Our Mom

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Our mom turned 90 in September and we felt fortunate that up until that time she was still living at home, able to go out for the occasional adventure. During the last week of August we went to the county fair and a family birthday party; a true gift for all of us. Now, at the end of September, everything is different. And it causes me to look back, once again.

Growing up, we were a family with troubles and joys, struggles and celebrations. We had times of riding the wave, and times when we were tossed in its surf. But thru it all, or because of it all, we formed a close, tight-knit bond, one to the other. While we learned from dad about being our own person, mom taught us that together we formed a picture of completeness — a one for all, all for one philosophy of sorts.

It is from this whole family picture, ever growing and changing as each new member is added, that the shadow of dad is still seen. Now, due to dementia, there is a forming of the space my mom leaves; a space deeply filled with love and memories. And it is from this place that my sisters and I, our husbands, and our children, keep the memories warm, the home fires still burning, the light still on by how much we love our family, with all its flaws, unusualness, bumps, warts, bruises, and stumbles.

I know from experience that, in time, our little 3-ring circus will re-configure around the spaces, and bond together in a much different way, forming a new picture. And that, eventually, this new family picture will take hold, tying our hearts together, re-shaping our lives.

But, for now, we are caught in the in-between of dementia. I wish, more than anything, our mom could come back to us the way she was. I still catch myself going to the phone to call her, expecting to talk the way we used to. But, there is a truth here to accept now, and only prayer can reach it. And, we know that there is a much better place waiting for her.

Thanks mom for all you still are, were, and forever will be.FullSizeRenderIMG_0112IMG_2695

Nothing Really Has Changed At All

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I’m not a winter person. And not being a winter person, I don’t go out when it’s cold and experience the day. But now that the warmer weather has come and we were in Vermont for the first of it, I found that I had missed being outdoors tremendously. And so with that being said, I chose the first day it stopped raining in awhile, to venture out.

There is a mountain in back our hotel that is quite monstrous. It is a skier’s mountain but people hike it in the summer. They have accommodated hikers by making switchbacks — those criss-cross patterns that make it easier to scale upwards. Almost 20 years ago, in the late 90s, my husband, our 3 daughters, and I hiked this mountain attempting to make our way to the summit. We were “hikers” then, having the equipment (backpack, water, flashlights, trail mix, etc. etc.). I was also 40 lbs lighter. This hike, so many years ago, resulted in our ending up depleted of all water and food, and exhausted — a couple of miles away from our hotel. This was nothing new. Almost every hike Tom and I ventured on usually ended oddly; this time, all 5 of us were depleted — laying out by some gated-community’s pond, scrounging for bits of peanuts found at the bottom of one of our backpacks.

But this time, I looked up at the switchbacks lazily meandering through the greenery and the wild flowers, and thought “why not?” And so I did. Or attempted to. It looked so easy when I was on the porch of the hotel looking out. I started off by walking up the steps, which in the winter would take you to the base of the ski lift, and wished I had a Fitbit on; I would love to know just how many calories I was burning since my heart rate had picked up quite substantially.  From this place I chose a path – they were well-marked and the green one looked right for me — and so I started the climb. What I had forgotten when looking out from the porch of the hotel, was that switchbacks, while appearing meandering and mild, were not so. All the while you are climbing, climbing, climbing.

My throat quickly became dry, my lungs started to burn, and what was that pain in my hip? That was new. I stopped often to take a drink, take in the view (which spanned over the valley), listen to the birds, and take in the smell of the sweet air.  I forgot how rejuvenating this was. I could “feel” the gentle tug of the earth wanting to pull me backwards if I didn’t continue pushing forward. It was a little unsettling because I really do have enough trouble with my balance on a good day, never mind adding in this level of gravity. I looked down at the walkways around the hotel and they were a bit far away — but I knew I could go a little further. There was no danger of getting lost at this height with everything still in sight. A few more switchbacks and I was ready to call it a day. I felt the satisfaction of having done something I hadn’t done in a very long time. I looked up at the rest of the mountain and remembered our almost 20-years-ago selves climbing up even further. I remembered the sweat, the steep incline. I looked down from my position on the dirt path, having just crossed thru a stand of trees and over a small stream.  My satisfaction took a turn; I was only 1/4 the way up. I hadn’t even made it off the base of the mountain. Not even scratched the surface.

But … I was happy with that, I had decided. I’m still in awe at the way the switchbacks look so calm and gentle from the porch of the hotel. I’m amused at how hard my heart was beating and how ragged my breath was at the small beginning of the climb. And so, almost 20 years separates me from where I once was, and who I once was, and where I am today. It would be a nice, tidy end to this story if I summed it up by saying “oh yes while my body can’t do the climb any longer, my wiser, stronger emotional self meets challenges everyday with strength blah blah blah.”. But this is just not true. What is true is that I’m still learning everyday how to meet the challenge of the day. I am still learning everyday how to adjust my sails to meet the winds. I am still learning everyday to embrace my limitations and to live within them. And I am still discovering who I am (since I don’t seem to like the same things I liked when I was in my 50s). So … I suppose all I can say after all is said and done is … nothing really has changed at all.