Saturday, January 21, 2012

ashes to ashes

A long time ago Dad made me a lovely pine jewelry box. The sides were all dove tailed together. The lid had a beaded edge. The surface was shaved and sanded smooth. It was my jewelry box for many years.

After Dad died his body was cremated. His ashes were returned to us in an over-sized waxed paper take-out container, wire handle and everything, like a gallon size serving of General Tsao's Chicken.  I thought Dad's remains were better suited to my jewelry box.
My brother transferred the ashes and glued the lid closed. He later told me about all the wonderful things he found in there. (I'll spare you the details.) Dad's ashes and my jewelry box are forever together in the family plot.

While cleaning out Mom's house I found another wooden box that my father had made. This one was similar to my jewelry box, but was not completed. It still needed more sanding and finishing. When I opened up the unfinished box I saw a note. In Mom's handwriting it said "For my ashes." Yikes!

This was the only possession of Mom's where she indicated how she wanted it to be passed along. I had asked her for many years to put labels on her furniture. If she knew that one of the grandchildren wanted this rocking chair or if that cousin wanted that dresser then she'd better label it.  How else would I know? I didn't want to be in the middle of family squabbles about furniture. But she never labeled anything.

While cleaning out Mom's house I found a little blue gift box, the kind of box that might have held a scented candle.  It was heavy and rattled.  When I opened it up I spilled some of the contents on me and the floor. These were Dad's ashes. What were they doing here? I guess Mom had set aside some before we interred the rest. This little blue box is now on my bookcase beside the AMC White Mountain Guide and the little gold box of cat's ashes.

...and to dust you shall return

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

eye drops

Mom was upset because the aides keep harassing her, they want to put eyedrops in her eyes.
"There is nothing wrong with my eyes. Why do they keep bothering me? All they time, they want to do it all the time."

Mom doesn't remember crying in pain because her eye hurt so much, she doesn't remember someone taking her to the eye doctor, she doesn't remember being told she has an infection in her eye.

Friday, January 6, 2012

the twelfth day of Christmas

So today is the twelfth day of Christmas.

I'm trying to be positive. I'm trying not to think of the angry and lost woman my Mother has become. I'm trying to remember the good stuff.

Here is a list of twelve gifts that my Mom has given to me, gifts that have kept with me throughout my life:

The ability to see color. When she taught us Junior Girl Scouts the Dabbler Badge, we learned to look at things and see all the colors. To look at a cloud and see the pink, blue, white, black, and gray. To see the red, purple, gray, brown, and black in the bark of a tree.

Mom was an enthusiastic and loving grandmother, even though she did not have an example to follow.

She let me be crafty. I made doll clothes for my troll dolls. We spent one Christmas school vacation making a dollhouse out of a cardboard box. With a sofa from a matchbox, a bed from a Christmas card box, and "Modern" fireplace from a TP tube.

We went camping, summer and winter. Though I wish I had had a better sleeping bag. I'm surprised I still have all my toes.

My parents asked my new boyfriend to come on our family vacation. They asked him to join us because we were going on a two week canoe trip and I needed a partner in my canoe. He's still in my canoe. I also think they liked him and knew him to be a capable camper and paddler.

Mom let me go away to college even when my Dad thought I should live at home and commute.

Mom pointed out that some kind loving people can still be bigots and racists; and you're never too old to learn not to be.

She taught me to buy quality. Money is well spent on a good pair of shoes, a dress, chainsaw, or flatware; rather than poorly made stuff that will need to be replaced too soon.

She taught me that volunteering is an important part of life.

We saw America, the summer of my 11th year, taking a three month cross country road trip in the van and pop-up camper. National Parks and natural wonders.

She taught me that a family is not just made up of parents and their children.

She gave me a guitar, even after I "abused" hers.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

rolls eyes

"Look what I have to put up with." my Mother groans.
This is her new phrase, her repetitive response to everything that doesn't agree with her.

Mom loves to sing, she once was the Cherub Choir leader at her church.

She loved to sing with her students, her annual school play was always a musical. She would always teach her students songs that reflected on materials they were learning: Learning about frogs, she's got a song for that. Learning about the Statue of Liberty, she'll teach you a song about that. Learning about self-esteem and tolerance, she's found songs about them too. She was a member of her church choir for many years, until her last performance when she passed out under the piano on Mother's Day.

The activities people at Mom's assisted living residence include music and singing in the daily activities. I'm sure this is as successful as it is because of the background of the residents and their deep rooted love of music. One day the residents were all walking back to their neighborhood from an activity in a different part of the building. I could hear them coming down the hall. A little parade of ladies and gentlemen all singing together, just because. Another day Mom's neighbors were gathering for supper, but the food had not yet arrived. So we all started singing silly songs about food. "On top of spaghetti, all covered with chee-eeese..." Do you know, these folks knew ALL the verses!

Yesterday, during my visit with Mom, the activities director stopped by to invite Mom to sing.
"The Stuvwxyz Singers are gathering in the parlor, we need your voice."  She has turned a routine activity into a singing group. They are a choir, they are practicing, they have a purpose. They take their music to share with the other neighborhoods of the assisted living residence.

We are singing rounds today, Frère Jacques and others. 
"Mom, I remember you teaching us to sing this round in Jr Girl Scouts."
"Look what I have to put up with." she replies.
So I hear it, the disdain in her comment. She knows that she should be the one leading the singing. She knows that she should be teaching today's songs in four part harmony, as these are adults who can sing. That they are all singing children's rounds is... silly.

But, she can't keep the four lines of the song in order in her head. She can't keep on track as we break apart into two groups to sing the round as a round. 
We move on the other songs. Songs with lyric sheets. Her reading skills are not so good. She is stumbling with the printed word. Songs she knows, but she doesn't.

What she thinks she is capable of doing and what she can do are far apart.

I think back to when she was living alone at home. She thought she was cooking, eating, bathing, cleaning... but she wasn't. She thought she was driving safely... but she wasn't.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

selfish dreams

This morning I wrestled myself awake from the midst of a disturbing dream.
One of those dreams that make you feel physically sick, and clings to your soul like pine pitch.

I was a teen, biking from the house my Mom still owns to "home", the house where I grew up. Then on a lonely piece of road my bike tire went flat, the whole wheel bent all out of shape and fell off the bike.  I'm carrying and pushing my bike, when I see a man coming towards me. He has a hunting rifle and is mumbling to himself.  He sees me and starts to walk faster.  He is close enough that I can hear him yelling threats at me.

I walk up the ramp onto the highway, pushing and carrying my bike, the man is still following me yelling his evil intent.  I walk off the highway into the rest area. There is a coffee shop there, full of teen boys watching cartoons on the big plasma tvs, and drinking coffee. The man follows me in.  I feel safe in the company of these other kids.  The man sits at a table of other men, they are all talking as if they know each other.

I get a cup of coffee, and go to a corner table. I hide myself under my jacket and call my Mom on my cell phone.  (This is weird because cell phone didn't exist when I was a kid.)

"Mom can you please come and get me, my bike tire is flat."
"I just started my lunch." I can hear her eating while she's talking.
"Please come get me, my bike is broken."
"Well, I'm eating now."
"You can finish your lunch first, it's ok. Please come and get me."
"Well, you're being very selfish." she says.
"Can you come and get me?"
"Well, you're being very selfish."
"Please, my bike is broken."
"Well, you're being very selfish."
"Mom... there is a big scary man following me, I can't walk home."
"Well, you're being very selfish."
"Please come get me."
"Well, you're being very selfish."
"Mom, he is following me."
"Mom?" There is no reply from my Mom. "Mom?"  All is quiet on the phone. She has not hung up. She is just not talking. This goes on and on in my dream. Me pleading and her non-response.

When I end the phone conversation and get out from under my jacket, the big scary man is staring at me chuckling to himself, as if he's heard every word I spoke to Mom.

I walk over to sit with the boys watching cartoons. I am shaking in my dream and in real life.