Tag Archives: recovery

Fall Colors

Ruston Way Tacoma October 25 2013

When I walked the cement pathway along Ruston Way here one year ago, my eyes traveled to the carpet of sodden leaves at my feet. The heavy rain of the past few days had stopped and between the clusters of flattened leaves the sidewalk had dried to tan.

Occasionally, I glanced at the sky: blue, finally, with misty suggestions of clouds scudding by in the upper atmosphere.

I moved at a slower pace, as if I was a worm, with a worm’s stature and a worm’s eye view, pulled toward the earth. The black tips of my boots plodded forward, cautiously advancing. In my pocket, my phone felt heavy. I was conscious of its weight, knowing that it could at any moment summon me for the latest crisis. I was sick of my phone.

As I neared the hotel, a patch of crimson and orange leaves had begun to dry, enough for a breeze to shift a few a matter of inches. Everywhere else, the leaves left shadows when they moved: solid charcoal shapes. But here, in this one patch, the leaves transferred their pigment and the architecture of their veins onto the pavement below.

Crouching, I began to turn leaves over, investigating which left wet shadows and which left inky stains. I felt like grief and fear and anger had been pressed on to me leaving ridges and bruises so that anyone walking by could see them.

What a difference a year makes. Though fog blocked the sun and the leaves were moist, I didn’t see any that had bled on to the sidewalk. They were just leaves, wet leaves on a Tacoma pathway, ubiquitous. It was the canopy of colors that drew my attention today, burning red as the chlorophyll waned and warm colors, secreted within, emerged.

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Re-forming as Family

Selfie portrait Betsy and Sandy

As my Dad grew more frail, his world shrank. Eventually it consisted of what fell within the four walls of my home, augmented by the daily newspaper and the Military History Channel. My world shrank, too.

Dad’s passing has left a huge void, but it’s also given me the freedom to renew relationships. Last month, I was delighted to host my niece (who is more like my younger sister) and then my brother Dean.

Instead of a visit focused on my Dad, we focused on us.

Sandy’s visit was originally slated for January 19 as a chance to say goodbye to Dad, a visit that was postponed when he died January 12. I didn’t know how she’d feel, returning to a house still vibrating with his presence, sleeping in the guest room that has been known as “Dad’s room” since December 2006.

I like to whine that I was kicked out of my room upstairs when I was 10, relegated to a windowless room in our concrete block basement when my not-quite-21-year-old brother moved in with his wife and newborn. I was still unable to sleep away without becoming homesick, and not happy about losing proximity to my parents’ room and the living room, where I could hear the murmur of their bridge games long after my bedtime.

Then I fell in love. There are few loves like that of a pre-adolescent girl for a baby. Having Sandy in our home was even better than the Brenda Bride doll I received for Christmas that year (its trick was to catapult the bouquet).

Sandy on Stinson beachSandy is all grown up now, of course. She’s been married to a great guy for nine years and has two adorable boys, 4 ½ and 6 years of age. It was so comfortable to hang out with her – not the same, perhaps, as when we sat squished together in the recliner in the Rec Room downstairs, watching TV – but still so easy. We had lunch on the dock at Sam’s Anchor Cafe in Tiburon, drove to Stinson Beach, and made a dinner stop in Davis before returning to Sacramento.

Dean’s visit was as different from his prior one as can be imagined. The day after Dean arrived last January, Dad’s condition rapidly deteriorated. Disquieting symptoms eclipsed one another in rapid succession. We frantically conferred, called hospice, implemented steps to increase comfort. We were riding on the roof of a fast freight train that raced out of control, hanging on around the curves, never catching our breath.

After Dad died, we were breathless. We knew we had done our best, but our best couldn’t reverse the inevitable end. We gathered with Scott, Bruce, Maddie and Tommy. We held each other, talked about logistics. The “boys”(they’re still “the boys” though the eldest of us is now 70) relegated the medical equipment to the garage and sorted through Dad’s small store of effects.

When Dean arrived in April, what we did first recall that traumatic week in January.

Then we played.  By happenstance, Todd was away, so it was just Dean and me. I don’t remember the last time that we had time together with no responsibilities, no competition for our attention, no agenda. Maybe we’ve never had free time like that.

My brother and me at TasteWe drove up through the rolling green pastureland to the Gold Country and enjoyed a delicious, slow lunch at Taste. We sampled Barbera at a few wineries. After returning, we went to a mindless but entertaining movie (Oblivion).  We just had… fun.

I’ve been wondering: who is my family now that Dad is dead? A family is not one organism. It’s a system of relationships. Every single combination of individuals is a relationship, with logarithmic permutations. Until now, we have had Dad as a connecting fiber. Family as we knew it blew up, but the component parts are gravitating back toward each other, re-forming.


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