Thursday, December 25, 2014

First Holiday Without Both Husband and Mother: Sorrow Turned to Joy

Joy and Sorrow. 
A new beginning bringing me into the light of others  -- Joy.                         
Making the double trip to visit their grave sites, both in the same day -- Sorrow.

Mom had a long life. Husband's was too short. Both suffered; husband from the medical challenges brought on by what we believe was medical error and Mom's complicated by gross human and institutional error.

Neither should have had the deaths they had. Both deserved better. That is not always our choice or our ability, though.

Grateful for my daughter who each day stands with me as we stand beside one another as we did during the long journey with her father and grandmother; a journey she willingly made, step for step as the later days with her father and those with her grandmother moved to their inevitable end.Grateful for my youngest son who stands alongside us and is there for us in many ways. Sad for my oldest son who's chosen to separate, who cannot find within himself what makes family more than numbers, more than time.

Death is difficult when you're older; when you're young and it comes directly into your everyday life, it's a weight like no other.

Joy. We've found times to rejoice; to be happy but always reminded of the missing piece, the part of us that is no longer.

Thankful. Daughter's as resourceful as I am. We're both indebted to Mom who taught me and modeled for her the adaptability and true love of one family member for another; the selflessness and the strength to face head on whatever life dropped in your lap, whatever came, even the unwelcome or unwanted.

Spent a day finding joy in being together. Daughter and I on this side reaching out by visiting the two separate and distanced grave sites. And then, back among the living to visit a cousin I've become closer to these last few years. We grew up across State lines and seldom saw one another even though we were only a few years apart in age.

I never realized the closeness of our ages until recently. I've never focused on age and because I was born late in life to my Mom and she had so many brothers and sisters, I was on the edge of two sets of relatives -- the older and the younger.

We came together after my husband's passing when I learned she was in the hospital "over here" having a double mastectomy. I was amazed at her resilience and at how quickly she was recovering. It was also a little difficult as it was the first time since my husband's passing in the same hospital that I'd found myself back in a hospital room there.

It had been at my Aunt's birthday party celebrating her 90th  when I noticed my husband wasn't feeling well. Just a few days later, we went to the hospital and began our nightmare journey. That was the hospitalization where he picked up MRSA and no medical person saw it for what it was and his primary care doctor didn't recognize it when he went back for a check up. 

That was the start of our family's journey into almost total darkness; we held to the light even when it was only a flicker; today we shine the light for others.

My cousin and I had been together when daughter and I gave Mom a "surprise" birthday and we celebrated by going "out to the country", to the small town where several of her brothers and sisters and their families lived, to celebrate with Mom's sister-in-law, my cousins' Mom, and other family members. 

This was still a difficult time because the woman who tore our family apart falsely reporting me for Elder Abuse of my Mom and managing to get her to move into a facility, was still visiting, as she continued to do until Mom's 99th birthday. It was very obvious Mom's Lewy Body Dementia was taking more and more of the ebb and flow of her life. 

We had next to nothing; giving Mom a party, purchasing a cake and a few other things was stretching the money we did not have, the money we kept praying would continue to come, and the gas to travel over an hour to be with family, we rationed going only back and forth to the part time/temp jobs we had trying to survive another day, another week, another month. 

My cousin and I and my daughter had had a laugh over Mom and her mother, Mom's Sister in Law. At Mom's birthday party the two older women were both reminiscing and each of them said about the other, "I really think she's losing it; she doesn't seem to be like her old self" to their own daughter.

In truth, they were both beginning separate journeys my Aunt would first succumb to -- Dementia and complications -- and then Mom -- Dementia and complications. But we had made the journey, taken the time, brought them together for what would be the last time on this earth. And they were happy. Today's memories made yesterday through taking action.

When my Aunt passed, we took Mom to the funeral. She realized what was going on and to everyone she seemed quite "with it". Daughter and I saw and knew Mom was still in the "hiding" stage where she could laugh and smile and react to people; she could tell stories and because no one knew the details were mixed up, out of order and often unrelated, she appeared to be "quite capable for someone her age".

Now, here we were, the "next in line" generation. Cousins who once played together in their Grandmother's back yard or danced together to the music of the Uncles who all played different instruments and entertained whenever family gathered. Music that was "old"; music that was not "current"; music that was a special joy I'm sure they're sharing today and that's what Mom was looking forward to finding again.

My cousin surprises me. She retired early and she's worked for several years in her community helping to preserve and restore historical homes and businesses. This is the small town Mom chose to return to for her burial, the place among many of her family members, her ancestors.

She has this huge ring of keys that opens doors into the past, doors into the lives of women and men, children and adults, who lived and worked, who've gone before us. Once accumulations of lives stacked and gathering dust and grime, the doors now open and life that once was comes flooding into view. Not a museum, a living history; as though the people had just stepped away; had just went down the street or across the yard.

The buildings are amazing! You walk inside and return to a totally different time -- somewhere between the 1880's and the 1940's as everyday furnishings and even jars of left behind canned fruits and vegetables of the day are on display as though the family had just walked out the door to return any time.They've been restored but still need restoration. Most of all, they're "time capsules" faithfully and lovingly renewed and preserved by my Cousin and people of the town and I'd never known they existed although they've been completed for several years.

Memories. So many memories.

It was a surprisingly good feeling to tour these houses and walk in everyday footsteps of a family, in many ways just like ours, who lived, worked in their homes, celebrated together and lived their days much as we did and do, together and separately.

It was fascinating to see what was left behind. What was saved and put away. What was prized and valued. The everyday and the special occasion. The early years and the later years of a lifetime.

We know the feeling of walking through the remnants of life; of what was left behind, put away, set aside and never to be used again by the same person.

The challenges of knowing someone will never return; this isn't a business trip or a trip to some great place around the world. There will never be another time they come through the door, repair anything, cook a meal or even change a light bulb.  Those small little actions and big significant times are now the past. Only Memories. But thankfully they were chosen to do and to have then so we have them with us now.

It was a good feeling, though. Very much like other times when I've talked to someone who's also been "through the gate" and walked onto a path alone.

Knowing these people, these family members, lived and breathed, loved and lost, were born and died -- gave us a sense of unity of the human spirit.

Today, I took some old cards out of a drawer. Can't remember when I put them away. A couple appeared not to have been opened but I can't believe I wouldn't have opened a birthday card or a "special" card given "just because".

Cards within the stack of old Christmas cards. An anniversary, a birthday and a card given for no special reason but just to say "I love you" -- not usual for my husband; he was often the one to forget until the last minute birthdays and anniversaries. But there they were, as though a special plan was laid some time ago in some way for me to find these cards. And, a card from Mom for me; a birthday card, one of the last she was able to get and to sign.

Admittedly, I was never one to collect and organize pictures although we took many. I didn't assemble around our home these mementos. We made memories. We did the best we could at the time and with what we had. We made mistakes. We created great opportunities.

Joy. Sorrow. Today. Tomorrow. Time run together. People brought together.Lives of meaning and lives lived together for one another.

A difficult time, this first Christmas without both husband/father and mother/grandmother. Each day we continue. More steps on the path of life we started together and now travel differently. Daughter and I. Relatives and friends.

Life in all its complexity and in its very simplicity.

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