting onstage, I was nonetheless side-swiped, mid-performance, by a couple of doozies. The difference between the recent attacks and those of some thirty years ago is mostly the medicine, I think, and also a good deal of high-intensity mental energy spent beforehand in preparation. Those two things seem to make the attacks the slightest bit more bearable. But no matter how prepared you’d like to be, if you suffer from em, there’s really no hiding to be done; they’ll find you eventually. And let me tell you – that shit is not fun to deal with. It definitely takes away from you being able to enjoy – and fully live into and perform into – the moment. I just kept reminding myself that my role was supportive, that my job was to make movement easier for the kids; to make the movement as intuitive as the sound itself. I just kept thinking my only job is to make a beautiful sound… It helped a bit, but not as much as I’d hoped. But in the end, as it is with any on-stage errors, those that I made were much larger in my head than in reality. (Although I’m not going to be checking the Skidmore live broadcast archive to prove that theory. !!)

It was a lovely night. The teachers have the routine of the end-of-year performance down. So do the kids. They struck and re-set that stage ten times that night and kept the program moving along. Yeah, it was long, but yeah, it was also impressive, diverse and heartfelt. How proud I was of every kid up there. Hell, this may well be what it feels like to be a part of any school I suppose. I have nothing to compare it to, so I can’t be sure. But I had such feelings for all the kids on that stage… How can one not have strong feelings of solidarity after having gone through so much together through the long school year? But there’s just something about knowing each kid – even if it’s just their name – there’s something wonderful about having some sort of relationship to them – however small (in my case I’m the accompanist for movement and chorus classes – not super-exciting perhaps, but the kids do know that Miss Elizabeth used to be a real musician once upon a time. Seems she used to tour… she just might be kinda cool. Not sure, but there’s a small chance that the thought exists among the populace…) I could look upon any one of those faces and feel something unique… And I consider it no small blessing that I’ll come to know most of these children as they grow up over the next few years. How lucky am I?

Well, I’m a pretty lucky lady if for no other reason that I finally know how it feels to play a truly in-tune piano. !! And a honking big one at that. Same fellow who tunes my piano tunes the 10 foot Steinway I played on this night. Must give that fellow a call soon. My piano quickly became a disappointment after playing this gorgeous, responsive creature. Only wish I’d felt freer to really enjoy myself on it. There’s always next year. But I’m on it- getting ready for it already…

As life tends to do, the landmark events quickly and unceremoniously move into the mundane, everyday landscape of regular life. Within hours of leaving the stage with an arm full of flowers, it was life as usual. A visit to the local animal shelter, a stop at the town cemetery, the taking care of domestic tasks forgotten all week in favor of prior committments. The big news this week was not so much the performance at Zankel as it was the installation of our new dishwasher. And yes, you naysayers, I have found it to be just as life-transforming as I’d hoped! At least three hours of time have become mine since I first began to use it late Friday night.  And my counters are CLEAN and EMPTY for the FIRST time in my nearly six years here. If folks don’t already know, I’m a BIG fan of right angles and empty surfaces. I like it when things are put where they belong. My life may be a mess, but God please grant me clean-looking counter tops. That way at least it looks like everything’s perfectly under control.  !

IMG_3269

Ok, so this is how the day starts. Josh will be installing my new dishwasher as I go about my very busy day.

IMG_3295

We started out early with Grandparent’s Day at school. Mom in back at left, Elihu in front at right with pal Ben. Note the drawings on their desks that they’ve made on Classical Greece (their recent study block.)

IMG_3300Class Five gives a performance of a classical Greek poem for an audience of grandparents in the Eurythmy room . It was done masterfully.

IMG_3203This is a regular eurythmy class. The idea is simply that sound is made visible through movement. Kinda like dance, but not exactly.

IMG_3197

Here the class is given direction for a new piece.

IMG_3236Same room, now it’s used for orchestra. This is the most utilized, multi-functional room I have ever, ever seen.

IMG_3237The bass section.

IMG_3307Later on the same day, here we are at Zankel. Fancy shmancy indeed.

IMG_3331We started with a little eurythmy rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.

IMG_3318

Now the High School orchestra rehearses.

IMG_3398

Eurythmy in traditional costumes which show and enhance the movement so beautifully.

IMG_3415Alex has a solo in the Bach.

IMG_3418Recorder ensemble.

IMG_3422The Waldorf acapella  group. Sublime.

IMG_3424Yay!

IMG_3431A nice shot of the High School Chorus

IMG_3433They did some great pieces, including  a lively arrangement of  ‘Ain-a That Good News’ by William Dawson.

IMG_3414It’s growing next to impossible to take a candid of this 11 year old boy. Screws up his face as soon as he sees me lift the lens… Mom is in the striped shirt. She’s been with us since before 8 this morning, and it’s now well past 8 p.m. Long day…

IMG_3409Backstage the ninth grade girls dish…

IMG_3411And Miss Elizabeth tries to secretly listen in on what ‘the kids are talking about these days’….

IMG_3437

Hey look! They got me flowers!! Apparently, they’d planned on giving them to me onstage with some fanfare, but I’d quietly slunk off after my bit was done. This is a new world to me! I was so very touched. Plus I just LOVE fresh flowers. A wonderful night. And did I mention the Steinway was ten feet long? Almost looked like a mistake it was so honkin big. And those bass strings. UN real.  Woo hoo!

IMG_3686Ok, the night’s program was beautiful, the whole day in fact was a marvel, but this is the height of it all: a new dishwasher was at home just waiting for me!!

IMG_3443A dishwasher and flowers. !!

IMG_3280The next day starts out cool and green…

IMG_3219Elihu’s taken my camera to document our life from his perspective for a little while…

IMG_3212This is what lil man sees from his world in the backseat…

IMG_3217…and this is what’s on his mind most of the time.

IMG_3491On our way to the 4H meeting, I was struck by fresh activity in our long-dormant village cemetery…

IMG_3473We stopped to see that a local woman who’d died in early January was just being buried now.

IMG_3489Having just begun to read a book on the current culture of death in our country, I was fascinated and had to stop.

IMG_3488Wherever dear Agnes is now, I hope she can share in the joy Elihu finds in making a lovely, resonant percussive sound on the structure designed to lower her casket down into the vault. (I learned the proper terms from the man who’d set it all up a bit earlier.)

IMG_3493As a child, I’d ride my bike to cemetery hill and pump myself a refreshing drink of water at this now dry hand pump.

IMG_3499And this is how I think of this place looking. Most graves are over a hundred years old on the hilltop.

IMG_3524We’re over the hill and on the other side of Greenfield now at the locally well-known Estherville Animal Shelter for our 4H meeting.

IMG_3532It’s a very casual place, a casual bunch.

IMG_3541Aged horse Stardust (yes, I sang him his song) and goat Blossom routinely stand in the newly paved road. All of my 51 years this was a bumpy, uninviting dirt road which posed no threat to these two residents. Now the cars zip thru here and I can’t help but worry…

IMG_3545Elihu doped up good on allergy meds for moments such as these.

IMG_3554…and for these too.

IMG_3560Elihu found his sweet spot it seems.

IMG_3587Jessie and Sam – in the 4H shirts – are daughters of a guy I’ve known since I was their age. It’s nice to have continuity like that in the kind of displaced world in which we live in these days.

IMG_3578See this is why I have a ‘no hooved animal’ policy at our home. Give em an inch… Blossom is joining the party without an invitation…

IMG_3597After the club kids go home, Elihu remains to brush Stardust a bit. He’s got a lot of wild, winter hair coming off him and could use a little help being groomed.

IMG_3601Apparently goat Blossom and horse Stardust are inseparable.

IMG_3607After a good grooming they’re in search of treats in one of the out buildings.

IMG_3679Coming home to a clean, open counter. Oooooohhhh

IMG_3684See how nicely my flowers fit in the open space? What a nice reminder of our lovely weekend.

I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to a load of magically washed dishes. Truly, it feels like the dawning of a sparkling, new age.

Grateful to all I am.

 

Maestro’s Finale December 28, 2013

Robert S Conant

Robert Scott Conant of Greenfield Center, New York, passed away in his home on the evening of December 27th, 2013 at the age of 85. He died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his loving family and cherished cats. He is survived by Nancy J. Conant, his wife of 54 years, daughter Elizabeth Scott Conant, son Andrew Frederick Conant and also his beloved ten year old grandson, Elihu Scott Conant-Haque, all of whom live in Greenfield Center, New York, as well as nephew David Conant of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania; nephew Douglas Conant of Champaign, Illinois; grandnephews Matthew and Gregory Conant and sister-in-law, Jean Conant of Holiday, Florida. He is predeceased by his father, Frederick Banks Conant, mother Bessie (Scott) Conant, brother David and niece Susan.

Robert and Nancy Conant were married at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan on October 10th, 1959, Fr. David Gillespie presiding. Though seven years apart in age, Bob and Nancy shared the same birthday.

Robert Conant was born on January 6th, 1928 in Passaic, New Jersey. His father was a judge, his mother a talented pianist. He attended Choate, where on a school trip to Manhattan to hear a concert by the iconic harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, he was first inspired to dedicate himself to the study and performance of the harpsichord. Mr. Conant went on to receive undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale University, class of ’48 and ’56 respectively, where he would later teach as well as become curator of the Yale Instrument Collection. Mr. Conant made his professional debut at Town Hall in Manhattan in 1951. He later taught at Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University under Rudolph Ganz, from which he retired in 1986.

Mr. Conant performed and recorded with many groups and individuals here and abroad including the American Bach Society, The Collegium Musicum, Robert Shaw Chorale, the Viola da Gamba Trio of Basel with August Wenzinger and Hannelore Mueller, the Alfred Deller Trio, Henryk Szeryng, Fritz Rikko, Paul Doktor, Janos Scholz, Renato Bonacini, Josef Marx and Kenneth Slowik.

Mr. Conant was a pioneer of the early music revival of the post World War II years, promoting the use of historically accurate instruments and tunings. Mr. Conant created the Foundation for Baroque Music in 1959, and began to host an annual concert series, The Festival of Baroque Music, the first several of which took place at the Seagle Music Colony in Schroon Lake, NY, and which later moved to its permanent home in The Studio in Greenfield Center, NY, an open-plan concert hall designed for its superb acoustics. The Festival of Baroque Music ran continuously for 52 years, concluding in July of 2011. In addition to his love for early music he was an avid supporter of twentieth century music and commissioned several new compositions for harpsichord. He received a Lifetime Award from Yale University as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Saratoga Arts Council. When appearing before an audience, Robert spoke with masterful eloquence as few can.

There will be no formal visitation; online remembrances may be made at http://www.burkefuneralhome.com. The family would like to express their deepest appreciation for the exceptional level of care given by hospice workers. In lieu of flowers, friends may make donations to The Community Hospice of Saratoga in Robert’s name.

Bob entertained friends and family with his great talent for hilarious, spot-on impersonations and will be remembered by everyone who knew him for his ever-present sense of humor, cheerful demeanor and endearing smile. Robert loved all things beautiful, sonorous and poetic, and he lives on through our enjoyment of great music and art.

Please note that the link to www.burke@burkefuneralhome.com may not bring up Robert’s page just yet, as there is still a bit of paperwork to complete before he’ll be represented on their site. Visit back soon and you should be able to leave a remembrance. Thank you all for your love and support.

 

Holding Pattern December 19, 2013

I’m afraid my last post was probably too emotionally charged. It generated many responses and communications from people and had me wondering if I hadn’t made too much of a stink about things. Even though I expressed myself truthfully, I wonder if it wasn’t a bit self-indulgent. And I wonder if I may have stirred the pot too soon, as it were. I say this now because, after making a big deal of all that’s been going on, I begin to wonder if Dad won’t be here a little longer than I’d originally thought after all…

Why? Because he’s got a big, comfy hospital-style bed in the living room now. A bed which self-inflates and self-deflates in different zones in twenty minute intervals in order to prevent bed sores and keep circulation going, a bed which can raise him up to eat in a sitting position, and lower him down to sleep. He has been given – through this miracle operation of hospice – a full range of gadgets and accessories that promise to make his life cleaner, more comfortable and healthier than it has been over the past few weeks (if not months). All that and his lasting and evident sense of humor are telling me he may stick around for a bit.

I kinda wish I had a bed like that myself to hide out in right about now. Frazzled with a sudden influx of things going on at school and falling behind in a myriad of domestic chores, I haven’t showered in at least three days and my son and I haven’t had a fresh vegetable in nearly a week as I’ve had no time to catch up. I know it’s not just me; this time of year we grown-ups have a lot on our hands. With presents and parties and cards and driveways to shovel, I know I’m not the only one up to my ears in laundry and dirty dishes. Even the gal who drives my son to school in the mornings – usually a fairly upbeat and energetic woman – even she seemed a little worn and tired this morning. I thought I recognized that look, I certainly felt the same. So now that dad and mom are getting into their new groove, I’m feeling a bit of relief. This afternoon we finally have no commitments. No doctor’s appointments (Elihu had his braces put on yesterday), no car pool duty, no chorus to accompany, no students. So I’m taking the opportunity to go grocery shopping. Last night we ate the last of the pasta in the house and rounded things out with leftover party food. Ich. Can’t wait for a salad…

Elihu flies to Chicago this weekend too. I’m so very happy for him, he’s beside himself with anticipation. I’ve never seen him fill the Advent calendar so eagerly (ours is a series of pockets into which we insert a feather a day). I’m happy for him, and also relieved in that I don’t think dad will go while he’s gone. Never know, but I have a feeling. Having the house to myself is most welcome, but at this time of year it can be bittersweet, too. Last year was my only Christmas with Elihu here, and it wasn’t exactly a success. Santa found him alright, but a household of just two can be lonely on Christmas morning. So my heart is lifted to know he’ll be with his baby brothers, grandma and full household. On our end, it will be strange. Dad in his big bed, Andrew wordless, silent, unreadable, and mom chattering away to fill the space. And the tv on behind it all. I’d say jokingly that alcohol is a welcome buffer, but is it then fair to drink in front of Andrew? I don’t know. I really don’t like this situation. Likely I’ll drink. Most likely.

Mom and dad have the same birthday, January 6th. Epiphany. Imagine that. I still find it fascinating. I mean, what are the odds? They’re seven years apart, and their total years always add up to an odd number. A quick tally tells me they’ll be 165 this year. I find myself wondering if dad might wait til then. I wonder. Nothing is certain. How we’ll handle it, how I’ll be able to keep my professional self together until then, and after then. How life continues. I realize I’m sounding like the first person ever to have gone through this, but until an experience is personally yours, it kinda feels like it has no relevance at all to you. And really, it doesn’t. You pay so much more careful attention when you are living through something. You just don’t fully notice or appreciate things until you’re dealing with them. Like buying a car, or getting a haircut, or having a baby. As soon as it’s on your mind you start to seek out information. You want to hear other folk’s take on things. And then when that’s done, it’s off your mind again. And the time in between events is sort of a coasting, a living on auto pilot sort of thing. At least for me it is; it seems I travel through life from one heightened sense of awareness to another, with great wafts of less intense time in between. I feel a queer mix of both right now. With the house soon to be empty, and this great not-knowing going on, I don’t feel I’m really anywhere. Strange place, this nowhere.

The weather might be a bit blustery for travel this weekend, so part of my attention is going to that situation too. I think of my son’s plane, being de-iced, sitting, waiting on the tarmac for the opportunity for departure. Here too is an uncertain situation. He’ll be bringing a good book, a bottle of water and his DS. So he’s prepared for a long wait if need be. Never once in his years of travel has he ever been re-routed on account of weather, and I pray things remain thus. Nothing I can do about the outcome, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

There’s a lot of wait and see these days. Like an airplane in search of safe landing, we’re all just in a holding pattern for now.

 

Going December 17, 2013

Let me tell you a bit about the scene: Mom and Dad’s house is an open-plan, post and beam beauty in which life takes place in the kitchen – which is the first room you walk into through the garage (as with most of the world, they never, ever use their front door). As soon as you come in, the dining room is just beyond the large kitchen island, and the L of couches to its right. (A Franklin stove sits near the couches but has been dark and unused for the better part of the past two years, unlike decades before when it was well-tended and in daily use.) There is a large tv that bisects the kitchen and the living/dining area, and it is constantly on. Mostly it’s the old black and white movies, sometimes it’s the cooking channel, and in the evenings it’s set to the local weather. Mom has become ever so slightly hard of hearing these days, and so the tv plays at a volume that adds a certain frenetic energy to the room. I always have to turn it down in order to hold a conversation. And through it all, dad – at least the past few years – has either been sitting at the island on a stool, sitting in his chair to the side, or lying down on the nearby couch. Since we four Conants moved him from the stool to the couch this past Sunday night he has lain there ever since, and it’s my suspicion it may well be where he remains until he dies. Because there’s little question about it now: my father is dying.

As I’ve said before, we Conants – at least mom and dad, Bob and Nancy, that is – aren’t very comfortable with physical displays of affections. Or spoken expressions, either I suppose. It was only through a very intentional campaign made by my ex husband years ago (when he was still my very new boyfriend) that I learned to say “I love you” to either of them. Thank goodness it was over the phone – I don’t think I could have done it in person. But at the end of my catch-up calls on Sunday evenings from Chicago to sleepy Greenfield, just as I was about to hang up, Fareed would lean in close to my face and mouth in an exaggerated way ‘AND I LOVE YOU!’ and he’d shake me til I said it. I thank my ex for a couple of things in my life, and this is one of them. From that time forward it because customary to end conversations with an ‘I love you’. But in person, not so much. And after I moved here, even less. Only in the past few months have I made an effort to revive it. Because, well, now’s the time, you know?

When my parents began their post-city lives here they found themselves in a cozy little social group which included a gay couple (that they were gay never registered to me until I was way into my own adulthood – they were simply my beloved Jim and Everett), an ‘older’ (as in my age now) opera singer, husband and wife musicians who ran an old-fashioned farm and maybe a couple extra characters that joined in the parties and concerts over the years. But the core group was always Frank and Martha, Jim and Everett, and Ruthie. Over the past decade I’ve seen all of them die. Except Martha, that is.  (One might joke that she aint never dying. And if you knew her, you’d laugh, shake your head and tend to agree.) Since only the trio has been left, it’s naturally had me wondering who would go first. And now I’m pretty sure we know.

Mom did finally call someone to learn our care options at this point. And finally, there it was, “Hospice”. For me it wasn’t a shocker, but the idea hit mom like a train. I heard it in her voice on the phone – she even readily admitted that even she wasn’t emotionally prepared for hospice to be brought up (the suggestion actually surprised her!). Later, when we visited, her eyes began to well with tears as we talked about the next phase. She’s held out til the last possible moment, and while I myself might have done many things differently, none of that matters now. Dad is still happy, so if we can keep him comfortable and healthy, he will die here at home. That, in my world, is a HUGE blessing. But regardless, it is still the death of my mother’s partner of over fifty years we’re talking about here. As much as we might toss it all around like so many common plans for the to-do list, we all know what this means. We are getting ready to have dad die, right here, and very soon. She is facing the biggest good-bye of her life. And after that, the house will be empty. She will be alone. Shit. This is hard. So goddam hard. It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming, either. “So how long did you think he might still live, Mom? Three years? More?” “Oh God no!” she snapped. “But then what, like another year?” I pressed. I’m not sure she herself knew. One doesn’t tend to actually sit down and map this stuff out. “I don’t know. His mother lingered like this for years….” she trailed off. That may have been so, but it looked like we were closer than that. Never know though. You hear stories of folks being put on hospice care and then living for years… Just never really know. But then again you kinda do….

Now that it’s real I feel a mix of three things: first, concern for my mother (and Martha too). How will she react? Will she allow us to see her cry? Childbirth gets so heavy that all modesty goes out the window; will she behave in a similar way with the death of her spouse? How does this work exactly?? Next, my brother. Just how will he react? How will this affect him? His drinking? Will this be what he needs to finally rise up and get healthy or will he sink to his own final funk? And then I myself feel a queer mix of sorrow and relief. The two battle it out inside me; when I take a closer look at his existence, it seems we only want him around us for ourselves, plain and simple. He himself would probably greatly appreciate an escape from this tired, confused body. But even as my mother had admitted a few weeks back, just having him there – even if he’s asleep, checked out, for all intents and purposes ‘not there’, his energy and presence is still very much there. And you feel it. You just know he’s there in the room. And it makes a difference. We both try to imagine the house without dad in it somewhere (as it’s been for the past quarter century) and the house seems almost pointless. Good thing mom has that goddam tv to fill the house up with crap and distraction I guess. Sigh. Elihu has great compassion for mom and her need to ‘fill the space’. “She just doesn’t want to really understand how far things have gone. She’s scared, so she tries to ignore it.” Yeah kid, probably a good bit of truth to that. Whenever I mutter about mom under my breath he says “I understand. She doesn’t mean it. She’s just trying to figure out how to behave”. Yeah, once again, thanks for keeping me on track. This isn’t easy for any of us.

When we went over earlier today, dad was resting on the couch. It was a different sort of resting now. Having continued to lose weight, his cheeks took on an extra sunken look in his horizontal position. Honestly, in his current condition, if you just glanced at him, you might think he was already gone. But no, he is there. He is there. Still. While Elihu chatted with grandma, tv continuing to do its thing, I sat next to dad, hoping for something. Some new pearl, some word, a smile…. Sadly, gone was my hope for a cute anecdote or story, it was all he could do to recount his two childhood pals by name for Elihu last time; now he related tiny blurred scenes to me, and all I could do was to try and understand what he was seeing as best as I could. Which I noticed became increasingly hard to do as mom continued to badger me with useless and uninteresting facts about this and that… a constant stream of crap that may as well have come from the goddam nightly news… Can’t that wait? I’m thinking, but biting my tongue lest it come out as I think it might… Please, lady, just shut up!! Can’t you see I’m trying to hear what dad is saying? But I don’t move, my focus is essential here. I listen, then I place my hand on his. We are connected now by touch, and I swear I feel him relax. His eyes have been closed the whole time. “Hi Dad, it’s me, just sayin hi”. He opens his eyes and smiles gently. “I love you so very much, dad” I tell him. And in a not-too-faint voice he answers me “Oh Elizabeth, I love you so very much”. Then he closes his eyes again. But my hand is still on his, we are still engaged with each other. Mom comes over to us and leans over the couch. I hope she doesn’t stay long, because she’ll probably start asking him what he wants or trying to make sense with him, asking him things that require answers – hell, that require opinions. And dad just doesn’t care now. Can’t you see that, lady? I’m thinking. Dad opens his eyes and looks at mom, saying “Pop is here…” then trails off. Mom laughs it off as the nonsensical mis-firings of an Alzheimer’s-riddled brain, and thankfully, she leaves. But I know that something is going on in there, and I stay with it. Me, I believe he’s just seen his father. His Pop. A pause. He closes his eyes and smiles. “I am in pleasure” he says, with a slight tone of humor. But then again, I take it to mean that he’s feeling ok too. He’s letting me know. “Susan” he then says, his eyes opening and looking a bit off into space. “You mean Susan, your niece?” “Yes, Susan. Where is she?” he asks. Now me, I personally believe he’s probably just seen Susan himself. She knows he’s coming soon, so she’s letting herself be seen. “Your niece Susan died about a year and a half ago. It was rather sudden. She was living with Jean in Florida. She got very sick and died.” What else to say? Sorry was not what this was about. He seemed to be thinking of – if not actually seeing – family members that were now gone. Sorry was the opposite of what was going on here now – all I felt was ‘yeah, this is it. Yes, there is some love and comfort awaiting him when he goes.’ And thank goodness! It makes me feel much better about things. A moment passed after the Susan thing, then he raised a finger and pointed a bit out and to the right… “who are all those people waiting by the curve?” he asked. “Oh, Dad, I wish I could see them too, I wish I knew who they are, but I don’t.” As if to keep things real, keep humor in the house (a staple of our family) he summons a bigger voice and in a funny accent says “I weesh to be reech”. He repeats it again, closes his eyes, and a wide, happy smile settles on his face.

This is the fork in the road at which many of my friends may choose to part from my company. Because for me, I do not believe dad’s words are meaningless bits of information, retrieved randomly from disparate areas of the brain…. I do not see this as a purely physical phenomenon taking place. Surely it is on some level just that, but there is another equally ‘real’ phenomenon occurring now which is not something than can as yet be quantified by science. I recognize my father is becoming less vibrationally in tune with this reality, and he is now becoming aware, if only in the faintest way, of the new reality he’ll soon be joining. Bunk and booey to my neurotransmitter-as-only-real-data-channel thinking friends, I know. My dear friends of the ‘it’s either working or it aint’ school of thinking will know dad’s behavior to be nothing more than a failing system of data transmission. In short: a body breaking down. Yeah, I’d agree with that. But I’m going to take that other path from here on, the one that knows we are more than an organic machine, and that there are countless energies we are a part of that no meter or machine can measure. I know that ‘real’ can be real without tests, trials and placebos. My dad’s death is certainly a real experience to him, and that, ultimately serves as the Truth here and now. Quantifying or qualifying his Truth does seem rather silly, don’t you think? A moot point really.

One day I do hope we’ll have the opportunity for a good laugh together about it all as we re-evaluate our Earthly lessons and kick back for a little respite after our exhausting lives on this tricky planet. Cuz I believe this is one tough-assed school. And I believe we’ve come here to work on things. We’ve found the right groupings and scenarios and countries, bodies, talents and occupations – the whole shebang – so that we might most effectively learn what it is we need to in order to become better. Dare I say, more Godlike. When I put it like that, kinda makes me laugh. I mean man, this planet don’t exactly seem like a good choice for a mission like that, huh? Pretty crappy place sometimes. Sure aint easy, even when you do have it easy. Plus there is this existential uncertainty which thrums through us our whole lives, nagging at us to try and answer it if we dare listen. But thankfully, there are lots of diversions here to muffle its drone. Yeah, you can easily go through your life and never give a shit about anything but just getting by. The challenge, however, is to care, and to widen your sphere of caring and loving influence. And we all know that is much, much easier said than done. The distractions are so very tempting – and easy. But a life spent mostly on the path of love and caring is one spent pretty well, at least I think so. Certainly more of a step ahead than not. And my dad has made many steps forward here. He’s also had to carry some burdens that I wish he hadn’t. He grew up knowing he was loved, but he grew up in a culture where love was not expressed. A handshake from dad before he went off to the Army. Nurses instead of mother. Boarding school from a young age. I’m glad that now, in these final, restful moments on the couch that I can tell him I love him.

Because if he’s going soon, all he really needs to know is that we love him. The rest will sort itself out on the other side.

 

Sad Planet November 15, 2013

What a bittersweet and frustrating planet this is to live upon. Please know that I do realize I don’t by have it particularly hard by the greater standards of the world, yet in just the past few hours I’ve come to feel at the absolute end of my patience with this stupid place (or, if not out of patience, perhaps one might say ‘beyond disillusioned’ with this silly existence.) Just what the hell kind of joke is this world?? I’m done with trying to understand, trying to justify, trying to learn from it all. I’m fucking done. And the scary thing is, I have hardly begun the real adventure. I may not like the jowly face that stares back at me from reverse-camera skype images, I may not be able to casually drop a couple of dress sizes without much effort anymore, and simply tossing off situps or running a half mile may not be such mindlessly easy activities as I remember them to be…. But BAH! This sort of stuff is nothing! These things, however surprising or abhorrent they may have seemed to me at first, they don’t begin to approach the level of personal challenges that lay yet ahead. Losing one’s looks, yeah, that sucks. Losing one’s physical prowess, hard on the ego. But losing one’s parents – and then having it happen ever so slowly – I think that sucks a whole lot more. And experiencing it all with that quintessential, ‘keep-up-the-appearances-at-any-cost’ vibe of last century’s generation is just plain exhausting.

Things in our family changed tonight. I’ve been around for half a century, and during that time I’ve only seen my mother cry twice. Tonight was one of them. And I can’t even say she was crying really, but her eyes filled with moisture, and for the first time I can recall, I could actually feel a breach in her defenses. For just an instant I saw her, as a woman, as a wife, as a person about to be left terribly, irreversibly alone. It was the first time I’d seen any honest emotion in my mother in perhaps decades. Well, emotion other than outrage or anger (granted, she laughs sometimes too). As any student of spiritual life may recognize, anger (outrage being another manifestation of the same) is simply an expression of fear. While I myself had learned of that years ago, I don’t think it truly sank in for me until I came to live here, and was forced to re-examine my own personal habits and history in the wake of my ‘great life change’. I too had felt a good amount of rage at the world throughout my life – at my partner, at my circumstances, at many things – and had never thought twice about expressing it. In other words, I expressed myself just fine (and often loudly), and without much editing. And I never stopped to wonder at the origin of such rage. I guess it never struck me as something that needed any examination. Yeah, I’d read about it before, but until I put it into the context of my own personal experiences, I didn’t really get that rage came from fear. And being afraid is, well, understandable. This is one goddam scary place to live. Yeah, I can say that I sympathize with those who live in fear. In fact, I think you’d have to be fairly dull-witted not to be impressed with the opportunities we have here for some truly fearful situations. Having said that, I’m usually the first to be chill in the face of true stress; from surviving a broken neck as well as a handful of other life-heavy episodes, I’ve fared pretty well in the face of crap. Doesn’t mean I welcome any more of it though. And it sure doesn’t mean that I’m still not pretty goddam angry about things.

My mother too has never ruminated over the reasons for her emotions (that I know). Thankfully, the study of one’s own psyche and emotional world had become a practical and accepted life skill by my generation’s coming of age, but regrettably, my parents never had such tools on their side. Hardly. Instead, a stoic attitude, stiff upper lip and general disdain for everyone else kept a person moving successfully forward in life (glaring wounds and flagrant injustices be damned and ignored; keep your eyes looking ahead, pay no mind to the nasty reality…) And so, nearing her eighth decade here, my mother still does a yeoman’s job of keeping it all inside and pretending nothing’s wrong. That it’s all business as usual. (Btw way, I borrow ‘yeoman’ from my mother. A great word; her generation’s gift to me.) So I can’t blame her for any of this. Of the crazy, ‘it’ll be fine tomorrow’ kind of talk. It’s a strange new world now, because my mother still seems to me like the keeper of all answers, the ultimate knower-of-all-things, and in spite of more and more evidence that shows otherwise (in no way downplaying the immense amount of shit she really does know!), I just can’t seem to get it. She’s the sane one in the house, the one who keeps it together. The one who does things right (or as my ex would have half-joked she’s ‘white and right’), and she’s the one who lets everyone else know that she knows. Ok, so maybe she does that with a 1950’s vintage passive-aggressive sort of flair, but hey, at least everyone knows what’s up. Well, so that’s the way it’s been for the fifty years I’ve known her. But now, in quick, minute little steps, the relationship seems to be changing. The power dynamic is shifting, just a bit. It’s not that I need or want to be right, or on top of things, or taking charge, no. I don’t need more stuff. It’s challenge enough just trying to keep up with a simple life. But mom cannot do it all herself, and as I began to interject myself into the equation tonight, lifting dad off the floor, moving furniture to barricade him safely into his bed, I realized things had changed.

Tonight the situation just kinda forced our hands. When I arrived, dad was on his knees by the guest bed, too weak to sit, too weak to pull himself up. (That he had wandered into the guest bedroom and not his own presents a new level of concern.) My mother, bent over with arthritis, was not able to move him. My brother had thankfully arrived to assist, but by the time they’d been at it a while and I had gotten there, nothing was changed. Now I myself have very little core strength these days, but I was somehow able to lift dad and get him back onto the bed. From there I got him into a lying position, but he protested and for nearly an hour made efforts to sit back up – only with no ability to follow through and even walk across the room. I’m not sure how mom would have played it had I not arrived. She talked to dad tonight as if he were as well-reasoned as ever. In fact, he is markedly changed from even a few days ago. His talk was absolutely surreal, plus he was distressed, and even sometimes uncharacteristically angry, at being confined to his bed. Logic was of no gain; he had no understanding at all of where he was, or why he was there at all. He did still know us, and he did still formulate sentences, however this time, and for the first time, they began to more closely approximate mere gibberish. At one point I said “dad, what’s your favorite Scarlatti?” and without missing a beat he replied “D major”. Ah. Mom and I smiled at each other. I made a mental note to bring it up to speed again… maybe play it for him some time… Elihu and dad have had this made-up, Eastern European-sounding language in which the two speak for sometimes great lengths of time – they use gestures, crazy facial expressions and in general, sound quite plausible. And funny. I nodded at Elihu to give it a try as the four of us sat there in a dazed lull following an episode of moving dad from floor to bed. Elihu leaned in, and said something to dad. And wouldn’t ya know, dad gave it right back to him. All four of us laughed! It was the most remarkable thing – and such sweet relief to laugh like that! Elihu gave it another go, and we had another couple rounds of solid laughs. Dad couldn’t keep it going, but the thing was, he still got there. He still had that thing. Dad has always had a talent for impressions, for quirky, off-the-beaten-path humor. And in spite of how much of his life is lost to him, a spark of this remains burning. Hope, in one tiny form.

We managed to get dad lying down, tucked tightly into his covers, and I enforced the side of the bed with antique ladder backed chairs and a large hope chest. We fed him some of that crappy, over-sweet nutritional drink that old folks use to keep up their calorie intake, then we gave him half of a sleeping pill. As I sat with mom on the bed I began to pick up on a change in her spirit. I sensed the faintest beginnings of defeat. So I put my arm around her – something that just never happens in this house – and felt that it might have helped a little bit. Not a lot though. There’s just too much heartbreak here to make much of a dent in. But I told her I loved her, and that I had no idea how hard this was for her. Elihu leaned in to kiss grandpa and tell him how much he loved him. And my father, for as feeble and absent as he’s become, he simply beamed at his grandson. His eyes sparkled, and he told Elihu how very much he loved him too. This, I thought, is the happy ending. No matter what may happen, this is it.

As we were walking through the garage to our car I heard Elihu sniffling. And then I realized he was crying. Really crying. I didn’t offer a hug, or contact of any kind; it just didn’t seem the time. He needed some space to digest what was happening. Man, it just didn’t seem fair. He’s a young kid, and his grandpa such an old man. I really wish they’d had more time together. Crap. When we got in the car I said “well, you’ve had ten wonderful years together. We can be thankful for that.” We rode home in silence.

Had a nice supper, enjoyed some laughs, and we spent a moment just sitting on the couch, arms around each other, saying nothing. Mom called to say that dad had fallen right out with the sleeping pill. Mom’s life has always been fueled by agendas, by plans, goals… and now she finds herself zapped of her usual purpose and forward momentum. I can hear a shift in her voice. She sounds smaller somehow. Like she’s finally giving in. I hear it, and I wish I could just tell her that she doesn’t need to give up or give in – she just needs to surrender some things…. and other things will fill those places one day. I want to tell her this, but of course, I don’t. But I do tell her that I love her, and that I’ll call her in the morning.

I find relief in knowing that my son’s asleep now, and so is my father. But like me, I’m guessing my mother is still up late, not quite knowing what it is she should be doing. Feeling loose in the world, alone, the line to her anchor being cut away one thread at a time while she looks on, helpless…. Like me, I’ll bet she’s thinking this is all one great big let-down. All of this life, and then this is the crappy way it has to end? But she’ll put on a good show of it come morning, I know. And she’ll keep it up for a while longer yet. And me, I’ll make the best of it too. I’ll play this game as well as I’m able, and I’ll make an effort to keep humor and love alive in my small world. For the most part I think I’ll go with the half-full attitude. But for the moment, I can honestly say that I’m not thrilled to be here at all.

Tonight, this seems like a very sad planet indeed.

 

Changing Times November 6, 2013

It’s good that it happens gradually. Like pregnancy, kind of. You get some time to get used to things becoming different, time to get adjusted to your changing and new reality. Now it’s for sure. You’re not exaggerating, you’re not guessing, you’re not making this worse than it is. Now you can truly see that your mom or dad is not the person they once were. Yes, you recognize them somewhere ‘in there’; you can still recognize those certain little familiar things – a mannerism, a tone of voice or signature gesture – and you know that yes, that is definitely still my dad. And yet….

Today my mother was working as an election judge all day at the polls, so she needed me to check in on dad. Today also happened to be my busiest day at school, so I had to pull the emergency card to run home during recess duty. Apparently the night before he’d fallen to the floor next to the bed, and since mom couldn’t get him up again, she’d just given him a pillow and covered him with a blanket for the time being. Somehow she was able to get him back into bed before I got there this morning, but I myself was hard-pressed to even get him in an upright, sitting position on the side of the bed. This was a new stage of the game. I don’t remember it being like this. I’d thought it might take some cajoling, some sweet talk and encouragement to get him up and moving, but this time those tactics were just not enough.

When I arrived, dad began to speak to me quite normally, and even with some degree of refreshed enthusiasm at seeing me. But within a mere few words I realized that we’d gone into a new territory, one which we’d visited briefly before, but from which he eventually returned. Having spent a half hour with him on this visit, I could tell that there wasn’t a whole lot of hope for him returning to his sentient self of just one week ago. I was still holding out hope that Elihu could bring him out of it, but for the mean time it was all on me. So I listened to him talk. I tried to get a sense of what he was describing, the scenes he was trying to convey to me, and who was there with him. I tried to learn the general feeling of his remembered encounters – knowing full well they were from his dreams (he sleeps nearly twenty hours a day) – but also knowing that in his dreams lay the keys to understanding what still resonated as important – and even urgent – in my father’s mind.

He told me that he had been attending a party at someone’s house – as he awoke from his sleep he patted the bed sheets and told me ‘this’ belonged to harpsichordist Louis Bagger and dad said he only hoped he could take good enough care of it… I wondered if by his linens he meant a harpsichord… perhaps a loaner from his old friend? A waste of time to try and make literal sense of it… just follow… He went on to describe this party… it was in the home of some arts patrons – Jewish people, he added – and everyone is very keen on being seen, on having being invited… it’s a very tony affair, yet the food has all been brought by guests. He tried several times to recall the names of people who were present for the party, yet he stumbled, pointed his finger into the air as if to prod the memory loose, but gave up. I re-directed dad to fill in more details for me about the gathering. What did the place look like? It was someone’s home. A fine one, a very large place too, and packed to the gills. Where there musicians present? Yes, as celebrated guests. Are you one of them? No, but I’ve been invited. Do you feel uncomfortable there? No, but I don’t usually know these people well. And so went our conversation, as I tried to glean insight into my dad, his fears, his joys, and the things that, after fifty years’ absence from his single life as a professional musician in New York City, still loomed large somewhere deep in his psyche.

Things morphed again when he began to descend into a more surreal landscape; dad’s own father (whom we as grandchildren had called Papaw) was there, and I found it interesting that he referred to my grandfather as ‘Papaw’ and not ‘father’ as he would have addressed him back then. Dad told me he was concerned that Papaw was not entirely happy with the party. Papaw was expressing some dissatisfaction, perhaps even slight contempt for the goings-on. (That sounded in- character for him; my grandfather was a successful, self-made man, one from a family of thirteen children… he was a sitting judge and a man of some means; a slightly egocentric sort of fellow who looked down on folks who didn’t demonstrate self-respect or carry themselves with dignity. He had made it known that he didn’t entirely approve of dad’s choice of careers.) Then dad took on a new facial expression, and looked up at me. “Is Nana anywhere about?” he asked me, slightly concerned. Again, interesting to me. Because while ‘Nana’ registers as my grandmother, my dad had always called his mom ‘mother’… his use of ‘Nana’ blended the lines between generations in a dreamlike, nebulous sort of way. No matter, I knew who he meant, and so I answered that I didn’t think she was here now, but that she was doing well. He seemed worried about her. “Is Nana coming later?” he asked. And I answered him that she was. It seemed to give him a small measure of relief, and when I saw that, I felt my somewhat misleading answer was in fact the best thing I could have said. This was a new world, and with it came new rules.

My ten year old son understands well. Several times tonight he’d wink both his eyes at me (like his dad he can’t close just one) as a signal to me that he knew, that he got it, that he was right there with me. Dad would say something bizarre, and we’d just look gently to each other as if to confirm that things were still ok. What was of prime importance here was not getting facts or timelines correct, but to understand the emotions at the bottom of all the remembrances. What was the gist of what dad was feeling? This was what was most important. What he was feeling physically – that was another ballgame, and soon we found ourselves a bit limited by those new rules as well.

Dad’s had a hernia for a while, but it only bothers him every so often. Maybe I got him up into a sitting position too abruptly, I don’t know, but for whatever reason his hernia is back today, and it hurt him so much that he wasn’t able to stand up and make it down the stairs for a proper supper. (Secretly I wonder if this might not be the first night of his life that he’s no longer able to join the family downstairs for dinner. Is that new era now upon us?) I’d brought some delicious home-made chicken soup (made with the chickens we’d butchered last week) for supper, and now, as it was apparent that we wouldn’t be dining downstairs, I heated up our bowls and brought them to the bedroom. I held dad’s bowl and watched him eat. Funny how I delighted in seeing such small, insignificant gestures again… the things I’ve seen him do all my life but never really noticed til right now. How with so much of his word recovery gone, so much of his life’s context gone, so much twisted around and re-arranged in his head, yet look how he can still wipe his beard in that way – how he can still take a napkin from me without a second’s pause and use it exactly as he should… how naturally he pockets it, and pulls it out to use again… the way he did it, it is still so him… Such silly nothings really, stuff that everybody does. But seeing him do these few, small and natural things brought me immense joy. My wrist was straining to hold the bowl of soup for him, and my cheek muscles were getting hot from smiling so hard. I was focusing all on my father. It was an unusual place for me to be. As he’s sunk into his dementia, I’ve been more easily ‘allowed’ into his mind, into his world. After a lifetime of tentative eye contact and the most fleeting emotional connections, this is precious stuff here.

We visited like this for about a half hour, during which I fed him some toast (home made sage bread from us) and some chocolate Boost (old folks’ nutritional drink) through a straw (mom had none, now she’s stocked. In future she’ll need straws all the time, I’m pretty sure) and I got him lying back down again and comfy. Gone now is the strong, invisible wall that’s been  between us our whole lives. Now, his condition makes it possible – and easy even – for me to express my love for him. For me even to hold his hand. I can remember over the past few years looking at dad’s hands and wishing I could hold them for no good reason. In my family we just don’t do such things. God no. The emotional separation and fear that exists in my parent’s home is almost a real enough thing to knock upon with your fists… Just this evening as we tried to rouse dad from his bed to have some supper, Elihu said to me that ‘you can just feel the sad in this house’. Yes, it’s the reason I haven’t pushed harder to visit them. While I’ve wished for family dinners, and have attended a few, I can say they’ve not become routine for us. It’s a heavy, dark and depressing house to be in. Between Andrew’s alcoholism, mom’s denial and dad’s dementia (not to mention years without a proper housecleaning!) the house is just friggin heavy. Not a pleasant place in which to linger. And with us being so busy, it just makes it easier to pretend the whole situation doesn’t exist. But today, when I get the extremely rare opportunity to look into my dad’s eyes – people, this is big – I realize that I need to be here now. Finally, the defenses are down (well, dad’s at any rate!) and I can begin to share the same space with my father in a real way.

I don’t know how things will turn out. Dad’s gone downhill very quickly the past two weeks even. Nonsensical speech (although I do think there’s something there to be learned if one listens) and an incredibly weakened body make for some big decisions in the immediate future. Mom’s new song is “the next stop will be the emergency room”, but she doesn’t seem to want to take it further. Ok, so ER. Then what, mom? I’ve been trying to get her to find a visiting nurse twice a week for, oh, what, like a year now?? Even two weeks ago she was saying “we’re not there yet”. The emergency room is NOT a haven for super-old folks with old-people problems. Sorry. It’s either nurse at home – or nursing home. And while Elihu himself suggests that the best idea would be to turn dad’s ground floor office into the new bedroom and get a nurse in to help bathe him twice a week – I have a feeling that mom would rather just get him out of the house completely. And ya know what happens then, right? Forgotten by family, far from home, shuttled around under relentless flourescent lights and shoved in front of crappy American TV, confused and finally detached from anything that reminds them of who they are and BAM! There you go. An aging parent who’d rather be dead if only that were a goddam option. !!!

I’d like to keep him at home with someone stopping by to help. But can my mother, at 78, reverse a lifetime habit of controlling her household down to the last cat hair and learn to accept a caregiver into her home?? This is the larger question. Fuck dad’s outcome. Keep the household on mom lockdown at all costs. Sheesh.

So Elihu and I watch and wait from the sidelines. The good thing here is that finally I can express my love for my father without censorship; there is a lot of hand holding now, and deep eye contact that never, ever existed before. And there are some increasingly less tentative loving touches being given on backs, legs and feet…. there are kisses and the gentle smoothing of hair, there are more expressions of love being shared than ever before in our lives. Once upon a time we had all the words we could use, and all the time in the world to use them. Now we have little of either, but it seems that true communication is finally possible. I wonder at the obstacles of the past fifty years that had made this sort of expression so impossible, so embarrassing, so unthinkable. There are just so many cultural rules, and the generations of yesteryear often didn’t cultivate open expressions of love. At least I’m glad to have this chance now, it’s better than never.

It’s hard to wrap my head around the shifts that are taking place. Funny how you just go through life thinking things will always be thus. (I thought I’d be twenty-seven for a hundred more years.) It seems your kids will always need help pouring their milk. It seems you’ll always be able to jump down those last five stairs from the landing. It seems like you’ll always have dark hair. Hell, it seems as if you’ll always have hair! But no, it won’t always be thus, and change, in every single moment, is always upon us. Though the shifts in our own bodies may be far too subtle and slow-moving for us to witness ourselves, from time to time our mortality can’t be avoided. A sudden reflection of one’s face in a window, the choice to take a safer footing, the need for an extra layer around the shoulders… tiny signs arise. The falling leaves and dropping temperatures remind me that we are all constantly on the move through infinitely changing times.

October 2013 A 730Grandpa and Elihu

October 2013 A 732

My arthritic, middle-aged hand next to his. So many concerts given with his hand, so much talent there.

October 2013 A 737

Dad’s more relaxed now, you can see it on his face. That, plus he loves his only grandchild so very much and can’t stop admiring him.

Post Script: I am very frustrated with my aging computer. In spite of having recently had someone in to clean it up, it is behaving in strange and new ways. In the above post I see many words appearing in red and underlined with crazy embedded hyperlinks. I wish I could remove them, but haven’t a clue as to how they got there. Today I’m wishing I had a computer that wasn’t as old as my fifth grader. !!