Saturday, July 30, 2016

more sunshine

For years now, Jack has wanted to take out a couple of big trees in our yard.  One is a pine tree on the front corner of our lot, right next to the sidewalk, that used to grow in the company of another pine and a blue spruce in the neighbor's yard.  But a couple of years ago, the neighbor had his two trees cut down, leaving our pine the sole tree, with its south half barren because it was previously protected by the now missing spruce and pine on the other side of the fence.  To be honest, our pine did its best to fill in that bare space on its south side, but it also always did its best to fill up the flower beds, lawn, and rain gutters on the house with fallen pine needles and cones.  Lawn mowers hated that pine, especially its cones that would shoot out like missiles whenever one of them was discovered by the blades of the mower and would explode and fly across the yard at any unsuspecting victim who happened to be wandering nearby.

During the last microburst rainstorm a few months ago, our newly remodeled basement was flooded with two inches of water when the rain gutters on the house couldn't effectively move water away from the roof line because of the winter-long collection of pine needles clogging them.  Two inches of water in a basement doesn't sound like much, but really, it is a lot when it's soaking through papers and books and dog beds and furniture and also newly laid carpet (but so glad we went with commercial grade, no pad required carpet squares last year).

The other tree Jack has wanted to remove is a silver maple.  It too must have been at least 30 years old and sat at the back corner of our yard.  It was huge.  Massive.  Many branches, a trunk so big I couldn't wrap my arms around it.  And while I loved that it tracked the seasons amazingly well (it always knew spring was coming and would begin to green up before I sensed the end of winter, also knew when fall was around the corner even though it felt like bright, hot summer still to me), it gave me a feeling that no matter what was going on in the world, the world was still right because the tree knew.  Spring follows winter every year, summer is next, then fall, and then dark winter.  But then fresh bright green spring again.  The tree knew and the world was constant and safe and right.

That tree also took very seriously its commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.  Every year, it sent forth millions--I don't think that's an exaggeration--but literally millions of its seeds to sprout in every bit of bare soil in my gardens.  Every year it tried to reproduce a forest of its seedlings in my gardens.  Honestly, I loved that tree for all of its gifts, but I really didn't want hundreds of it growing in my yard.  Or even tens.  Or more than just that one.  So every year, I spent a fair amount of time, pulling up countless tiny little two-inch seedlings, and every year, I pulled up more than a few six or twelve-inch tall sprouts that I'd missed during previous weedings, and every now and then, I dug up a young treeling that was certain it was going to establish a home in a bed in my gardens.

During one of the recent wind storms--which sounds so uneventful, but really was very eventful, tipping over trees everywhere, knocking down power lines, blowing away shed roofs and trampolines--anyway, apparently that wind storm got a little bossy with our maple.  A few days after the storm, we found one of the huge branches split nearly off the tree, laying across the roof of our shed.  Luckily, it hadn't crushed the shed, but probably only because half of it was still attached to the tree.  But poor tree.  A major limb hanging on but nearly torn off.  Seems to me that must have been painful.  And then we noticed the split down the back side of the tree.  Insects? Disease?  Lightning strike?  We don't know.  But we knew the tree was in peril of splitting and falling on our house, or shed, or block wall, or maybe even the neighbors' houses.  It was a huge tree.

Like I said, Jack had wanted to cut down those trees for years and I had argued against it because who can cut down a beautiful living thing without good reason?  But then I realized, we had good reason.  Both of the trees were doing damage to our home.  And it wasn't the trees' fault, they just grew where they were planted.  But they had been planted, wrong tree, wrong place.  Both of them are park trees.  Or forest trees.  But not neighborhood, small-lot trees.

So for Jack's birthday, I told him I was agreeing we could have the trees removed.  As long as we agreed to buy and plant new trees that would be the right trees in the right places in our gardens.

Jack knew this was a hard thing for me to come to, but he knew I'd come to it in my own time and on my own terms.  He said it was the best gift I'd ever given to him.

After shedding a few tears, I looked around and found a company that could remove these trees safely, who would make sure they didn't come back in suckers all around the yard, and who would take them to their yard to be made into mulch to be sold to add back to the earth.  I found that company and their guy came out and gave us a bid and we made arrangements for them to bring a crane and a crew with lots of equipment to remove the trees.  But they couldn't come for six weeks.

They showed up bright and early yesterday morning with the crane and the bucket truck and the backhoe and the dumpster and a bunch of smart, capable guys who did a remarkable job working together and removing the trees.  Maybe it was all of the cool equipment they brought, or maybe it was how efficiently they worked, or maybe the events of the past few weeks put it all into perspective, but somehow, yesterday wasn't a sad day.  The grandkids all came over to watch the crane and we played together and laughed and some stayed for lunch and in the end, it was all okay.  Sometimes your perspective changes and things you thought would be really sad, end up being okay after you've endured truly hard things.  The trees being gone is okay.  We'll find some new great trees.  And time will heal the pain of losing my dad.  And Stu is back home from the hospital again, looking much better.

Sometimes you just need a little perspective.   What seems like it will be so very hard, ends up being not so hard at all.

And with the trees gone, there is more sunshine then ever in my gardens. And who can't use a little extra sunshine in today's world?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

we did it

We planned a funeral for my dad and we made it through.   I think he would have liked it.  It wasn't too long and so many people from all throughout his life who loved him were there to celebrate his life with us and also to give comfort to us.  He would have appreciated the military aspect at the cemetery too.

In many ways, he's been gone for much more than nine days.  But almost to the end, there were parts of him that didn't change.  My hands ache to hold his hand again and my eyes long to see his face light up at the sight of me.  Because he always smiled when he opened his eyes and saw me.  I miss him so much.

After the service, per the local norm, we all met back at the church for a meal.  I got to sit at my grandkids' table with Jessie.  It was so very soothing to my heart to be with these people I love so very much.

And it was good to see my mom smile again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

and now he is gone

My dad passed away on Sunday, July 17.  I've had so many thoughts about him and his passing and his life.  Some of the things I've thought:

  • I know people's dads die all of the time.  I know that in my head.  I do.  But I had no idea how it would feel in my heart, watching him slow down, realizing it was soon, and then acknowledging he was gone.
  • As the end neared, it felt a bit chaotic to me.  When it was very close, people, understandably, got stirred up.  For just a few minutes, I wished we had a doctor there, someone who had been through this who could calmly take control of the situation.  Probably wished there had been a wise, fatherly figure to ease us through that difficult time.  But I'm sure my dad would have chosen to be in his home, in his room, with his family close by.  He was and we were.
  • When my brother called Sunday morning and said he thought dad wouldn't last much longer, I finished mixing the banana bread I was making and got Jr and Jack to agree to watch it and take it out of the oven when it was done so I could go to my parents' house.  When I got there, I could see that my dad's breathing had definitely changed.  It was disturbing to me to watch at first because it was so even and fast and shallow, but after sitting with him for a few minutes, holding his still hand, I knew he wasn't suffering or in pain but I also knew his mind wasn't still with us.  Holding his hand was comforting to me.  But the protective mom in me didn't want my kids or my grandkids to experience my dad like that.  My initial reaction when I walked in the room and saw him breathing like that felt like a punch in the gut.  I wanted to protect my kids and grandkids from that experience.  After a while, I realized it wasn't really my call to protect my adult kids or their children from seeing my dad like that.  They are adults and if they wanted to see him alive one more time, that should be their decision.  By that time, Jack had already told our kids about my dad and they were making plans to be there for me and my mom.  My nieces and nephews were all there when my dad passed.  My kids were there shortly after.  And I'm okay with all of that.  I know my kids have all spent time recently with my parents when my dad was more like himself and that was enough for them.  Everybody gets to do this thing called life in the way that works for them.  And we all did.
  • After my dad passed and everyone gradually left the room, it was very quiet in there.  I thought of how much life and death are alike.  That when a child is born, there is lots of time waiting, then a flurry of activity, some various infrequently-heard human sounds, then the birth, followed by that moment when you're waiting for the baby to take its first life-giving breath.  I realized on Sunday that dying has many of those same components.  There was the waiting, the flurry of activity, some sounds I've never heard before, the last breaths, and then silence and he was gone.  It was as if the air had gone out of the room for everyone like it does when you're waiting for that first breath and cry of a newborn baby.  We are not here, we are here, and then we are not here, and our brief bright light is out.  Even 91 years can seem so brief.
  •  We didn't know how long it would be before my dad passed, so my sweet sister-in-law and her daughters went out and bought lunch foods for all of us.  My parents' house is not big enough for all of us to sit in together so they set up chairs in the back yard under the shade of the big maple tree out there.  I know my dad would have been delighted to see all of his kids and grandkids and great-grandkids together at that time, sharing food and memories, and comforting each other.  It was a warm afternoon, but there was a nice breeze and it was good to see everyone together.  It felt like a scene from Steel Magnolias where you recognize the sadness of life ending but also the hope of life going on and on through the generations.  My sister-in-law had put a bunch of cans of soda with ice in a wading pool she found in my parents' garage, and for just a moment, I found myself walking towards that pool of ice with the intent of scooping out some to slip down my brothers' shirts, which would have started a water fight and would have been totally inappropriate considering the situation.  But it's something my dad would totally have done and would have totally approved of.  All the same, I'm glad I had some shred of self-control in that moment.
  • That thing people say about grief being like the ocean, coming at you in waves?  Confirmed. 
  • My big brown dog is stuck to my side.  She still seems to sense when I'm emotionally hurting.
  • I know lots of people say that someone who is dying might wait to die until all of their family is there.  Or until everyone leaves the room so they can die in private.  Or some version of that.  When my gramma died on my birthday, I had to throw away that concept because I couldn't bear to believe that she would have chosen to die on my birthday.  That was too painful.  But then my dad died when he did.  Just before his 83-year-old baby brother arrived.  The brother who is eight years younger than him, who was his best buddy, who he shared with and protected and whose tender heart would have been broken by watching him go.  There is a part of me who wonders if dad saw Judd coming and stayed as long as he could without causing more pain to his dear brother.  And who knows, maybe gramma died on my birthday so it would be easy for me to remember when she left.  I'm still pondering all of this.  But I wouldn't ever have forgotten.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

sometimes it's hard or even harder

The past week or two have been buggers, haven't they?

It isn't enough enduring the never-ending nightmare that is the past year of politics.

Or the rise in violence and brutality and division in our country that is overwhelmingly painful.

Then there was the several-days long recurrence of Stu's liver issues.

And, you know, ants invading the pantry.

And, of course, the air conditioner breaking down.

While the politics will go on for months, and the chaos and divisiveness continues, at least we conquered the ants, Jack repaired the air conditioner, and Stu gradually recovered from his last stay in the hospital.

But then there's the part about my dad. 

It turns out his dementia has progressed.  A significant downturn. 

I knew from watching him the past few months that he was declining.  Sleeping more.  Eating less.  Interacting infrequently. 

Last week, the family all agreed it was time to bring him home and accept help from hospice for however long he lasts. 

The hospice nurse and aides are incredible.  They are kind, compassionate, even-tempered and so very capable.  They have allowed my mom to release herself from the incredible demands she has lived under for the past five years so she can try to just enjoy the remaining time she has with her husband. 

The hospice doctor says maybe a couple of weeks.  The goal is to keep him comfortable.  How many times have you heard that about hospice?  It sounds so very different to me now.

This is so hard.  You know that thing where you wake up in the morning and for just a brief flash everything is okay and then suddenly you remember life is not what it was just a few weeks ago?  And you really want to just put your head under the covers and stay there all day or for however long it takes for life to go back to normal?  But you know it won't because this is real life and you can't stay in bed all day every day.  So I get up and go to work and call my mom when I think it's late enough that she might be awake, but of course, she's been awake for hours already.  And at her house, it isn't normal either.  Just a slowly changing new normal.  And by lunchtime, I think I might be able to get through another day. 

But it would be so much better if I could just go sit with them.  Quietly sit and be present.  For however long we have.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Yes I still love going to Lagoon.  Always have.  Always will.

Yesterday was a perfect temperature day.  Warm enough to dry us off quickly after the water rides and not sweltering or too humid.  The lines were short and the crowds were small, tiny really.  Lots of walking but many exciting rides.  Some fear and trembling and trepidation, but mostly that was overcome.  Courage was found.  People survived their fears.  We ate pretzels and chicken strips and fries, Icees and ice cream and ribs and jello and roasted corn on the cob.  Herschel talked us into playing a wacky midway game that he ran when he worked at Lagoon one summer years ago.  We may have played it too many times (because that's midway games for you), but eventually everybody won/walked away with a small stuffed lemur prize. 

Yesterday was midday to after dark good times.  Especially with my people.  Almost all of them.

True, I confirmed I can't take the roundy-round rides anymore.  Vertigo.  Blah.  And I was exhausted by the end of the night, or maybe before sundown.  But it was all good.  So great seeing my kids happy together with their kids happy together.  Good times.