leaving is hard #sol21 #14

Each time I leave gets a little harder.

Each time I leave I wonder what might change before I see her again.

Each time I leave I wish I’d done more. Run one more errand, completed one more household chore, cooked one more meal for her to eat another day.

Each time I leave she tells me she is going to miss me and I scroll the calendar in my head to calculate how long it will be until I’m back.

Each time I leave she thanks me for coming, for helping, for keeping her company.

Each time I leave she stands in the door, usually still in her bathrobe, looking small, and a little sad.

Each time I leave a few tears roll down my cheeks as I pull out of her driveway, waving and hoping all she sees is my smile.

obituary instructions #sol21 #13

Over lamb chops, we talk about her obituary. Is there a better time? I’m not sure. We’d each had a glass of wine. It helped. I think. She’s very clear on a few things. The verb died. She forbids me from writing a post-mortem that includes the word “passed.” I’m in agreement. “Say I died,” she insists. “I will, of course, ” I respond. “It’s your obituary, so you get to choose,” I offer, and we both giggle. Sort of.

“No photo,”she declares, while buttering her bread.

“Ok, yes,” I say. There is no room for disagreement. And also I agree- those forty year old photos can be so jarring.

She raises her hand into the air and extends her thumb and pointer finger as if to measure something. “This,” she declares, “this is how much space in the newspaper you can have for my obituary.”

I try to concentrate on her fingers while fighting the tears that begin to pool at the corner of my eyes. I don’t want to miss the measurement and try quickly to make a mental estimate of the number of words and lines we might have to work with.

These are our conversations. Good. Hard. Real. Necessary. Onward.

31 things about her #sol21 #12

If you’ve been reading my slices this March, you know I’m writing about my mom. So- this March I’m writing 31 things about her.

  1. Having outlived her siblings and my father and his sister, she is the matriarch of our family- on both her side and my father’s. She’s been one the next generation of our family calls not just to check in and see how she is, but for counsel too.
  2. She is not a morning person. And now that she’s 85, she isn’t a night owl either.
  3. Some months after my father died (almost 25 years ago) she sold his car and hers, bought a new Volvo wagon and declared that was the last car she would ever buy. She is still driving it.
  4. She still gardens a bit, but once upon a time she spent hours every day in the dirt. She grew beautiful roses, interesting perennials, and tended to her boxwoods diligently.
  5. She doesn’t eat lunch and rarely eats anything sweet.
  6. She loved to travel and showed my sister and me the world. We traveled with friends in a VW bus and stayed in cheap hotels and saw nearly all of France that way when I was 12.
  7. She has a rebellious, rule-breaking streak, even at 85. When I was 8 and our family was moving back to the U.S. from Cyprus, just 8 months after moving there, she decided to take my sister and me out of school and on a detour, for a month. That is when I learned to ski in Switzerland with a German instructor who spoke no English. I spoke no German.
  8. She failed out of college, intentionally. She graduated from a school she preferred.
  9. She puts lots of butter on her bread.
  10. Red is one of her favorite colors.
  11. She insisted I wear dresses or skirts to school until I was in 5th grade. I still remember the first time she let me wear pants and look like everyone else.
  12. She sits at her kitchen table every night for dinner.
  13. She was an accomplished sailor and owned a beautiful (small) sailboat until she was almost 80.
  14. She saves everything. I recently convinced her to throw out the stack of articles about our last president that she saved all during the longest four years ever. I’m still not sure why she was saving them- she was not a fan.
  15. She still owns a turntable listens to records- opera- full volume.
  16. When I was little it was Petula Clark, the Beatles, Bob Seger, and others. Also full volume.
  17. She wears my father’s sweaters. Still.
  18. She doesn’t and never did wear makeup except when she was going out in the evening.
  19. She loves almost anything that includes pistachios.
  20. She was never a baker, but once a year, at Christmas, she made cheesecakes for extended family.
  21. She was a good athlete and always beat me on the tennis court.
  22. She loves working crossword puzzles.
  23. She’s a good dancer.
  24. She reads the local newspaper every morning while she has two small cups of coffee. No sugar or cream.
  25. She wanted to go to law school and become an attorney but her father said no.
  26. She has to be convinced to drink water.
  27. She gives her beloved dog a spoonful of ice cream every evening.
  28. She writes letters to her Senator and members of Congress when she has things to say about local and state matters.
  29. She watches the news every evening but believes the tv should not be on during the day unless something of national consequence is happening.
  30. She’s never been a fan of sunscreen. Or modern day Hollywood stars. Or chewing gum.
  31. She believes in good manners and is not a fan of hugging people she hardly knows.

two are better than one #sol21 #11

She mentioned to me this morning that she was nearly finished with the first dose of what her doctor prescribed. Since it included three refills, I suggested we drop it off while we went to do her errands and then pick it up on the way back home. “Okay,” she agreed.

The pharmacy was our first stop. Assuming this would be a simple transaction, I suggested she wait in the car while I speak to the pharmacist.

“That prescription can’t be refilled for 10 days. It’s only been two.” the man in the white coat informed me.

“Hm,” I said. “I’ll call her doctor and see what can be done because she is going to need more by tomorrow.”

I walked back to the car, told her there had been a little wrinkle- but it would be easy to figure out- and phoned her doctor immediately.

“We’ll send a new prescription over to the pharmacy,” the nurse told me when she returned to the call after I’d been on hold for five minutes while she investigated the matter.

During those five minutes my mom asked me several times what was going on and why was there a problem. And she suggested she could make do with what she had.

“Nope,” I said, “we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Once the nurse confirmed that things were in motion, my mom and I headed on to the grocery store, the hardware store, and her favorite readymade takeout meal spot a few towns over. Filling her freezer was on my to-do list today.

Two hours later, back at the pharmacy, I suggested again that she wait in the car, while I fetch her medicine. Two minutes after that I returned, empty handed, dialing the doctor’s number again.

“We can just go home and deal with this tomorrow,” she suggested as we neared ten minutes, sitting in the car in the parking lot, on hold this time while the receptionist and nurse engaged in another call with the pharmacy to figure out how to provide my mother with more medicine. I assumed insurance was snarling things up, but didn’t ask.

“Nope,” I said again. “Just take a few more minutes. I can come back tomorrow to pick it up but I want to be sure I don’t have to walk back in there to speak to the pharmacist directly.

“It’s very complicated. I’m sorry.” she murmered.

“Nope,” I replied. “We’ve nearly got it figured out.”

And we did. Together. And I wondered how this would have unfolded for her alone. Today I was here. Most days I’m not.

today was a good day to be here #sol21 #10

She sat down in the chair, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes. That would have been okay if it was 4 pm, but it wasn’t. It was 11 in the morning.

“How are you feeling today?” I asked her.

“Well, not so great,” she admitted.

I asked her a few more questions and then suggested we call her doctor.

“Not today,” she replied.

I let her decision rest and quietly continued my work.

“Do you think I should see my doctor?” It sounded like a question that might be a statement.

“I do,” I said. “Why don’t I give the office a call, and see if he can see you this afternoon?”

“Okay, thank you,” she answered.

I picked up her landline phone while Googling the doctor’s office number on my cell and tried to swallow the lump in my throat and not think too much about how this moment might have unfolded if I hadn’t been here visiting her.

it helps to call it something other than help #sol21 #9

Her house- the big beautiful one- is more than she can manage, no matter what she says or how much she loves it.

When I arrived on Sunday, I entered through the seldom used front door, navigating the loose step and soft wood threshold.

“Oh dear,” she remarked as she stepped forward to hug me, “the painters tried to fix that last summer but I guess I need to call someone.”

“Maybe we can do that this week while I’m here,” I replied, leaning down to pet her old dog who’d wandered into the hall to join us.

The late afternoon sun streams through the open door, and the cobwebs and layer of dust are on full display. Tomorrow, I think to myself, I’ll tell her I need some exercise and that is why I’m going to pull out the vacuum cleaner, furniture polish, and rags.

she really is remarkable #sol21 #8

“I am perfectly capable of…” or “”I am not too old for…” or “I can handle this on my own..” she’ll say to me, and mostly I don’t disagree. She often can, usually does, and is indeed capable. And she’s 85. Still, I try to be present and help- gently- knowing that honoring her independence is vital. She’s small, she’s slower than she was, she tires more readily, sometimes she repeats herself. She can’t hear a thing without her hearing aids in and she prefers not to wear them. But we’ll save that for another post.

This afternoon we went together to her every 6 weeks eye doctor appointment. We entered the waiting room and she walked briskly to the counter to check in. I scanned the room for a seat for her, noticing the other patients as I did. One had a caregiver who was patiently telling him that his appointment wasn’t actually until early April. I watched her guide him out the door to the parking lot. Another came in the door as they left, shuffling slowly behind her walker to the closest chair- a distance of no more than 8 feet. I exhaled quietly when she arrived, hoping the receptionist wouldn’t ask her to come closer for check in. By then, my mother had walked to the far end of the room to hang up the coat she’d just taken off. She came over to the chair I was standing next to, sat, and asked me a follow up question about Lasik surgery, a topic we’d been discussing in the car a few minutes earlier. The woman in the next chair over leaned forward as the nurse checked her temperature and asked her birthdate before asking her to follow her back to an exam room. I happened to catch the year- four years younger than my mom and watched as she tried to raise herself out of the chair but couldn’t. She apologized as the nurse helped her to her feet.

My mother asked another question. I missed it as I was silently making a list of all the things she isn’t too old for, handles on her own, and is perfectly capable of doing.

every night they do the same dance #sol21 #7

They have an evening routine too. He likes to eat early. The older he gets, the earlier he wants dinner. She prefers to have a glass of wine and watch the news first. He starts making his wishes known around 5 pm. She peers over her reading glasses and tells him in a voice that’s both gentle and firm that he really needs to wait. She’s still working on her crossword puzzle. He looks at her with big, pitiful eyes and by 5:30 guilt gets the best of her. “Okay, okay,” she sighs, rising from her chair, resigned to her reality, and willing to show the kind of grace that any lasting relationship requires. She moves to the kitchen. He looks up, but stays put. She makes small talk while assembling the meal. He listens from the next room. “Ok, it’s ready. C’mon,” she says, as she leans down and puts his food bowl next to the water bowl on the rug by the back door.

books, books, books. #sol21 #6

There was hardly a room in my childhood home where there weren’t books. Cookbooks in the kitchen, music books on the piano in the dining room, art books in the living room. Upstairs, in my mother’s office, more shelves with more books- Agatha Christie mysteries, books about raising children, and surviving middle age. There were books on the table between the two beds in the guest room. And my sister and I each had an overflowing bookshelf in our rooms. But most were in the library- a small room where all but one wall was lined with floor to ceiling shelves that were filled with my father’s books. Hemingway, Welty, Fitzgerald, Stegner, Updike, Cheever, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Cather, Frost, Salinger. Books by Irish writers, history books, books about faraway places, and several shelves of biographies and memoirs. There were even books in which he was mentioned, but those were not the ones he led me to. My father was an avid reader, book collector, and aspiring writer. If I wandered into the library on a weekend afternoon, I’d find him there, seated in the shabby, lumpy chair that was “his,” watching golf or football on the small t.v., a book in progress on the table next to him. If I lingered in front of the shelf, he’d rise from the chair and join me. “Looking for something to read?” he’d ask. He’d always wait for me to say something, and he’d listen carefully for any hints that might inform his next move. And then he’d reach for a book and put it in my hands. “Try this,” he’d say.

table for one- always #sol21 #5

Breakfast, she always told my sister and me, was not a social hour. When my children were small and we were all in the beach cottage together, I’d get them busy with toys or games on the front porch so that the kitchen and back end of the house were peaceful. I’d tell the girls that they could save all of their news for Grandma until after she’d had her second cup of coffee.

She wordlessly prepares her coffee- enough for two cups, not mugs- in a stovetop percolator, then pours a small glass of juice-always orange, with pulp- drinks it, and puts a piece of grainy bread into the toaster. The toaster, which is older than my now grown children, requires some finessing, unless you’re the charred toast type. Once, I suggested we buy a new toaster. Nope. This one is just fine. It simply requires watching she tells me. When the coffee has percolated for five minutes, it is, according to her, ready. She pours her first cup and proceeds to the table, where she has already placed the day’s local newspaper, her cup and plate with a single piece of well buttered and sometimes burned toast in hand.

It’s a table for one always. When I visit I take myself and my mug to another corner of the house and save my news for later.