WRITE NOW

Last year at this time,  I was lucky enough to still have my mother. A generous woman who remembered every birthday, every anniversary, with cards and gifts.

I also had a lot of stuff. Too much stuff. It occurred to me that I didn’t need any more stuff. What I needed was more time with my mother. At 88, who knew how much more time we would have together.

So I decided that instead of birthday presents of more stuff, what I wanted most from my mother was more memories. Her memories. I already had my memories but wanted to hear her version.  And so I asked that in the future, could she send me gifts of memories. In each birthday, anniversary and Christmas card, could she substitute her traditional gift cards to restaurants and department stores with her memories. Hand written, cherished memories. And while she did still sneak in a gift card now and then, she started sending me her memories.

I found one of those cards today. Out of the blue. While rummaging through my desk for something I have already forgotten, I found a card that she had sent last year for my birthday. Her familiar handwriting leapt off the page and startled me. And then soothed me. The same handwriting that had signed my report cards eons ago. The same handwriting that had comforted and encouraged me in letters sent when I had been feeling lost and far from home. The same handwriting that had begun jotting notes of nearly everything as she lost confidence in her memory to keep track of even the mundane.

The world around me fell silent as I pulled up a chair to sit and savor her words in that familiar handwriting. She talked about how proud she was of me as I stood in my favorite blue dress on the bleachers in my school auditorium, singing my heart out in my second grade school play. She said she was still so proud of me. Proud of the mother I had become and the daughters I had raised. She wrote about how much she had enjoyed a recent phone call from my daughter, sharing thoughts on how far apart to space a second baby. Her favorite memory of me, her second child, was how easily I had napped. As the mother of two, I get it.

The card was dated October 4, 2015. Less than two months later, she was gone. Forever. No new memories to create or old memories to share. But I still have her card, in that familiar handwriting I know so well.  Emails get deleted. Phone calls forgotten. But I have her handwritten note and will keep it and reread it whenever I need to spend some time with her.

The time it takes to write a card or note is never wasted.  It brings joy when first received and only grows more valuable with time. Stuff wears out. Gets broken. Lost. Heirlooms don’t need to be made of silver or gold, china or crystal. Written memories are more precious than all the stuff we have stacked away in closets and attics.

Thank you, Mom, for taking the time to write and share your thoughts and memories.  It was wonderful to hear from you today.

Miss you heaps.

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Posted in Aging, life lesson in love, Memories, motherhood, mothers day, the written word | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

BEHIND THE NURSERY DOOR

Growing up in the 50’s, I was told that girls were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice”. Boys, on the other hand, were made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails…

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ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE

Ace, ice, elevate. Gulp down a handful of Advil and my bruised ankle should feel better in no time. If only it was that easy to heal my bruised ego. It’s 2AM, hours after my latest embarrassing clash with the realities of aging, and still my ego aches worse than my twisted ankle. What was I thinking?

I have been known, on occasion, to glibly assure my younger friends that turning 60 is not as bad as they fear. You’re only as old as you feel. Yeah, about that. You may feel young at the start of your day, alone in your kitchen, enjoying the sunshine and your leisurely second cup of coffee. Try spending a few hours in the company of those who are truly young. You too will be forced to face facts that you, my dear, are old. Maybe not ancient old. But certainly old in the eyes of the millennials who have taken your place in the world of the relevant.

I suppose it’s my fault for thinking I could defy the calendar. I signed on with a modeling agency in hopes of landing the occasional job calling for a white haired woman. I feel silly calling myself a model since I am far from glamorous  and more than a few dress sizes away from a model’s body.  So how did I end up at a photo shoot which seemed to be hell bent on humiliating me and making me long for a senior center filled with fellow white hairs?

The shoot got off to a bad start when the twenty-something wardrobe chick with the red and purple hair handed me a pair of what looked to be impossibly small jeans and steered me in the direction of the dressing room.  Without my reading glasses, I had not a clue what size they were, but there was no way I was going back out to fetch them.

The jeans were that annoyingly stretchy material that has replaced the denim of my youth.  Ever the optimist, I took a chance, and a very deep breath, and struggled into them. Turns out that even stretchy, size 8 jeans only stretch so far. I didn’t need glasses to read the horrified looks on the faces of the make-up girl and the director. The wardrobe chick was sent shopping while I cooled my heels, and size 12 hips, in the dressing room.

She eventually returned with larger jeans, a looser top, boots with heels the size of the Empire State Building and… a dog.  A large, energetic dog which proved to be way more interested in chasing squirrels and cars than in making me look good.  As we headed off to downtown Denver, it was obvious who was going to be the star of the show.

“Let’s try that one more time,” sighed the obviously frustrated photographer. My job was to walk the dog along a busy city street, relaxed and smiling, all while balancing on heels not compatible with what was being asked of me. That dog could smell fear and knew it was him, not me, who was in charge.

“It looks like the dog is walking you,” complained the director.

“That’s because he is,” I replied as nicely as I could without letting on what I thought of their ill-conceived plan.  Either put me in flats or find a dog that has outgrown chasing cars.

The dog was eventually sent home and we all moved on to a new location, new wardrobe and new challenges.  This time, I was handed size-appropriate jeans and pointed in the direction of the photographer’s car.  While the crew set up for the next shoot, I crouched down low in the car to peel off the stretchy jeans. Memories of zipping my jeans in my boyfriend’s car, so very long ago, floated back to me.  It struck me as downright hilarious to now find myself back in that same position, crouched and zipping. I was still smirking when I exited the car and handed the stretchy jeans to the wardrobe girl.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

Was  she actually looking at me in that worried way young people look at their grandma when she starts showing signs of dementia?  Maybe I was just overly sensitive. Sharing my funny trip down memory lane might show her how cool I really was.

“I was just thinking how long it has been since I zipped up my jeans in the back seat of someone’s car.”

“Ewwwwww,” was all she said before turning and hurrying away to find the rest of the crew.

I couldn’t keep up with her in those blasted heels.  I tried short, quick steps. No good.  I tried long, lunging steps. No better. After twisting my ankle for the third time, I took off the boots and walked barefoot down the chilly sidewalk. Let her think I’m old and demented. At least I’d remain upright for the rest of the shoot.

Even the worst days must eventually come to an end. As the sun set over Denver, I headed home. Home to my husband who shares my reading glasses and can’t see my wrinkles without them. Home to my friends who share stories of hot flashes, memory lapses and the aches and pains of aging. Home to my mailbox which will someday soon hold a check for the photo shoot, making those few hours of embarrassment seem almost worth it.

Do I regret putting myself out there? Not really.  Will I do it again if I get the chance?  You betcha!  I’m not yet ready to go gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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POSTSCRIPT TO LOVE STORY ACT 2

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POSTSCRIPT TO LOVE STORY ACT 2

DSC02780            TERESA
I CALLED HER TERRY, EVERYONE CALLED HER TERRY
SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL
SHE WAS SWEET, KIND, AND UNDERSTANDING
SHE WAS EVERYTHING A WIFE AND MOTHER COULD BE
SHE WAS THE NURSE AND TEACHER FOR OUR THREE DAUGHTERS
SHE GAVE THEM DIRECTION, PROTECTION AND UNDYING LOVE.
WE HAD 65 YEARS OF GOOD AND BAD, BUT ALWAYS WITH LOVE FOR EACH OTHER.
WHEN THINGS GOT TUFF I CALLED HER TESS.
WHEN I WAS DRIVING SHE CALLED ME , WHO KNOWS WHAT?
BUT NEXT DAY TERRY WAS OK.
I HAVE A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES TO LIVE ON FROM NOW ON.
MAY GOD WATCH OVER HER AND GIVE ME DIRECTION TO LIVE BY.

GOOD BYE MY TERRY
— DAVID BRITT

Since sharing my parents’ story of their determination to live independently in their own home, I now want to share this eulogy which was given by my father at my mother’s funeral last week. They had three wonderful months together, back in their own home, before a stroke took my mother way too soon. They should have had more. They deserved more. But we will always be grateful for those last 3 months of laughter and love. Miss you Mom

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LOVE STORY ACT 2

DSC02780They met not long after the war ended, in a time of boundless optimism and hope. They married soon after, promising for better or worse, richer or poorer, until death would they part. While the riches never came, they were never poor, and always grateful for what they had. Some times were better,  some worse, but they honored their vows and lived far more years together as man and wife than they had ever lived alone. They were a handsome couple.  When he would take her in his arms, and they would glide across the dance floor, there was no more graceful couple in the room.

The next war separated them briefly but then they were back together, each doing their part to raise their growing family.   Money was tight but they enjoyed their simple pleasures.  Sharing a pizza at midnight, after his evening shift with the local police department.  Beach parties with fellow cops and their families, singing songs in the glow of a bonfire. And, whenever work schedules would allow, Sunday afternoons at local parks and playgrounds with their young daughters.

The years were kind to them, and when they had the chance to retire to a warmer climate, they grabbed it.  Still young, in their 50’s, they finally had the time to enjoy some of the things denied them as they raised their family – travel and golf and socializing with new friends.  They seized their 60’s. Health issues began to slow them down in their 70’s but still they lived and laughed and enjoyed their time with family and friends. And then their 80’s began to wear them down.

Friends not much older than themselves began to fall ill. Some passed away.  Others moved away to be closer to their kids.  Their world began to shrink to a never ending series of doctors’ appointments, Thursday outings to the senior center and twenty four hour news channels.  She fretted about his declining health. He chafed at her concern/nagging. Grocery shopping and housework became more of a challenge.  The future looked less and less appealing.

Well intentioned advice triggered a move to assisted living. Neither had ever expected to make that sort of a move.  No one ever really wants to lose their independence and they were no exception. But it was supposed to make their lives easier. Spare them the effort of cooking and cleaning and taking care of each other.  At first, she tried to make the best of it. But the move did not live up to their expectations.  She moved in first and he was to follow once he sold their home and most of their possessions.  But then she fell, badly injuring herself, and everything changed.

The days and nights dragged on endlessly as she sat, depressed and in pain,  and slowly deteriorated.  His heart broke to see her suffering.  He visited her daily, trying to help as best he could. She felt helpless. A burden. He reassured and encouraged and, at the end of the day, alone in their house, he often cried. And he began to formulate a plan to get her back home, with him, where she belonged.

For two and a half months, he did all that he could to prove to her, and to others, that he was still up to the task of living independently. He was determined to do as much as he could, for as long as he could. She worried that he was much too tired.  He pushed himself to do more.  He cooked and cleaned, shopped and managed his own health issues. And he waited to share his plan with her.

Through days and weeks of physical therapy and occupational therapy, he waited.  He put his trust in the team of medical professionals to work their magic. To see the two of them as more than merely the sum total of their advanced age and complex medical issues.  To see the potential that still existed in each of them.  And, slowly, the magic happened.

Buoyed by the encouragement of the therapists, she worked hard, pushing herself to walk a bit further. To eat a few more bites. To regain more and more of the independence lost since her fall.  She amazed the rehab staff, and, in turn, came to believe in herself once again.

Finally, their efforts paid off. On the very day of their 65th wedding anniversary, he took his bride home.  He was so excited and, if his heart and back would have allowed, he likely would have carried her over the threshold.  Flowers were waiting to welcome her.  This man, who had  barely tolerated shopping in the past, had redecorated their bedroom with new curtains and bedspreads.  He prepared a special welcome home dinner and had searched everywhere to find the baby peas and onions that she had always liked. He was so proud of his efforts and she was flattered to realize how much she still meant to him after so many years of marriage.  The romance may have waned over the years, but it was heartwarming to see the love that had endured.

It’s as if they have been given a second chance to pledge their lives to each other – for better or worse, for richer or poorer. Their future is unknown, just as it is for each of us. But they are facing it together.  On their own terms.  Determined to do as much as they can for as long as they can.  And I couldn’t be more proud of them.  Happy 65th wedding anniversary Mom and Dad.  You’re an inspiration to us all.

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REMEMBERING WILL

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