One of my long time blog followers, Sandy, recently reminded me, “It’s been a year.” She was of course referring to the date of my last blog post. But those words hold so much more meaning than just milestones on the calendar. As we round the one year mark of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the struggle for peace continues with no hope for the fog of war to lift in sight. As I grow older, looking back on my own personal past which seemed so simple to what lies ahead can also sometimes feel like no peace on the horizon. I thought these were supposed to be the “Golden Years,” yet the older I get the faster it comes, and the less it feels like gold and more like lead.
I have really missed the blog. I miss digging through my non-creative brain for sparks of creativity. I can’t paint, draw, or play music. The blog was as close to creativity as I ever got, and I miss that. I also miss my beloved companion, my Canon G7X camera which is MIA. And I miss the connections I have made. But most notably, I miss looking for the beauty in my surroundings to share here. As I told Sandy, it’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s that I have too much to say. Yes, “it’s been a year.”
Shortly after my last blog post one year ago, I took a trip to Tulsa to visit the new Bob Dylan Center. On the way back, I stopped for a few days in Beaver’s Bend, which was my deceased brother Stephen’s happy place. He often escaped there to find solace from his complicated life. I thought it would make me feel happy to retrace his steps, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like peeling off the scabs from a seven year wound. In other words, putting my hand on a hot stove.
The morning I woke up to leave the park, my slide-out wouldn’t retract. The park was full and it was beyond check-out time as I recruited some strangers to help me manually crank it in. Then on the way home, the Winnie went into “limp home mode,” meaning the error code of “insufficient turbo boost” began preventing it from getting above 45mph. Figures it would start limping as I came through Dallas at 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon. And here she still sits awaiting a few thousand dollars in repairs while I sit waiting to finding my way out of denial.
As the summer heat intensified, life continued to heat up as well, as I spent the Fourth of July watching the local fireworks show from the fold-out bed of the hospital beside my Mom. She went into the ER with an elevated heart rate, and came out a week later with a diagnosis of abdominal tumors. However, the decision was made that surgery at 93 would be too risky. Since she was having no pain or discomfort, they would just leave them be.
Don was still on the farm installing a new mini-split AC in his Navion RV. Record high temps made it too hot to think about getting the Winnie repairs done until it cooled back down a bit. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After living in the Winnie for 10 years now, seeking a life outdoors while chasing 70 degree temps, sleeping with the windows open, I have trouble breathing air conditioned air. I have worse trouble outdoors when the air being inhaled is hotter than the air expelled. So with Mom being well cared for, I left Texas in search of some place cool. I flew to the UK and did a counter-clockwise loop up through Scotland, across and down through Ireland, and back to London via Wales. I hope I can write about those gorgeous places one day, before the memories completely fade. I’ve already lost the camera. I don’t want to lose the memories. “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” (Simon & Garfunkel)
By the time I returned from the UK, Mom was beginning to feel discomfort. Her long time cardiologist recommended she see a surgeon. The prognosis was the tumors were beginning to crowd her stomach making it difficult to eat and hard to breathe. It was determined a surgical procedure to “de-bulk” the tumors was the only option to give her some comfort. She went into the hospital on 8th November. After two delays in her surgery date, one due to a-Fib and the second due to COVID (no symptoms, just a positive test result which cost her a 10 day delay,) she finally had surgery on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Never can I find the words to convey how helpless and hopeless it felt to be waiting for the surgeon in the post-op conference room while watching the staff walk out one by one, wishing each other “Happy Thanksgiving!” The following “Black Friday” on a dark and stormy evening, the unspeakable happened…
Three months later, and I still can’t say those words aloud without breaking down, or even type them for that matter. I should have written a tribute. But I couldn’t. I can’t.
It’s been an aura of loss since that time, as one by one, family members splinter. No matter how solid you think your foundation might be, when the matriarch departs this earthly plane, the whole world rocks. When the last remaining roots of the family tree die, when the foundation cracks, well…brace yourself.
So now here I am on the farm alone for the first time in my life. Just me and the cardinals. I’ll leave soon, but not without taking care of my Mom’s personal effects first. The more intimate the item, the harder it is. Most days are spent wading through years of family memories. Mom never threw anything away. Going through old boxes that haven’t been opened in fifty years is a double whammy as I sift through not only my Mom’s keepsakes, but the baby clothes of my deceased brother, Stephen who died in 2015. Déjà vu all over again, but not in a good way. Open one box, and there are all my childhood doll clothes, some embroidered with the doll name “Tiny Tears.” Open another box, and there are the “Mother and Daughter” matching dresses cross-stitched by the hand of my maternal grandmother. A hard-sided “mystery suitcase” reveals every “fancy” childhood dress I ever wore, from christening all the way up to the prom dress, bought but still awaiting the invite.
Even disposing of the dozens of bottles of Mom’s medications, I find myself thinking back over the years, recollecting the evolution of each doctor’s visit, and how I came to know the intimate details of each medication, each dosage, when and why they were modified. Some days an hour or two is all I can do, as pain from my past overtakes me.
As I am going through the things Mom saved over the years, much I didn’t even remember, it’s opening one time capsule after another. I wonder…did she save these things because she loved them? Or did she save them because she couldn’t bear to destroy them? The ladder is certainly understandable.
My advice to my generation, those of us well into our “Golden Years,” I can’t stress this enough. Simplify your life. Rid yourself of keepsakes like crystal bowls and nick-knacks. Report cards to greeting cards. Not only will you free yourself, you will free those loved ones left behind to sort it out. Spare them the cloud of grief that gets stirred up with each drawer, each cabinet, each stuffed box or suitcase. I implore you…Do what you can now to lighten the load and free yourself as well as those left behind.
So now I am trying to plot a new course after feeling like I lost my anchor, my rudder, and half my sails in the storm. The compass is spinning, but at least I am still upright.
Here is the way I choose to remember my Mom. This was our last day out before she went into the hospital for surgery. She had just had her “perm” and was feeling quite spunky as she made the most of her frozen margarita. Cheers to a life well lived, Mom!
“When you lose a parent, it feels like a suitcase that you’ll be unpacking for the rest of your life.” ~P!NK