Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sad, Not Sorry

Going into her apartment is like ripping off a bandaid, exposing the raw wound to the cold, fresh air once again.

She's not in the blue recliner just inside the door, nor is the blue recliner just inside the door, anymore.  I pick up a fallen t-shirt and remember the cruise on which it originated.  I turn to remind her how much Daddooooo didn't want to go to Alaska, and how she prevailed in the end, and how he insisted that he'd had a terrible time, all the while regaling us with stories of ice floes and more food than you could shake a stick at....and she's not there.

She's inside my head in a way she wasn't when her body was still living down the road.  Why I could ignore her then but cannot now? Is her spirit that confused?  Is it stuck on a cactus thorn?  She just can't seem to leave me alone.

I watched a young man with a bandaged foot maneuver the mobile shopping cart through the aisles at Target and I turn to laugh with her about the time she took out the toilet paper display with a similar vehicle. I get as far as moving my head before I realize that, no matter how many degrees it moves, my mom will not be there.

It's the finality of this death business that gets to me.

It makes me very sad, not for her, but for me.  She is reunited with the woman she used to be, knitting intricately patterned sweaters out of the world's scratchiest wool; reading, slowly but steadily, novels of ever increasing length; waking up at 2am for a glass of warm milk and another chapter or two; gardening and reading Ann Landers and being herself.

My mother.  The woman who knew me better than most and who thought I was just about perfect. She who knew and loved my husband and my children and didn't have to be reminded that the young ones were scattered to the far edges of the USofA.

The things she remembered until the very end were those that were never to be forgotten, under any circumstances.  Her birth date, her social security number, the code to the garage on the house she hadn't owned for a decade, the phone number to that same house.  The things I wanted her to remember, she did not.  From the practical - my children's names - to the profound - why she married my father - she left me with shrugged shoulders and no answers.

Her life, once she moved here to Arizona, became increasingly circumscribed.  Making new friends is tough when you can't remember that you've been introduced many times before. Failing vision and memory made reading an impossibility. Following instructions was more than she could manage, so crewel work no longer occupied her time.

She became, at the end, a human sitting in a chair in front of a television.  The interesting and interested woman I knew as Mommy was gone, replaced by a simulacrum.  Bits and pieces would burst forth on occasion, startling me with their clarity and connection to the past.  Those were few and far between of late.

She had no pleasures left, refusing even chocolate and anything more than a gentle peck on the cheek.  By the time she smiled and asked for sleep instead of conversation, burrowing gently into her pillow for the last time, all that was left was the love.

I kissed her.... said I love you...heard I love you,too... and walked out of the room knowing that the last words she'd hear would be filled with affection.  I'm sad that she's gone, but I'm not sorry.  It was her time. She left us on her own terms, getting her wish, dying in bed.

Sad but not sorry.... it will have to do.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How Things Look

The sun is friendly these days.  Rather than blistering my mom's thin skin, it's warming up the air to the point where a sweatshirt is a nice addition but hardly a necessity.  The rays are less piercing than caressing.  They send me back to G'ma's first winter here, when she fell and broke both her ankles and spent the holidays at a rehabilitation center.  We were sitting on the patio, admiring the big blue sky, when G'ma wondered why "that woman is wearing a Santa sweater."

The disconnect between the ambient temperature and her memory of Decembers in New York was profound. She grew to love being outside all afternoon in January, although it never ceased to confuse her.  How things looked was at odds with how things were supposed to be, and her dementia only added to the problem.

Her furniture spent the morning being carted out of her apartment and transported via The Firefighter's truck to Elizibeth's bedroom. 

The Thomasville bedroom-set, of mid-century vintage, was bought new for me the summer before I turned 16.  I saw it advertised in Seventeen and G'ma and I spent the summer searching for it.  

We bought it in the furniture store hiding behind the ramp leading from Rockville Center to Merrick Road in Merrick or Sunrise Highway in Lynbrook, the ramp on which I was never in the correct lane, the ramp which had hidden this shop for as long as I'd lived on Long Island. I took one look at the green faux-bamboo detailing and knew that it had to be mine.  I didn't think that it was possible, but it looked better in real life than it had in the magazine.  Was I blinded by love?  Perhaps.  It still makes me smile.

Now, the nine drawer dresser and the three drawer dresser and the desk-and-chair and the mirror and the cabinet and the bookshelf will grace Elizibeth's room.  We laughed about the possibility that all these drawers would insure that her clothes would be properly housed at all times; I suggested a plan for emergency storage when her parents were about to inspect.  We laughed again.  It's all a matter of opinion, of how things look to the individual viewer.  Elizibeth sees comfort in the clutter, her parents see a fire hazard.

I look at the floor of my own closet and have to agree with them both.  I love the ease the fallen clothing represents. I don't have to answer to anyone; I can make a mess and close the door and it's my mess and mine alone. On the other hand, I trip over the arms of mohair sweaters I'll never wear but insist on bringing out every time I change my closet from summer to winter.  I have no place on a reachable shelf to store them, so they lie on the floor, catching my toes and sending me tipping into the hanging clothes.They are dangerous but my mommy knit them and so I smile as I grimace.  

Again, it's all in the attitude.  It doesn't scream mess to me; it's G'ma love under my toes.  It looks unkempt, but all I see is her face.

I've been seeing that face everywhere these last few weeks.  I've been looking at the sky through her eyes, noticing how big it is.  I've been seeing Tucson's bright yellow vans and lime green taxis and remembering her delight in their vivid paint jobs as we tooled around town, following the billowing clouds. I turn a corner and hear her telling me to "look at those mountains... just look at  them!"  I pass the sign for the pod-castle, Friendship Villas Assisted Living and don't read the name but rather the description as I hear her voice asking "what do they assist me with?" 

It's all in how things look.  I'm finding that some things change and some things stay the same and I'm not quite sure what will have which fate. It's all a matter of perspective.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I'm Taking the Week Off

It's hard to concentrate... there are so many competing thoughts.

I'm overcome with happiness and with sorrow.

I need some time to sort it out.

And then there's the matter of the boxes littering the garage.

So, enjoy the weekend, denizens.

I'll be back on Monday, publishing five days a week, as usual.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Snippets, Past and Present


Merry Merry Christmas to You All!*

I give you, today, my all-time favorite Xmas carol, courtesy of Walt Kelly and Pogo. Sing loudly and lustily to the tune of Deck the Halls.....
Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash, an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!
Don't we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker 'n' too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, 'lope with you!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarm bung-a-loo!
Dunk us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an' polly voo!
Chilly Filly's name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly's jolly chilly view halloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof
(Picture is from Robert Sabuda's The Night Before Christmas Pop-Up Book)
2012: I was sitting on Douglas, left-over wedding wine in one hand, Kate Shugak on the Kindle in the other, my big boy to my right, listening to Soft Rock: Holiday Hits on Comcast's music channel. My nearly kindling tree looked  beautiful, the sun was setting and peaceful was the relevant adjective.
And then:  the factoid on the screen revealed the rather alarming fact that a two-headed Buddhist god gave children Christmas presents.  We had so many, many, many questions, but first and foremost among them was why a Buddhist god was sending gifts for Christmas. 

Then, Big Cuter smiled.

*"It's like the fork, Mom.  Once you've seen it, you realize that it's great!"

On that theory, I wish you all, each and every Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Jew and Muslim the happiest of happy holidays on this, a day that celebrates a baby's birth.  

We can all be happy when a baby is welcomed to the world, can't we?
2013: A musical interlude to leave you with a smile.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Big Cuter and I, ably assisted by Elizibeth and her access to The Firefighter's truck, delivered most of G'ma's furniture and furnishings to the-happiest-family-in-Tucson-right-now. 

I found them through a classmate at The Humanities Seminars program down at the UofA. The father, a member of the wrong tribe, spent nine years in prison in Rwanda. After his release, he and his wife and three of their five children escaped to Malawi. Two sons had managed to flee earlier; they lived abroad, wondering.  After nine more years in a resettlement camp, they were chosen, by the IRCto start again in Tucson.

Do you know the International Rescue Committee? Their website draws you right in: Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein.  It's barebones, which is fitting since only 5% of their funds 
go to administration

The benefits offered to refugees are not forever entitlements.  This family was looking at eviction in January until the mom's employer bumped her hours to full time.  They can pay the rent.  They didn't have money for extras. After eighteen years of privation, it's amazing what can be considered an extra.

Their first floor garden apartment must seem like heaven to them, woefully under-furnished though it was.  Until we arrived, they had a futon, a lamp, two chairs and an air mattress. 

They now have G'ma's bed and bedding, the rocker, the recliner, the television, all the little ottomans and the wicker coffee table, the wooden end tables, the bathroom cabinet which fell apart every time someone new picked it up making all of us smile even harder, the night stand from her green period, assorted generic throw and bed pillows (I still have the ones she made), the black bench from the bathroom, the big blue poster of flowers, and all her clothes.

I admit to a minor melt-down as I loaded Elizibeth up with the red-and-white-gingham shirt... the light suede car coat.... the turquoise pantsuit..... the jacket she bought in Tiburon when it was colder in July than December in New York for crying out loud.... and I'm teary right now so I'll assume you get the picture and I'll move on to the joy.

Oh, denizens, the joy was spilling all over us. Grins, squeals, little jumps up and down as the whole family pitched in while I sat on the padded bench and supervised, just as G'ma would have done. 

Many hands made light work and we were finished in no time. Then the dad videotaped a thank you starring all of us, sending blessings to all of us and to my beloved mother, and we drove away, quoting Elizibeth, with hearts so full they were bursting.

They solved the problem of G'ma's stuff by making us feel special. It will all be used and treasured and G'ma will be remembered as they fall asleep on her pillows and I know that if her spirit is in the area, she's sharing the smile on my face right now

Monday, December 23, 2013

Learning to Walk

A friend has a new prosthesis.  She's been using mechanical supplements to locomote since she was a very little girl.  As the decades passed and research and technology caught up with one another, the capabilities of her lower leg improved.  The changes have not always translated to better ambulation.

We proved that today on The Loop.  Well-signed and well-paved and well-traveled, this multi-use path circumnavigates Tucson.  We met at one of the parking areas, leaving a space between our two little white cars for a baby, should our vehicles choose to get to know one another on a deeper level.  We hugged, she gave me baked goods, we hugged again, and then she showed me her new equipment.

It's an elegant piece of machinery which allows her to use all the toes and to swivel on the ankle. These are new experiences for her. I oohed and aahed and tried to absorb the description she was sharing.  She's matter-of-fact about the whole thing; I'm constantly amazed.  The foot is a bit small, and only fits in one pair of shoes.  After laughing about the utility of a non-sweaty-foot in socks, we ventured out onto the path.

Neither one of us possesses a smooth gait.  We were rocking and rolling and covering ground, I trying to use all the bones in my feet and ankles, concentrating on keeping my hips level and my shoulder uncocked.  I moderated the size of my steps to meet hers as we watched puppies play in the wash below the path. She's a real animal person; every dog we passed looked and sniffed and offered itself up to her for petting and love.  They studiously avoided me.  As I said, she's an animal person.

Her hair was curly and sparkly and caught the sun as we descended and ascended and complimented ourselves on managing the change of elevation. We're talking about going down beneath an overpass, not climbing the Alps, but we were just as proud of ourselves as if Heidi were on the other end of the rise, calling to Peter across the mountains.  When small steps require many thoughts, tiny distances become minor miracles.

All the new tricks are giving my friend's brain a great deal of trouble.  At first, when the signals to her brain were announcing that the ankle swivels and the toes respond, there was a party in her cranium.  The first few minutes, she walked smoothly, gliding not lumbering, crossing the prosthetist's floor with grace.  Then, her brain kicked in, remembered her old patterns, and there she was, rolling side to side, not using everything available to her.

She didn't know how.  Her brain was comfortable in its old patterns and had no interest in changing.  With all those new sensations, her brain was overwhelmed, uncertain, incapable of control. The new prosthesis could strut its stuff without interference.  Once her brain calmed down, though, it resumed its role as master of the universe, and her old patterns reemerged. Now, walking requires concentration.  Every. Single. Step. Must. Be. Thought. Out.

Every. Single. Step.

It's exhausting.  I know. I'm supposed to be doing the same thing.

If I concentrate, I can make my right leg move from the ground up.  If I just walk, the action is all in the hips and upper body.  I thrust myself along instead of letting the appropriate body parts do their thing.  I've trained myself, over the last three years, to locomote.  It's not ambulation, but it gets me where I want to go. It doesn't look pretty, it takes more energy than it ought, but I'm moving.

In the beginning, that was enough.  After fourteen weeks on the couch, I was finished with the sedentary life.  Form was sacrificed to function, and function got me where I needed to go. My family winced as they watched, but I was moving and that was enough for me. Now, months and months after the novelty has worn off, I'm ready for a smooth gait.  It's not entirely clear that my brain is on the same page.

She's had the same trouble that I did finding a physical therapist who can help her retrain her brain-body connection.  The capabilities exist.  She carries them in her shoe.  She's just having a hard time figuring them out. I feel that pain, too.  Engaging my adductors, lifting the arch of my foot, pressing evenly through all my toes, pushing off with force, utilizing my glute-hamstring pathway to empower my movements... if I think about them I can do them all at once.  Of course, all that concentration means I can't carry on a conversation or take in the beauty which surrounds me.  I have to think about putting one foot in front of another.

I know I'm making progress; my arms now swing of their own accord.  That was not the case twelve months ago, when I held my upper body rigidly, protecting my achy hip from distress. There is less distress and more freedom of movement as time has passed, but I'm still rolling from side to side as I try to go from here to there.

We shared laughs and stories and thought about the disconnect between our bodies and our brains. We know we are lucky to have what we have.  We're not pitying ourselves.  We are trying to get the most out of what we have, and we're having a hard time with that.  I'm going to put her together with my physical therapist and see if there is something that she can do.  Perhaps the vibration platform would wake up the pathways she needs to properly utilize her fancy new appendage.  Perhaps walking with straps-hanging-from-the-ceiling-secured-under-her-armpits on the treadmill will relieve the pressure and allow her to practice without fear of falling.  I don't know for sure, but it's worth a try.

After all, The Loop has 55 miles of connected trails just waiting for us.  I'm waiting for the day when we can stride out, heads held high, hips parallel to the ground, shoulders neither rising nor falling but following gracefully as we put one foot in front of the other. I can close my eyes and imagine it.  I know the reality is not far behind.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Packing up G'ma's Stuff

And it's all stuff.  
Anything remotely valuable or marginally sentimental was distributed when she left the East Coast for Arizona.  What she had left were trinkets.  They made her smile, especially since someone else dusted them twice a week.  Somehow, they've taken on new importance since her death.  

A $10 small river rock painted with a blue bird's face was claimed by several relatives across the generations.  The gorgeous glass paperweight was on everyone's list. I received emails and text messages and picture-grams with circles around the items that absolutely had to be sent so that G'ma could be remembered.

Apparently, the crewel work pictures are stretched on important frames; I am not to release them from their bonds. There are many reasons families should live close to one another.  Having to ship 6' long framed stitchery is only one of them. It's not as if I can throw them out, of course.  They are my mother's creations,and her grand-daughter wants them. I'm having fun imagining G'ma imagining her crewel work as hipster art in Brooklyn.  She's pretty pleased, with that smile that truly reached her eyes.  The one she saved for those she loved and those who loved her back.

Olga, activities therapist extra-ordinaire and true friend to G'ma, took two of the hooked rug pillows G'ma had created in better days.  For her husband, she took the mini-ceramic cask of Irish Whiskey, a souvenir trinket from someone's trip to Ireland.  At 3" tall, it will make a small but significant statement in the home of two emigres. My mother will be remembered.

This is how I'm getting through touching things that touched my mom.
 I am creating smiles where there are incipient tears.  I'm refusing to go down the path to sorrow.  There is not a reason in the world to be sad.  The mother I loved was lost to me years ago; this incarnation of herself was not one she'd have asked to live.  She was always smiling, never kvetching, ready with a solution or a chocolate bar to soothe your soul.... but it was a half-life at best.  She lived nearly 91 years and died with a kiss on her cheek.  There is not a reason in the world to be sad.

Except for this giant hole in my heart, that is.

I've boxed up photo albums and ceramic bowls 
and I'm sending them back to their people.
I'll take the pictures out of this ghastly frame
and send them back East to be scanned.

It's all we have now, so it has to be enough.  
I'm trying really hard to make it be so.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Sun Came Up This Morning

and I was here to see it. 
 By definition, it is a good day. 

 I was up and on the road as the sun was rising.
I had an appointment at Prince Elementary School.
The student council was waiting to hear how they can help promote the Stroll and Roll.
Telling elementary schoolers about Christina-Taylor at the Safeway is always a tricky business.
These were good listeners, sympathetic to the loss of a child near their own age.
They were delighted to be able to assuage my pain and do their part to stay fit and healthy.
Posters will be made, emails will be sent, conversations will be had.

They all agreed that the sparkling grape juice was tasty, the pomegranate juice was sweeter, and the green apple sparkling soda was just this side of disgusting.
My brownies, of course, received rave reviews.

The manager in the bagel store was happy to see me again.
She moved from our local outlet to one on the way to everywhere.
I'm not a regular in her new home, but you'd never have known it from her greeting.
I love feeling connected to the world around me.

I came home to Ernie and his crew tending my yard.
Yard care in December may be oxymoronic to those of you living with snow,
but here in the desert it's prime time.
Cool enough for a stocking cap at 8am, but shorts by noon.

He cut down the stalks of the hesperaloe parviflora, but we left the bougainvilla alone.
Pruning will happen when the blossoms freeze or die.
For now, it's full of color and making me happy.

That's Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina) in front of the bigger bougies.
It turns deep red at this time of year, celebrating the season with the rest of us.
It's an invasive plant, but, for now, I'm happy having it invade the courtyard.
Things grow so slowly here; anything that sprouts with reckless abandon is welcomed with open arms.

Ernie rakes the detritus into neat piles, blowing the bigger and further items into his stash.
 Sometimes we find volunteers which must be removed.
No one wants a jumping cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) near a pathway.
It comes by its name because the slightest touch will make one of the pieces of the hanging chain (another name) attach itself to your clothes, your shoes, your arm, your hair.... you get the picture.
Some people call it a Teddy Bear Cactus, but I think that's too adorable for such a nasty, sharp pest.
Just as the groundskeepers at baseball fields make patterns in the turf,
our gardeners rake neat lines in the stones which pass for a lawn here.
They make me as happy as vacuum cleaner paths in shag carpet.

My reindeer are protecting my front door,
in all different incarnations
as the amaryllis bulbs delude me into thinking that they will be blossoms by Christmas.
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
The sun came up.
I was here to see it.
By definition, it's a good day!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I'm Having a Hard Time

My thoughts won't stay focused.  I begin to opine about sequestration, and I wonder how I'd explain it to G'ma.  I listen to a fascinating four minutes on health care costs and consider that post on where does the money go which I've been trying to write for a year or more and then I devolve into thinking about how much G'ma's broken leg cost the insurance company and Medicare.  I wander into the room where TBG is watching talking heads and I burrow into his chest for a hug and a kiss.

I miss my mommy.

The post you read yesterday was written the afternoon before she died.  I had it scheduled as a buffer between remembrance and reality.  I just re-read it.  I don't think I could write that right now.

It's an olio for sure, but one without G'ma.  Since she died in her sleep two Thursday's ago, I haven't had three thoughts in a row without my mother poking herself into the stew.  In the grocery store, every second customer is a mother-daughter combination.  I can't leave the neighborhood without passing her pod-castle; I still wave and say "Hi, Mommy," as I drive by. I wash my Revereware pots and channel her telling me that they would last forever; thirty-eight years and counting and they are still as good as new.

What I can't get over is that there will be no new events to remember, no new memories to be made.  I want a hug and Mom is not here to provide it.  Never will be.  Ever ever again.  My brain just doesn't want to get around that.

Big Cuter likes to think about infinity and what's outside the universe and was surprised to hear that those conversations give me a stomach ache. Recognizing the finality of my mother's passing is giving me the same kind of willies.  I can't understand it.  I have no place to put it.  I don't know how to frame the conversation with myself.

Hospice has a bereavement group, but I have a lunch date at the same time so I won't be going this week.  Last week felt too early; I didn't need any help to cry.  Perhaps next week, for ninety minutes, I'll be ready to share the grief.  I know that help is out there; they called and reminded me about the group and asked if I needed anything, anything at all.

They can't give me what I want.  I thanked her for calling, hung up the phone, and bawled.

The tears come and go.  They don't last for long.  When I think of how peaceful she was, how ready she was, how in control of the situation she was, I find it hard to do more than smile.... through the tears... which are for me and not for her.

We were so lucky, my family and I.  We had no hard decisions to make.  We had no awful pain to watch her suffer. We had caregivers and family members and a mother who was considerate enough to die early in the morning so that we had all day to take care of the paperwork.  A Sunday funeral was convenient for everyone; once again, G'ma was looking out for us all.  She lived a long life, had an easy death, and I am, from time to time, able to smile about it all.

That's a good thing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Random Thoughts - The December Edition

December should be cold and cloudy and snowy. It should make my nose freeze and fingers tingle and my toes go numb.  Driving should be hazardous and dressing should take a long, long time. Layers and gloves and scarves and hats and coats buttoned up to the neck and beyond are de rigeur.... if you live someplace other than the desert Southwest.

Here, we wear jeans and long sleeve shirts in the morning, rolling up the sleeves by mid-day, rolling down our windows and smiling at the cars in the next lane as we enjoy the wintry temperatures... in the 50's and 60's.... clement any place else but fairly frigid here.

Holding onto the holiday spirit when I'm wearing shorts takes effort.  I'm just sayin'...
Chanukah decor is not on sale yet.  Tonight's the last night and I have high hopes that Bed Bath and Beyond will be marking down their candles and dreidles after sunrise tomorrow.  There aren't many places to find Jewish decorations here in Tucson; BB&B and Target are the only entities which recognize the presence of Chanukah shoppers in the community.

It's times like these that I truly miss Marin.  Meadowlark Gallery was my go-to, one-stop-shop for all things Judaica.  Menorahs and artistic dreidles and letterpress printed cards were available in many incarnations.

Here, we are reduced to flannel backed plastic tablecloths and paper Happy Hannukah banners.  It's something, but not enough to soothe my shopping soul.  Without FAMBB's now annual gifting, I'd be truly bereft.
My local grocery store, Albertsons, has a new promotion.  I've been collecting stamps and trading them in for free Rachael Ray dinner ware. I have six plates and bowls in my trunk, and stamps for four more on the collection card in the car.  When the promotion ends, I'll take my goodies to Youth on Their Own, a local organization supporting high school graduation for teens living on their own.

Despite the fact that Elizibeth refuses to believe that 13 year olds are living on the streets here in Tucson, it's a fact.  YOTO provides mentors, counseling, a food pantry, a household goods closet, and a small residential facility.  Rhonda, my favorite cashier, has a nephew living with her who is involved in their program.  We both smiled when the customer in line ahead of me this afternoon turned and asked me if I was collecting the stamps; she'd done her month's shopping and twenty little orange stickers were mine when she was done.

Somehow, it makes spending money on groceries a fun thing to do.
It's early for us, but I'm hankering for the smell of pine in my living room.  I think tomorrow is the day to bring the live tree home.  There are so many choices - Buckelew Farms is everywhere, on every busy corner I traverse.  The Lutheran Church youth program sells them in the parking lot next to the sanctuary, but you have to figure out when the kids are around to help.  Wally World has them for the best price, but somehow shopping around for a deal on a Christmas tree seems vaguely churlish.

I'm not sure why.
The chair in Little Cuter's room, a chair in the breakfast nook, a suitcase in the garage... they hold the gifts which must be wrapped.  Since Little Cuter and SIR are doing the holiday in Illinois and Indiana this year, shipping is in order.  Big Cuter and TBG and I will celebrate here in Tucson.  Since they went with me to Dick's Sporting Goods and chose their own presents, it seems somewhat ridiculous to invest time and effort in boxing and wrapping their choices.

Yet, I will do so, because anything else seems Scrooge-like.
The thank you emails and calls and letters have been pouring in from the Chanukah round of brownie list boxes I sent last month.  Cheetah stationary from friends who took a dream trip to Africa, a funny phone call from my grew-up-next-door first cousin, a sorry your mom is failing and thanks for the sweets call from his sister, a Facebook message from MTF, an email from another first cousin, thanking me for remembering that her little boy, my youngest cousin, doesn't eat nuts.... every time I think that this list is just waaaayyyyy toooooo looooong I remember all the love that comes back to me.
The party season is starting this weekend with the Cornell Club of Southern Arizona's annual bash at a local country club.  We'll eat fine food and sing carols and, this year, host a representative from the University.  I'll be going alone, because TBG feels that he's fulfilled his Cornell Club obligations for 2013 by attending the Fall Picnic in September.

That's okay, because I like hanging out with Natalie.  She and I have sat next to one another for the last four or five of these events, and I've watched her grow from a kid who needed crayons and paper to keep still to a bright eyed girl who is interested in the world around her.  I don't know if she loves me as much as I love her, but it really doesn't matter.  This kind of relationship works as a one-way street.
I have been searching for reindeer antlers for The Schnozz. I have large, unbreakable, outdoor balls to hang from the trees outside (as soon as I can find someone who wants to go up on a ladder and hang them). Patty cleaned the Chanukah detritus from the corners of the living room and it's all ready to bring in the next holiday.

I do so love this time of year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Random Thoughts - The Sitting Shiva Edition

She got her wish.

She went to sleep and she didn't wake up.
I was there the night before, bringing brownies for the caregivers, making sure she was in a comfy, flannel, Lanz nightgown, turning down the lights, kissing her cheek. Every tiny movement caused tiny little ouch's and so I chattered over them, trying to distract her.  I told her about my phone call with Gladys, her oldest friend, and the memories she shared of horseback riding and skiing and driving in the days when girls didn't do those things and the caregiver smiled at me as I said, "You're not really hearing any of this. You're not really here at all, are you, Mommy?"

We were both stunned when the wraith-masquerading-as-my-mother looked up at me from the bed and said "Nope."

Not one to give up on a responsive moment, I went right back at her.

"Do you know where you are?"

"No," she said, bemused.

"Is it okay?"

And whether she said yes, or smiled, or asked why wouldn't it be, I can't really remember, though from time to time I can hear her saying any one of the three. The intent was clear, if my memory is faulty.

What I know is that it's as close to a glimpse of heaven I've ever heard.
Her brain is part of a long-term dementia study being conducted by Columbia University. Her living self participated in verbal examinations, fPET scans, and fMRI's; her brain was removed here in Tucson and shipped out to NYC before the rest of her arrived at the funeral home.

Are you, like everyone else I've told, saying How cool is that right now?  She didn't think it was creepy or strange.  "I'll be dead.  I won't be needing it anymore, will I?"
The hearse attendants forgot to bring her teeth when they took her body.  At one point, her brain was in the air over the mid-west, her carcass was in mid-town Tucson, and her dentures were on the front seat of my car.

In another adage come to life moment, I really did not know whether to laugh or to cry.  Where are you, Mommy??
Though certain nieces entertained a wicked fantasy of G'ma going 'round and 'round on the luggage carousel, in fact she was packed in dry ice and shipped as cargo.  TBG and I felt like cargo as we strapped ourselves into two pay-extra-for-them aisle seats from Phoenix to Newark.  Hours in the air, hours in a strange hotel, hours in my sister's house, hours without my mom.  They all blended together. None were better or worse than the others.  They were hours without my mom.
G'ma has the last plot in Daddooooo's family's section of the Jewish cemetery right around the corner from Belmont Raceway.  We toured the stables and the grandstand and the main entrance and I would have taken pictures were we not in a funeral cortege, circling the facility from the other side of the chain-link fence.

We paused as the gravediggers donned their warm clothes and mourners headed to the rest rooms and then we drove past big stones and little stones and crypts and dates from the 1800's and lots of beloved relatives before we got to the corner at which G'ma was laid to rest.

There's a certain way to hold the shovel and a certain way to put it down and I followed the instructions because it was all I could do.  Little Cuter and SIR hugged and tossed dirt and we breathed a little easier when it was all done.
We rotated between the hotel and the diner across the street and my sister's house for three days.  Three days without a glimpse of the sun.  Three days surrounded by nieces and nephew and cousins and stories... lots and lots of stories.

We played games and looked at pictures and ate and drank and saw old friends.  As IntrepidCat said, "This was a really fun party.  It's too bad that G'ma had to die for it to happen."
From time to time I'll comment on the loss, the process, the clean up, the distribution, the love.  For now, I'm easing back into the world.  I've taken the last seven days to consider my mother's place in the universe, to grow accustomed to her absence, to make a plan for going forward.

It was a long life and an easy passing.  Wouldn't we all like to say the same for ourselves?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Musings on G'ma

This series of reprinted posts is a tribute to my mother, Esther Tamara Rukasin Annis, who died on December 5, 2013. 
Fresh posts will resume sometime soon.  For now, I hope you'll spend the time with us as we remember our mom.

One year ago, G'ma was in the rehabilitation hospital trying not to melt into the bed. Friday night she was in the middle of the Happy Ladies Club cocktail party in my living room. If I'm going to beat myself up when she rolls off the couch, I'm going to have to remember to revel in the times she's up and out and having fun. 

G'ma's a member of the Club, and we've been to luncheons and, of course, she's the cheerleader when we bowl. Not that she remembers any of this, but the women who've been there with us all recognize her limitations and they've learned to create conversations in which she can participate. The bowling ladies all spent time yakking with her and my hiking buddies each made a special effort to wonder whyshe didn't hike with us...... which led to G'ma demonstrating her exercise routine (bending and unbending her index finger) and laughing. Laughing is good.

Those who didn't know her were respectful of her short term memory issues and talked about old times and the here and now and then wandered away. And there she sat, Sprite Zero with a straw in one hand, a plate of cookies resting on her lap, and her eyes sharp as they ever were.

And she sat and she watched and she judged. From her comfy chair right in the middle but not in the way (just as she'd like it if she gave it any thought) she had the perfect vantage point to scan the crowd and make her internal pronouncements. TBG and I knew what she was thinking as her eyebrows moved over her forehead and her head gave those almost imperceptible shakes and her mouth smiled then pursed then disapproved, but I'm certain no one else could tell that anything was going on at all. But it certainly was. 

We'd been to the luncheon/gift exchange at her pod-castle that afternoon. With the list of the caregivers' names our only guide, we'd thought and pondered and cogitated and deliberated and considered and rejected and discarded dozens of ideas. The facility has a "no cash gifts" policy, and that extended to gift certificates and those pretty credit card gift cards from Target and Barnes and Noble and Home Depot. Handkerchiefs, candy, perfume, picture frames.... we decided on body wash, puffs and a blessing charm in pretty bags with tissue paper and pretty tags. Walmart and the Beauty Warehouse and the grocery store...... not nearly as much fun as shopping for this kind of thing would have been in Marin or in Chicago but I'm in 

Tucson and I love it even if the shopping is boring.

The luncheon was a pot-luck buffet and it had the usual array of pizza, chicken and rice casseroles, Swedish meatballs and deviled eggs. I'd love to know who thought that spare ribs was an appropriate addition to the festivities..... one cannot really use utensils to eat a rib, and greasy fingers combined with 80 years of life on the planet leads to some interesting experiences. 

G'ma eats with the same 3 ladies at every meal. One says nothing. One introduces herself as "completely deaf" despite the 2 industrial-strength hearing aids she's sporting. The third defines querulous. The deaf lady and G'ma exchanging winks over the whispering, whining, wondering tablemate between them was a sight to behold. G'ma would answer her questions or suggest solutions and she'd sigh and tell us why it wouldn't work and the deaf lady, though missing the words, knewwhat was going on and she and G'ma rolled their eyes, subtly, as the middle one tried to get the food into her mouth. They may be old, but they've retained their edge. After asking me if I was the daughter, deaf-but-feisty looked straight at G'ma and said, "I know enough not to ask you" and they shared a laugh. 

It was the kind of laugh women whose brains are functional within limits they'd never imagined and whose bodies don't respond to the commands those brains are sending laugh. The kind of laugh that would be a cry if they were querulous but instead is realistic and acknowledging and rueful and honest. Because it is what it is whether they laugh or they cry.

And it's much more pleasant to be around them when they're laughing.

(First published December 21, 2009)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Voting With G'ma

This series of reprinted posts is a tribute to my mother, Esther Tamara Rukasin Annis, who died on December 5, 2013. 
Fresh posts will resume sometime soon.  For now, I hope you'll spend the time with us as we remember our mom.

It's election day.  I took myself to my polling place and walked right into a voting booth (after proving that I was who I said I was by presenting my driver's license) and was finished in 3 minutes.  It was vaguely unsatisfying. 

The room was empty except for the poll workers and me.  It was lonely voting without another citizen to share a smile and a civic connection.  A low turn out is probably bad news for the candidates and issues about which I care, but that wasn't what was going through my head as I inked in my choices.  Instead, I was wondering about the lack of respect for the privilege of being a citizen of these United States of America which obviously exists in this precinct.  The franchise was fought for and suffered for and cherished and treasured and it's not that hard to find the polling place and still there were no lines, no fellow citizens, no camaraderie.  There were the elderly worker bees supervised by one younger woman just sitting there, waiting for someone to help.  It's not a very exciting job, but today it looked more dismal than usual.

I left the gym at the Y after commiserating with the ballot-drop-box-worker about the lack of enthusiasm I was able to muster for this voting experience, and then I went over to the pod-castle to help G'ma with her ballot.  Yes, it was an Early Ballot but we were late getting to it.  Amster's law offices held a Proposition Party last week, and I had to wait for that input before I could properly advise G'ma on the myriad issues we were asked to decide upon.  Pizza and garlic twists and an hour of laughter and insight stood me in good stead; I knew what was behind the ballot initiatives and I knew where I stood on those issues.  I was able to make a good argument for the opposing side, and TBG thought enough of my decision making prowess to ask me for a list of who and what were appropriate decisions.  We often disagree on the issues; this year his distaste for the Republicans here in Arizona led to our votes being identical.  I can't remember when he didn't vote for at least one non-Democrat.  Of course, most of our Republicans are more Tea Party types than Lincoln types, a division which should be interesting when/if they end up in Congress.  Wondering what the Republican Caucuses will sound like next January kept me occupied on the drive to the pod-castle.

G'ma's first reaction to her early ballot was "You just fill it in for me"..... but I don't reinforce laziness so I waited a minute or two for her to forget why she was sitting next to me on the couch before I reintroduced the ballot.  This time, she was ready to play.  Though her initial reaction was to vote for all the Democrats (like any lefty from the 1930's she's a die-hard liberal and do not try to get her to change), she listened to my description of the candidates, pro and con, before she colored in the circles next to her (Democratic) choices.  Since our Republican candidates are uniformly against spending for education or health care and seem to be incapable of putting two sentences together to make a paragraph, my synopses of their positions had us both laughing out loud.  John Huppenthal is running for State Superintendent of Education on a platform of speaking English and discipline in the classroom.  "With a switch and a scowl?" asked G'ma as she filled in the dot next to his opponent.  I was surprised to realize how many of the Democrats had served on school boards before running for higher office.  I was equally surprised to see how many of the Republicans had not gone to college, or even high school.  A GED means something, but not as much as sitting in the classroom and finishing with your peers.  "What does he know about education, then?" she wondered, while voting for his opponent.  There was the joy in voting for a nice Jewish girl married to an astronaut (Gabrielle Giffords) and the disgust in being unable to vote for the local school board. 

Neither of us had received any information at all about that race - no phone calls, no door to door meet-and-greets, no mailers outlining the issues and the positions.  It's times like these that I miss living in Marin.  Our politics were truly local there; when 13,000 voters comprise the electorate it was  hard to ignore a race.  Everyone was concerned about everything - quality schools equaled high property values and well-heeled residents to shop in the local businesses which drew tourist-trade from the well-protected open spaces surrounding the community.  Here, I have a general sense of living in the Amphitheatre School District but not much beyond that.  My friends with school age kids do and don't use them, but no one seems too concerned about them, one way or the other.  I could exert some effort and figure it out for myself, but I am tired of being responsible for the education of other people's children when those people don't care enough to try and involve me themselves.  There are a lot of voters without a specific-child-related-interest who live in this District.  I can't believe it hasn't occurred to anyone that we might be a significant voting bloc.  In similar situations in the past, G'ma used to look for the one's she knew, then the Jews, then the women and then the Democrats.  We knew none of them, none were obviously co-religionists, and voting for a woman seemed downright sexist, even to G'ma's 87 year old self.  I should have called Mommy Crayola and asked her advice, but I didn't. We left those circles blank.

Then came the Propositions.  She's not against ObamaCare (which is now an epithet but which, I predict, someday will be said with as much reverence as Medicare) and she's a Union girl from way back, and anything with which Karl Rove might be connected is definitely not something she wants, no matter what that might be and so we were able to cut through the first third without much discussion.  Medical Marijuana?  "They want to tell my doctor what he can prescribe for me?" came right before she winked and said "And if someone wants to get it he'll get it anyway, right?" and I reminded her that a doctor had suggested it for her as an appetite enhancer while she was recovering from bilateral broken ankles and we wandered around the fact that she has "no memory at all of that" before we voted in favor of prescription pot and moved on to refusing to allow the legislature to sweep monies from voter approved funds for early childhood health and education and open space and trust lands into the general fund.  The argument that this would offset raising taxes to meet the budget deficit held no sway with my totally engaged, completely focused on the task at hand ("what's the next one?") maternal unit.  "And then we have no open space and kids go without..... hmphfffffff" and there was that face again, the one with the lips pursed and eyebrows knitted and the whole thing drawn into the center like a furious prune and believe you me you do not want to be on the receiving end of that look.  My mother filled in those circles with venom, with fury, with distaste for the idiots who could conceive of such a thing

and my heart was bursting. 

I knew she was in there.  I wasn't even peeved that she was sucking her dentures around in her mouth ("Gross Mommy!!  Stop It!!!" and she just smiles and does what she wants and I shrug and move on).

Nope, not at all.  We were involved and invested even if no one else seemed to be.

Thank you, suffragists.  

Helena  Hill Weed, Norwalk , Conn.    Serving 3 day sentence in D.C.  prison for carrying banner,      'Governments  derive their just powers from the consent of the  governed.'
 Thank you very very much.

And thanks to Bunionella for the photo and info on the suffragists

(First published November 23, 2010)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Care Packages from G'ma

This series of reprinted posts is a tribute to my mother, Esther Tamara Rukasin Annis, who died on December 5, 2013. 
Fresh posts will resume sometime soon.  For now, I hope you'll spend the time with us as we remember our mom.

I was in Costco last week, shopping for G'ma.  Tissues and toilet paper are two areas in which I can really make a difference in her quality of life.  The pod castle would provide both of them, and I'm sure they are included in her cost of care, but Posh Plus and Kleenex with Aloe are much nicer for my only mother.  The product placement people know what they're doing -  the bulk items are all the way in the back of the store.  I had to walk the gantlet of neatly folded temptations on my way to the Ultra-Soft Charmin.  It was hopeless.  I succumbed immediately.  

The Little Cuter and I love Costco.  She sat on the big orange flat-bed as I pushed her up and down the aisles.... until she went off to college.  We giggled and we investigated and we surmised ("Who could possibly use this many.......") and we always had a good time.  So, she really wasn't surprised when I called her at work and asked if she needed .... or wanted... new underwear and new socks and what color camisoles would be most appreciated and then we went on to the plaid cotton hang-out-pants that had SIR written all over them.  By the time I was back at the toilet paper my cart was filled with love. 

I paid and I left and then it occurred to me that I had used G'ma's debit card.  For everything.  But we never reconciled the bills after our Los Angeles adventure, and the Visa people do want to be paid.  This would have to be discussed. 

I dragged all the goodies into G'ma's apartment and collapsed onto the couch. "What do you have here?" was all she could say before the laughter over took us both.  I'm not sure what was so funny, and neither was she, but there was something going on and we were enjoying it.  Sports bras and tissue boxes were commingling in an ever expanding mess as I tried to pile things atop one another only to be thwarted by less than cohesive plastic wrapping.  "Give me that!" she demanded but I had no idea what she was asking for and when I asked her what she wanted she said she couldn't remember and we laughed some more. 

I packed the medium USPS Priority Mail box and everything fit nicely.  In our continuing efforts to use up the collected  (or collective?) contents of stationary drawers gone by, of knowing that this card will be perfect for someone... someday... I picked one from the Thinking of You stack and gave it to G'ma for some words of endearment.  It's true that I had to remind her that this was a just because gift every so often, but there were many boxes of Puffs and many rolls of toilet paper to collect and store in the single closet she calls her own so I was busy and we were in no rush at all. 

"Now what?" she asked.  I tossed her a sheet of stickers and she went to town.  The envelope and the box were carefully and precisely decorated.  She wasn't complaining that her hands didn't work.  She was sitting back and deciding and then placing, with intention and attention, each and every sticker on the sheet.  When she was finished, we dropped the package at the post office and went on to lunch.

There were emails flooding my in-box once the box arrived:

The camisoles you sent me are the softest camisoles in the history of camisoles. I would like to wear one on myself every day all day and then not even have to take it off to shower. Grand-dog agrees, as I left one on the floor last night and he chose to forgo the bed and sleep on the camisole.
I hope you bought some of these camisoles for yourself. I catch myself rotating in my chair just so I can feel them move. Remember when I couldn’t stop hugging myself in my first magenta cashmere sweater? SAME DEAL.
Who knew Costco had such awesome underthings?
And, from SIR himself:
You didn't have to send me anything!!   They are my favorite!  Oh, and please tell G'ma I loved the card.
That was not an add-on to the emails his sweetie had sent, but a personal thank you... he has a little thing going with G'ma and bizarre cards...... it any wonder I love him so?

The Little Cuter laughed about the stickers on the box, reporting that they kept her amused and smiling all the way up in the elevator. 
Alas, I recycled the box before I could take a picture…
so G'ma and I were forced to return to the scene of the crime and continue to shop.  She has other grandchildren, and one of them, IntrepidCat, was available for a g-chat with her aunt prior to our excursion.  We discussed curves and comfort and style and colors and G'ma and I were well-prepared as she pushed and I directed the cart down the aisles.

Standing in Costco, my mother on my cell phone with my daughter, discussing camisole colors and life in general....... I'm not sure it gets better than this.

I left G'ma the cards and the boxes and a sheet of instructions directing her to choose a blank card, write Happy New Year (Rosh HaShonah begins on Wednesday night) and Love, G'ma and decorate it with stickers.  The boxes were to receive the same adhesive accouterments.

I left them on the couch so that she couldn't take a nap without dealing with them.  Or so I thought.  Turns out that she used them as foot rests and never imagined that they were a task awaiting her attention.  No one reminded her, and she wasn't uncomfortable,  just a bit confused but "Aren't I always just a little confused?" so we did it as our post-prandial activity on Sunday and here are the results

I do love having my mother around. 

(First published September 6, 2010)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesdays with G'ma

This series of reprinted posts is a tribute to my mother, Esther Tamara Rukasin Annis, who died on December 5, 2013. 
Fresh posts will resume sometime soon.  For now, I hope you'll spend the time with us as we remember our mom.

G'ma and I went bowling with the Happy Ladies Club yesterday.

When I stopped by the pod-castle just after 9am, she was curled up snug as a bug in a rug in her comforter. Without her glasses on, she could only see my outline until I bent down to kiss her hello. I guess the caregivers don't include that service in their daily rounds, because she knew it was I, even with her eyes closed. I do love having a mother around.

I'd come to remind her that I'd be back at 11:30 to collect her for lunch. As she sank deeper into her blankets to resume the sleep I'd so rudely interrupted, I left with little confidence that she'd remember to get up and get ready. I backtracked and left her a written reminder on the seat of her walker. I do wish my mother could remember her itinerary on her own.

But later, when I knocked and then opened her door, her fully clothed, ready and waiting self greeted me with a smile and a laughing remonstrance: "It's 11:31. I've been waiting." So much for worrying. As always, when something involving her children had to be done and done right, G'ma never missed a beat. I do love having a mother around.

We shared a caesar salad and a chicken-pesto-shaved romano thin but really tasty crust pizza and had leftovers for the newspaper seller in the intersection. The wait staff flirted with her and she did her cute little old lady thing and everyone told her how adorable she was. In the past, this would have set her teeth on edge; adorablewas never something to which she aspired. Intelligent or competent perhaps, if she were to allow any complimenting at all. When asked about her reluctance to accept the nice words thrown her way, she reflected on her parents' Socialism and their constant reminders that, despite her A+ report cards and perfect Shirley Temple ringlets, she was no better than anyone else. Every once in a while whole relevant memories like these spring to the part of her brain that's remembering at the moment and she tells me stories I've never heard before, with emotions she's never shown before. I miss the old G'ma, but I do love having this version of my mother around.

We had some extra time ("To go with the extra food," according to G'ma) so we went shopping for the essentials : chocolate and Fixodent. Such is the 9th decade of life. On the theory that you can never over-pay your caregivers but knowing that they cannot accept gratuities other than food stuffs, this just had to be purchased for them as a Thanksgiving Thank You:
Of course, G'ma kept forgetting that the sampler wasn't for her. "This is an awfully big box, don't you think?" I smiled to myself everytime I reminded her that it was for the helpers at the pod-castle. I do so love having my mother around.

(The apple is there to demonstrate just how big this box really is.... we stopped traffic in the aisles of Walgreens as we carted it to the cashier.)

She kibbitzed while we bowled, and supervised the opening and en-bowling of the Hershey's Kisses and plain M&M's once we got back to her suite and I watched in astonishment as the stream of visitors began. The word had gone out that G'ma had new chocolate and before I could unwrap the mini-Hershey bars (milk chocolate and she doesn't care if dark is better for you because she likes milk chocolate and you don't want to get between G'ma and her chocolate if you know what's good for you) three different people had dropped by for a sample. G'ma was the gracious hostess, circa Jewish-mother-1955: "Please, take another. Don't be so stingy with yourself." If it takes chocolate to bring the party to her room, she'll never be without. I love that they love having my mother around.

A truth (after all, the Burrow's masthead promises them....) that surprises me is the equanimity with which I am now able to accept the-woman-who-is-inhabiting-my-mother's-body as Mommy. I have given up trying to re-make her into her old self. Age and a hospitalization gone awry have robbed her of the capacity to retrieve newly received information. To say that she can't remember, though, seems to imply that she has the capacity to create and store the information. I try to pry this mystery apart with her every once in a while, but she really can't give shape to the situation. And so I let it be, and go with the flow, and chill out and somehow I've gotten to a place of not worrying. She's happy and living with people who like her and she returns the favor and what more could I ask?

I do so love having my mother around.

(First published November 18, 2009)