My Dad

After caring for my dad in our home for the past month, he died peacefully yesterday morning. He had been steadily slowing down; sleeping nearly all day and night. He didn’t feel up to eating much, and only drank a bit of water during the day.

My mom died on December 16, 2015, and Dad has been missing her ever since. I know that they are now together in love for all eternity, and while I will miss them both with every beat of my heart, I know that they are happy again.

To any of you who have been or are in the process of caring for a loved one, please remember these things:

  • You are stronger than you know.
  • Your love for the person for whom you are caring is evident to that person with every smile you give them, each time you do something for them, every meal you prepare for them, and every word you speak to them.
  • If there is something you feel you can’t do, get help. It won’t make you less a caregiver.
  • Even if all you can do for them is to provide a bed and your love, it means the world to them.
  • Each time you hold their hand, speak their name, perform the least little service for them, it matters.
  • Each time you feel as if you can’t do anything right, please know that what you are doing is helping them more than you know.
  • Each time you have to leave the room to cry, it’s all right. It only means that your heart needs to empty some of its sorrow, which makes more room for your love.
  • Every time you berate yourself for something you feel you did wrong, give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can.
  • Speak your love over and over and over again.

Dad was in Hospice care during his last days, and they were wonderful to him. As I waited for the Hospice nurse to come and pronounce his death, I opened one of the bedroom windows. Many believe that this allows the angels to come take the soul to Heaven; I felt as though Dad’s soul rose up in joy and happiness to meet Mom.

To all who care for their loved ones, you are showing the very best of yourself with everything you do for someone you love. Never forget that you are doing angels’ work, and never stop saying “I love you.”

These Hands

Since I love to write, especially for this blog, I notice my hands a lot. They are now a crazy quilt of veins, dark spots, raised tendons, ragged cuticles and rough finger-ends from beading.

But these hands have had good life so far. These hands learned to play a flute, a recorder, a mandolin, a guitar, a banjo, and finally, a ukulele. They can also play a pretty good Hawaiian gourd drum (called an ipu, pronounced ‘ee-poo’).

These hands learned how to bead and make beautiful jewelry. Under my grandmother’s direction, I learned to sew. These hands learned to cook and bake, clean a house, drive a car, and they learned and then taught martial arts. These hands have written hundreds of stories, poems, documentaries, diaries, journals, book lists, manuals and so on

Now these hands are being used in the service of love and commitment. We moved my 92-year old dad in with us this past Monday. Although Dad is as sharp as ever, his body is weaker now, and the chores he used to do are too much for him now. A wise and far-thinking man, he understands these life changes and accepts them. He does not waste time bemoaning his age; he embraces it.

We have made minor adjustments to our lives for this, and it is so much easier than you could imagine. These hands, and the willing hands of my husband and his brother, have moved everything Dad needs into our home. They are also in service of moving things into storage as well.

Just to have a cup of coffee and toast with Dad at our kitchen table to start each day is a blessing and a gift. He admits to sleeping a lot, but so what? After years and years of working two home businesses with my mother, he loved to ski, he loved to dance with my mom, and he loved to read and to keep the house up.

Slowly over time, especially after the passing of the love of his life and partner of 60 years, my mom; he has given up the last few things he did; ski and manage the house. Even small chores became too much, and, as he said to me recently, he stayed in the house just as long as he could.

That worked out fine; we are now a family of three under the same roof, and how wonderful it is. Back when I was a little girl and Dad was starting his photography business, he had a license plate that read “WEE-3.” These hands once traced those raised letters on that licence plate, knowing that they meant Dad, Mom and me.

After all these years, this is “WEE-3” all over again. I couldn’t be happier.

 

Love, Actually

Love comes in so many varieties; love of spouse, parents, siblings, children, friends, pets and even hobbies. Love deepens and expands us, moves us and can shake us to our knees. Or it can just be that gentle hand in yours or a listening ear at the end of the day.

If we are lucky enough to be born into a family where we are loved and cherished, we grow up with that safety net of love. We always know that we are valued and appreciated for who we are. Sometimes our hearts are so full of love we feel we can’t hold it all.

I grew up in a home where my parents adored each other and me. I felt surrounded by love; I saw love in action every day of my life. There was always love, kindness and consideration in our house, lots of hugs and kisses, and fun just being with each other.

Love was always there for me, as well as discipline, manners, chores, hobbies and the constant encouragement to follow my interests. We were a team of three, and we did a lot of things together; picnics, camping, going for drives, playing games, and so on.

I had grandparents who loved me, as well as aunts and uncles. I never missed having siblings; selfishly I enjoyed all that attention. As a child, I took for granted that all that love would go on forever.

I never had children of my own, but with two step-daughters from my two marriages, I now have three granddaughters; ages five, nine months and a month and a few days. My grandma name is Lulu, and how I love the sound of my oldest granddaughter calling for me: “Lulu! I have something to show you!”

All the love I might have had for my own children now belong to these three amazing little girls. The oldest one loves to make things, so we gave her some jewelry kits for Christmas. Recently we spent most of one day making clay beads adorned with glitter and glass gems. Santa brought her a ukulele, so I brought my own uke over and I showed her how to tune hers, and how to play Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Now that I am older, I see love through a different filter. Over the years I have lost loved ones; grandparents, aunts, uncles, my own mother, and some friends and pets. Loss of someone you love so dearly is a deep wound. It hurts, and then it heals, but that residual pain is always below the surface. Over time, it settles down to a small pinch now and then.

However, I would far, far rather have had all that love in my life; paying for it with the relatively short pain that comes with death. It’s a very small price to pay for having had all those hugs and kisses, words of love, the warmth of friendship and the love of my furry friends.

Oh, it would be easy to live without love, therefore sparing us the inevitable pain of loss. But what kind of life would it be; sterile, soulless, and loveless? No, I wouldn’t change a thing.

In the long and short run, it’s all worth it.

 

 

My Dad is 92 Today

My amazing dad is 92 today. It is a wonderful milestone, and cause for celebration. Not only has he reached this age with grace and goodness, but also in good health, a sound forward-thinking mind, joyful spirit, good humor and a heart that holds endless love, generosity and appreciation.

In previous posts I have written about how he met my mother and me, the subsequent marriage, and his adopting me. We were “wee three” for many wonderful years.

There have been endless poems and stories about what makes a dad a dad, but I know what makes Dad my dad. He was and has been there for me all my life from four years old on up until now. For everything I did that meant anything to me, he was there.

The things only a father can teach you, he taught me. He made sure that I could take care of myself and not have to rely on a boyfriend or husband to take care of me. In one week, he taught me how to use a jackknife without cutting myself, to make a perfect campfire and how to put it out successfully, and how to change a tire.

When I was old enough, he also taught me how to target shoot, and was very clear and serious about gun safety. He made sure that I understood the responsibility of owning and using a gun, and from then until now, I have a great respect for them.

When I was old enough to learn how to ski, he taught me how, and he bought me my first pair of skis. More than that, he taught me to pay attention to weather conditions, people skiing around me, and also caring for my equipment, including how to wax my skis for all types of snow conditions.

Before we moved into the house my dad now lives in, we had a terrific apartment on a hill that went right down to the lake. There was a dock that we could swim from, and in the winter time when there was ice on the lake, Dad build me the best *flying saucer run you could ask for.

It started at the top of the hill, and went all the way down to the lake. He made a short jump at the bottom, so I’d go flying down the slope, hit that rise and go airborne for a few exhilarating seconds, then land WHANG on the ice. It was great!

He taught me how to make paper airplanes, and I remember one rainy, giddy afternoon that we made a bunch of them and sailed them down the long hallway. Afterwards, we had sock races down that same hallway. I remember thinking how much fun it was and how I loved it that he could get silly with me.

So many, many years have gone by, and we have gone through so much together, good and bad. When I had to put my sweet cat, Billie, down, I was living in Texas and felt so sad and alone. I called my parents to tell them about it and broke down. I remember Dad saying softly, ‘oh Janie, I am so sad for you. I know how much you loved her.’ Somehow that made it all right, and I stopped hurting.

When the Crankee Yankee and I married, he and Mom were so happy for us. We had the most beautiful wedding in their back yard. Dad had a beautiful white trellis set up, and there was a big pot of white flowers hanging from it. Mom made our wedding cake, and Dad took all the pictures. It was a lovely day in May, and Mom and Dad made it wonderful.

When we lost Mom last year to cancer, we worked with hospice home care together. Dad was the main caretaker, and I helped out. Together we cared for Mom and made her as comfortable as we could. The three of us spoke our love and care for each other over and over again. There were millions of kisses and hugs.

There was a lot of laughter and some tears, but mainly there was love and kindness and joy. It was a sweet and precious three and a half months for us all. When Mom died, she had our love to carry with her, and to this day we feel her love for us.

Dad and I have become an army of two, and together we talk, share memories, and speak from our hearts. We tell each other that we miss Mom, but we know she is near.

Our relationship has become sweeter with what we have lived through together. We have laughed and wept and talked about all our time together, both with and without Mom. We both believe that the relationships we have on earth go on after we leave it.

I do not know what kind of person I would have been without my dad in my life. I am happy and grateful for him being my dad. Our relationship has grown and flourished and flowered over the years, and I am thankful for every moment.

For years and years in our family, birthdays, holidays, get-togethers and get-aways were celebrated with a flute of good champagne. Today is such a celebration, and whether or not we are lifting our glasses to my beloved dad, I know that Mom is raising one in Heaven (after all, that’s where the really good champagne comes from!)

Happy 92nd birthday, Dad. You are loved beyond all measure.

*Flying saucers used to be a round piece of metal (looked like a shield), and had straps to hang onto. You sat on it, grabbed the straps and pushed down a snowy hill. Inevitably, the thing would turn you around backwards, adding the extra thrill of not knowing where you were going.

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“If I Don’t Hate Everyone, Then I Must Love Everyone”

My dad and I have formed a new and stronger bond since Mom died last December. We have always loved and respected each other, but these days we spend a lot of time together, talking and sharing ideas and discoveries. Lately, we have spoken a great deal about love.

When Dad was a little boy, men did not as a rule hug their boys, tell them they loved them, or tell them what good boys they were; it was a time of ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child.’ That is, the prevailing theory about raising boys was to point out their faults or criticize them or be tough with them—all this to make strong, manly men out of them.

Any love, kindness, approval or happiness seemed to have been held in check for fear that boys would grow up too soft. Today is different, and Dad, being Dad, has evolved to a new height of awareness and has gladly embraced change. He understands fully what love means and how love can both change and save lives.

When we are together, we talk of changing our lives in positive ways, of what we do to relax, of how we cope with hate, grief, fear, impatience, and all negative things and people. Most of all, we talk about love, and what that truly means to us.

Mom was the love of Dad’s life, and he was the love of hers. A day never went by without hugs, kisses, many “I love yous,” and endless kindnesses. Dad says how lucky he was to have had this amazing woman in his life for 60 years; he knows that that was the truest, clearest, most defining love in his life. As he says, while he no longer has that, he understands that he can survive knowing that that love will always be part of him.

He called the other night and said, “I was thinking: if I don’t hate anyone, then I must love everyone.” He hastened to say that he doesn’t know everyone in the world, but he bears no hatred or ill will to anyone. He has all the love in his heart for us; his family, for his cat, Bailey, for the people he knows and talks with, and he has a genuine smile for everyone he meets. He may not agree with everything everyone does, but he can honestly say that he has love for everyone in his heart. And he really doesn’t hate anyone.

What I take from this revelation is this: when a man of his age and experience can keep his mind active and involved, and his heart loving and joyous, how can the rest of us not follow this example? Really, what good does hating someone do for us? Oh, there is that few seconds of satisfaction thinking up terrible things that may/should happen to them, but immediately afterwards it is followed by that sick feeling that you have allowed yourself to ruin a perfectly good day. Also, your projected hatred does absolutely nothing to the person to whom it is directed.

Here’s the deal about life and people: things are not always going to go our way. People may let us down, hurt or disappoint us. Personally, I can count on one hand (well, maybe one an a half) the “really bad” things that have happened to me during my life. The rest has been pretty wonderful.

I am taking Dad’s example to heart; I choose love over hate.

 

First Mothers Day Without Mom

It always takes me by surprise to remember that my mom has gone on before me and my dad. She left this earth last December 16, and although I miss her voice and physical presence, she is still with me.

I still have my mother. This Mothers’ Day will not be as the ones before, where we would go up and visit, go out to lunch or eat a special meal at home. I will not bring a gift or flowers or a card to commemorate my mother on Mothers Day this year. Her life, her presence, the sound of her voice is with me still.

Sometimes early in the morning, I feel the slightest touch on my face–a breath, a kiss–I know it is my mom, checking in on me. As strange as it sounds, I feel close to her still. I can feel her joy in the freedom of leaving a sick, tired, weak and painful body; she soars now with wings of cobalt blue. I know her heart is joyful, and I know she is near my dad and I from time to time. I believe that time exists in different dimensions, and that in fact my mom and I aren’t far apart at all.

When I visit our family headstone in the cemetery across the street from the house I grew up in, I always leave a small stone there. I say to Mom, ‘I know you’re not there. But I know where you are now, and I know that you are always part of my heart.’

Whenever I visit my dad, I go through a drawer, a closet, the bookcases and so on. It’s part of what Dad and I do to decide what to keep, what to gift to people, what to donate, and what to throw away. That last is hardest for me. Just the other day I found a large binder full of clippings, pictures, notices, and so on.

In it, there were newspaper articles about things I did in school, pictures and reviews of the plays and choirs I was in, and so much more. I had no idea she kept it all. I brought the binder upstairs to show Dad; he too went through it. We laughed and said it was truly a trip down memory lane for us both.

A family, even one as small as ours; Mom, Dad and me—is a unit of love, faith, and a hundred million tiny kindnesses and acts of loving generosity. It is the cellular memory of all that, plus the actual tangible things like the binder, that proclaims us to be a family. Even death cannot change that fact, nor touch all that love.

I still have my mother. I will always have my mother, my father, and all those who have gone before me. That love is never lost to us, and I imagine that, once we pass through our own deaths we will know the truth.

For me that truth is that love never dies, and those we love will be with us. Knowing and believing this with all my heart, I can face this Mothers Day with happiness and not sorrow, love and not longing, joy and not tears.

Because I still have my mother–always.

“Be Not Selfish”

Since my mom died last December, my dad and I have spent a lot of wonderful time together. We talk about many things, and always we talk about Mom. Each time I visit, we go through a few household things to see what to keep, gift someone with, donate or throw away. When I packed up all of Mom’s beautiful clothes and shoes (she was a true fashionista), I went between laughter and tears. Laughter because Mom would deeply approve of ‘spreading the wealth,’ and tears because she wouldn’t be wearing the clothes again.

Dad and I have a lovely daily routine; he calls me at 7:30 am each day and I call him anywhere between 4:30 and 6:00 pm. We catch up on our mornings and our days; what we are doing, what we plan to do, and whether or not we slept well the night before. We always end our conversations with an “I love you,” and this is the structure upon which I build my days.

When I drive up to visit, we go out to have lunch, have a great time, and talk. We always end up talking about Mom and all she gave us, and how much we loved and admired her. We marvel on all her talents and gifts, her kindness, her great intellect, her sense of humor, her sharpness and wit—but mostly we talk about how she loved us, and how we loved her. It still seems amazing that this unique and wonderful person was part of our lives for so many wonderful years.

Dad is now attending a weekly grief counseling session given by our local Hospice organization. Mom was in Hospice for about three and a half months, and was given such exquisite care, kindness and sincere love from the nurses and staff. They became family to us. This session is helping Dad very much, plus it is adding more good people to his life. He always shares with me how the sessions are, and how much he gets out of them.

Just the other day he gave me a slip of paper; a copy of what he had been given in the sessions that read: “Be not selfish nor grieve for me. Rejoice and wish for Godspeed. I go to meet my cosmic Beloved.” Immediately I thought of my amazing mom; her spirit at last free of a painful body, knowing we are missing her but as always sending love and grace to us. I can just hear her voice saying, “I’m fine–I’m free! I’m always there for you, and don’t worry; we’ll be together again.”

My mom and dad have been the greatest love story I have ever known. I am so lucky to have been part of it for so many years. I grew up with love, kindness, joy, happiness and security–I was and am rich beyond measure for the parents with which I was blessed. Although I grieve the loss of my mother and best friend, I know that I have her love all around me each day. I also know that love never, ever dies.

I think on that phrase; “be not selfish,” often. Selfishly, we wanted more time with her; more adventures, more talk, more laughter, more love, more hugs and kisses. I can still hear her voice in my ears every day. But the truth was that Mom was ready to go. She had successfully lived with cancer for over 25 years, and lived well. When the time came that the medications and infusions no longer worked, her doctors told her she could  either have chemotherapy or simply let nature take its course.

Mom, being Mom, told the doctors in no uncertain terms that she chose Door #2, letting nature take its course. I believe that she had done every single thing she ever wanted to do in life, and had done it all spectacularly well. Dad and I to this day marvel at all she packed into one lifetime. I think we both feel that we somehow landed into this incredible person’s life not by chance, but by design. We loved her so much, and she loved us right back.

So we are doing our best not to be selfish, but to rejoice that she is where she wanted to be, and that she is finally free from the pain she had to endure for so long. We are learning that grief is not something you get over, but you learn to live with it. And that’s just what we are doing and plan to do until we too take our last breaths–live, and live well.

Thank you, Mom.