Tag Archives: remembering

The Crescent Hip

I had forgotten, but my left hip remembered. My husband and I were in Costco, wondering if they carried mattresses in-store (they don’t) when I picked up a ream of paper. I feel badly about all of the trees I have killed, writing, but not bad enough to stop printing. Something about black words on a white page proves that I have accomplished something that day, and not just humored myself.

I shifted the ream — twenty-four pounds of extra-white premium multipurpose paper — to my left hip. Feeling its heft, I hugged it there, filling a space I hadn’t known was empty.

Had it been my toddler son or daughter, their warm bottoms would have straddled my hip, cushioned, perhaps, by a diaper. They would relax against me, legs dangling, rubber-toed tennies syncopating against my thighs as we walked. If I leaned too far for comfort, they would clutch my shirt, but without much anxiety. I would never drop them.

At some point during my father’s elder years, he began to hold my hand. Early on, I recognized the gesture as one that used to pass between my mother and father. When I used to observe them from the back seat, I saw how he reached toward her, how she slipped her fingers into the hollow of his palm, how they fit together. They stayed like that until she sensed that he might need both hands for a complicated maneuver like merging onto the freeway. Afterwards, they linked again.

The first time that my father took my hand in the car, I could tell that it comforted him, but it discomfited me. Hand-holding (and back-scratching and foot-rubbing and pat-pat-patting, always three pats on the thigh) was something reserved for the two of them. He wasn’t confused — I was still Betz and he was still Dad — but for a long time, his touch felt awkward.

Now I understand. There was a hollow space that was not empty.

My waist lacks the curve it once had — I’m more straight-up-and-down than hourglass now — so there’s nothing in the mirror to remind me of my children’s favorite perch. I love my adult children as much as I loved those little hitch-hikers, but, as dry as that ream of paper was, it watered something in me, and the memories swelled and became whole.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What We Remember

peanut butter and knife

I’m having a hard time finding enough sympathy cards this month, so many beloved mothers and fathers and husbands have succumbed to time and health challenges. Perhaps it’s the sheer quantity of losses, but I finally noticed: what funny, seemingly unimportant moments become the stuff of stories.

One lovely woman, my neighbor’s mother, was remembered from the pulpit by her four grandchildren. The one who is my son’s age said he remembered three things about “Grandy.” I’ve forgotten what one was but I remember the other two: peanut butter and a knife.

He listed the objects first. Then he started talking about what he remembered from his visits to see his grandmother. He said he’d never forget how she let him eat peanut butter out of a jar with a knife.

It conjures up a perfect moment, doesn’t it? This go-ahead-help-yourself-when-you’re-here-dear approach to visiting? There’s a grandmother who knew enjoying time together was more important than rules. She knew, literally, the sweet spot of her grandchildren, and in small indulgences, showed how well she understood them.

Sometimes it’s the smallest things we remember. The little rituals that stick.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Year-Agos

Figgy Pudding 2012

I started writing this post yesterday, and then I received an email from my brother Bruce about how he was brought up short when he reviewed his holiday card database and realized he would not be sending a card to Dad this year.

Little static-electricity jolts triggered by seemingly meaningless moments constantly zap you the first year after losing someone. Last year, addressing holiday cards was a necessary but unremarkable task. This year, it’s a reminder.

A year ago Friday night, December 6, I dined with two girlfriends friends in Seattle and strolled the Figgy Pudding outdoor caroling event snugly bundled up in matching winter white hats, mufflers and gloves. I felt full of holiday spirit, braced by the cold air, a little buzzed from the cocktails we shared over dinner. I never suspected that Dad’s decline had already begun.

My brother Scott, who was caring for Dad at my house, called the next morning to say that Dad was unable to urinate and in extreme pain. What should he do? At the doctor’s urging, he took Dad to urgent care where they removed over one liter of urine.

When I returned to Sacramento that afternoon, Dad was significantly weaker. He’d had a recent bout of extreme shortness of breath and then pulled a muscle. With the bladder problem, there was no question of him returning back to his assisted living community. By Tuesday, he was in extreme pain again, unable to urinate. He was sent home from the ER with a catheter that we hoped would come out after a week.

I was frantic. The catheter gave him a sensation that felt like urinary urgency, so he tried to rise every 15 minutes or so. If he was not watched at night, he would attempt to get up for the bathroom and fall. 

Ten days later, he stopped being able to walk.

My world had transformed from light to dark. From an evening lit by sparkling decorations, cheeks blushing pink from the cold, lilting carols soaring in harmony, I sat by my father’s bedside, worrying.

Instead of making me sad, that turning point reminds me that a year ago, Dad was still here. A year ago, I had every reason to expect he would recover from this latest health setback. A year ago, I knew Dad would feel better when the winter lifted and spring bloomed again.

Today I leave Seattle, headed for home again. The house is already decorated. Dad’s room will be orderly and quiet. When I walk in the house, I will remember that it was the beginning of Dad’s final decline. The hard part is over. He is worth remembering, worth loving and worth every moment spent comforting him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

An Address Served by Prayer

Eileen's angel

Yesterday’s email carried this message from my brother, Bruce. I know just how he feels:

I finally started my holiday preps by digging out the Christmas cards and printing out my Christmas database lists. As I begin the task, I am suddenly brought up short by Dad’s name and his address at the Chateau. After Mom died, I always sent him a card to help him keep the holiday spirit, and I continued that after he moved to Sacramento. I always sent the card to him at the Chateau, and sent his gift to him care of Betsy.

Seeing his name reminded me of this annual rite, and forced me to acknowledge once again that he has moved on, to an address served only by prayer. Momentarily, I felt guilty about deleting the entry, as though he would be dying once again, taken aback. I thought about leaving it alone. Then I felt his presence in my heart and knew he would want me to move on, and remember him in the uplands of heaven.

In the end, I deleted the entry, along with the one in my cell phone. Merry Christmas, Dad, and thanks for raising an optimist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith journey

Moved by Someone Else’s Father

Henry S. Campbell, 2011

My Dad, Henry, in 2011

I went to a funeral for a friend’s father yesterday. Now that more of my contemporaries’ parents are hitting their 80s, I seem to be attending more services for a mother or father who I never met.

This one really struck me and I’m trying to figure out why. It didn’t have the biggest attendance, held in a tiny old fashioned white frame Methodist church in the country. Nor did this father produce an unusually big family, just three daughters, eight grandchildren and a few great grandchildren.

Yet I’ve never heard so many people speak at a memorial service.

The pastor reminded people that the family’s wish was to remember and to celebrate, not to get over the loss. In the years since losing Mom and the months since losing Dad, I am still startled by the many times I hear people talk about “closure” or moving on.

The oldest sister chose as her theme how her father lived up to the Boy Scout law: trustworthy, helpful, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. She expounded on each. That, and her Dad liked desserts, especially ice cream, a lot. As she shared anecdotes, she giggled the way my friend does: head tilted back a bit, eyes sparkling, mouth slightly open and the brightest set of white teeth you’ve ever seen on full display. Joy bubbled up and out to all of us. The second sister talked about her father’s kindness and wisdom. When she was torn by a work situation and isolated from her family, she asked for his advice. He told her simply that things would work out, as they usually did, for the best. He offered his support, unconditionally, and trusted her to figure it out. And he loved ice cream.

My friend, the youngest daughter, shared little stories. Her father, brilliant as he was, never failed to see the humor in situations, even at awkward moments, like church. Her sense of humor and her father’s hummed between them like an electrical current, the kind of connection that doesn’t take much to set one of them off in a fit of giggles. Though she shared information about her Dad, what came through most was feeling. You could feel the way she felt about her Dad, and see the joy that he left with her. And he loved ice cream.

Many of the grandchildren shared. Their grandfather, they said, had a way of connecting personally with each of them. For the granddaughter with athletic talent, he was the athlete, having been a three-sport letterman back in the day when you could be good at more than one sport. The grandson with musical talent knew him as the pianist who gave him a coronet that had been handed down from the prior generation. If a grandchild liked to match wits, their grandfather was always ready to take an opposing point of view, teaching them the love of debate for the sheer enjoyment of divining a more comprehensive understanding. They played cribbage. He was handy around the house. He loved nature and the outdoors. He was a devoted and loyal husband. He adored his grandchildren. And he loved ice cream and dessert.

As the pastor promised, the family and friends — former university colleagues, neighbors, childhood classmates — stitched a more complete portrait of the man they all loved. It was a remarkably consistent portrait.

For me, listening, it was a little like watching a movie. Though chronologically disconnected, as the story unfolded, it captured me.

It also reminded me how each member of my family has similar stories of my father inside them. Although my father was greatly diminished by the time he passed away at 96, memories are tucked away, waiting to be dislodged by something one sees or does.

Maybe something as simple, in my father’s case, as eating a bowl of ice cream or chocolate cake. My Dad loved dessert, too.

Remembering isn’t like picking a scab. I get a fuzzily happy feeling when little memories of Mom and Dad flash through my mind. They do not sting; rather they leave me tingling with the knowledge that the people I loved have not truly left me. They are part of my life as long as I remember them.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Kingdom of the Wing Chair

I knew that when Dad died, it would be hard to have a room in my home that was so linked to him in my mind. I didn’t want it to be a mausoleum nor did I want to purge it of his presence. I want it to be a sanctuary where guests are welcomed but where I can still retreat to remember the last seven years that he lived here. My big idea is to have a friend create a painting that honors my memory of him. And as time has gone on – now four months since he died – I realize there is no way to create something about Dad that doesn’t include Mom. Though they were strong individuals, they were that rare couple that becomes a single entity through the strange chemistry of attraction and the catalyst of shared experience.

When I initially imagined a painting, I thought about it honoring my parents as I knew them at the end of their lives. But now I picture it drawing upon a long-ago period, a period when they were the pillars of my world, and I was small.

I don’t write poetry – at least I haven’t in years – but somehow thinking about the painting prompted this:

It should have a wing chair in it.

We always had wing chairs.

It was where Daddy let the stress of the day ooze out of him

While he read the paper, sipped a scotch on the rocks,

And maybe another.

Sometimes his hand would rest lightly

On the head of one of our spaniels,

Who sat stock still for his attention.

It was where I sat on his lap.

Where he read to me about the Land of Oz.

I wanted to be like Ozma who rescues Dorothy

From the terrors of the disturbing Wheelers.

People shouldn’t have wheels where hands and feet should be.

But then Daddy’s shouldn’t have heart attacks,

And dogs shouldn’t bite you in the neck,

And Nana’s shouldn’t die.

I wanted to be brave.

Sometimes Mom would stand next to the chair,

Her hand resting lightly on the wing

The hand with her wedding ring

Loose at her side.

Smiling as a present was opened,

Laughing at a joke,

Meeting Daddy’s eyes and sparkling.

Sometimes he would look at her and quote something

About a barge with purple perfumed sails and love-sick winds.

Next to her I could smell the delicate scent of her bath powder,

Which she applied with a fluffy puff that made me sneeze.

There were fights sometimes, and those scared me.

Mother’s voice rising, then father’s, and mother’s right back.

I knew bad things could happen to parents,

Would it happen to mine?

But when it was over it was over.

But nothing bad ever seemed to happen in the kingdom of the wing chair.

It was sacred space.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Memorial Day: A Friend Never Forgets

Photo credit: fkehren via flickr under CC license

Photo credit: fkehren via flickr under CC license

Announcement time at church. There was a reminder about the hiking club outing, a request for sign-ups to bring a salad or cake for the parish picnic on June 9, and a woman who said she had become a great-grandmother once in January and twice in April.

An older man dressed neatly in a coat and tie took the microphone. “I want to remember friends who never came back,” he began.

The rustling of papers and quiet conversations ceased.

— I remember George Monroe who died in the invasion of Saipan. He was a lieutenant in the Marines. He had a contract to play baseball with the Boston Braves but he never returned.

— And my friend Rocky Rogers. He had been captain of the swim team at Amherst. He was shot down over the Channel.

— These are the friends I want to remember on this day of days, Memorial Day.

Because the George’s and Rocky’s who never came back are remembered by fine men like Herb, men with big hearts and long memories, we remember the meaning of Memorial Day.

1 Comment

Filed under Marines and those who serve, Uncategorized