Nursing homes — even good ones — aren’t conducive to happiness, sadly. My beloved mother-in-law was used to her own place, her own schedule, her own ways. A former middle school teacher, she’s also a bird watcher, a reader, and an inveterate ‘putterer.’ She’s also a walker.
ALL THE TIME. Even in her wheelchair. FOR HOURS.
And for a number of reasons, finding a real ‘friend’ at her nursing home has eluded her. She’s never been a real ‘joiner,’ I suspect — although I never knew this before she was in care. Since she kept in touch w/ many former students, met monthly w/ her former colleagues, and seemed to know what was happening w/ every relative to Timbuktu, I assumed that meant she was a social butterfly.
Not so. This may be where my sons get their (occasional) reserve.
So when my husband went to her quarterly care meeting today, this is the big news: Mom has a friend! Friend (whose name we don’t know) lives in A wing, and Mom in E (I think…). But they meet, Friend in her walker & Mom in her wheelchair. And they cruise the wings for hours. Really. Stopping in the foyer by the chapel to watch comings & goings, and looking out the window at the small pond where ducks & geese play. Talking as they go, each of them to the other.
As someone who treasures every one of my own friends, I am ecstatic that Mom — who has had to give up so many things as Alzheimer’s strips layers of memory & independence from her — has a friend. Someone with whom — the staff says — she chatters happily. As does Friend.
Who doesn’t need affirmation, a sympathetic ear, new stories to hear and a new audience for our own? What is it about friendship that is as precious as family, just different? I suspect the difference is that our friends choose us. I’ve made (& lost…) friends. My family is kind of stuck w/ me — you can’t reeeeeally divorce your sister (although I’m pretty sure they may have wanted to, occasionally!). So when friends ‘stick’ (instead of being stuck…) I’m grateful.
So today that gratitude is for friends. My own dear ones, my BFF, my sisters and ersatz brothers. The aunts & uncles and old ladies who shaped me. And Mom’s new one, who seems to see beyond Mom’s Alzheimer’s to the wonderfully funny, smart, and giving woman she still is. Thank you, universe!!
Today over lunch, my husband & I went back in time. We don’t do that very often — it’s boring for other folks, and it’s just not really us. At least, not most of the time…
But today for some reason, it just came up. We got to talking about hotel rooms (we’ve stayed in a LOT), and how many I could recall well. As it turns out, you’d be surprised how many hotel rooms I remember.
One thing led to another — was that Outspan or the Mount Kenya Safari Club? which one had the fireplace in the room? was that in the Rift Vally or the Highlands? — and we were talking trips. To Africa, to Egypt, to Singapore & Bangkok. A train here, a cruise here. Other folks cam back from time worked overseas with pockets of loot. We came back w/ boxes of photographs, and memories we ought to revisit more often.
Then the funniest thing happened this evening: a dear friend from that time turned up in my Facebook Inbox! Actually, she emailed me weeks ago, but I don’t check the ‘other’ Inbox on FB very often. But there it was — a note from the dear friend whose family was the other half of our ‘kiddy safari’ car in Africa.
Once upon a time, four couples rented two LandRovers in Nairobi, and went on a 3-week safari through Kenya, crossing into Tanzania at one point. Along w/ six kids, ranging in age from 2 to 10 or 11. The two families w/ the 3 oldest kids in one LandRover; the four of us — and usually the youngest child, the only girl — in ours. It was beyond fun.
Kenya is where a witchdoctor, throwing the bones, told me I was pregnant w/my 2nd son. Kenya is where I saw elephants moving so quietly they might have materialised from dreams. Kenya is where I fell in love with a landscape — the East African highlands — that I will almost certainly never see again.
Kenya is where my husband and my friend’s husband caught fish off the coast, outside of Mombasa. Where we caught a train from Nairobi to get to the coastal hotel. Where I first heard of the man-eating lions now resting in grim splendor at the Field Museum in Chicago. But Outspan was where I left my heart, walking back down the colonnade in the chill indigo night to our room, where we had a fire against the chill. And the only pictures I can find are on the ‘net, or in my head.
My beloved & I often tell each other how very grateful we are for the many riches of our lives. But I gotta say — thumbing through my mental scrapbook of Kenya (and hearing from a dear old friend) certainly remind me once again how lucky I am.
I”m suggesting more regular time travel for all of us. Who knows who might call or email you from then? And what you might remember…?
It’s a softly worn (once scratchy) wool, something like the old Pendleton three-stripe blankets (and it has three black stripes). Years ago, it had a Christmas green hand-stitched binding. Now, it has a black binding, hand-stitched with love by my baby sister.
When my mother was in the hospital for several months, and we realised she would never be able to live w/out care again, we divvied up most of her things. She couldn’t take an entire houseful (a stuffed-to-the-windows house full!) to her new assisted living apartment. So my math whiz husband figured out a fair way for us to each (the four sisters) ‘bid’ on my mother’s things.
I realise this sounds macabre — or worse — to some folks. But we wanted to be fair, and there was no hope (given my mother’s Alzheimer’s and her physical fragility) that she would be able to live even with my 2nd sister, who had kept Mother for some time.
My mother’s life was as full of travel as my own — perhaps even more. Her house was full of memories: exotic carved chests and lacquered hangings; precious jewels (emeralds and rubies and gold and a LOT of silver); Thai silk and brocade; furniture and housewares and china and you can’t even imagine it all.
I bid on this old blanket. Not on emeralds, as my husband still teases me. Not on sterling flatware, or even a bronze tea set. But on my father’s old blanket. Because to me, it’s a tangible reminder of Daddy.
As a Buddhist, I try hard not to get too attached to ‘things.’ It’s just stuff, I used to tell my mother when she bemoaned a broken plate, a cracked vase. And watching as my husband refused to leave a war zone — just to ship stuff home! — almost did me in. NOTHING is worth a life.
But memories are odd creatures, and build nests in strange places. This blanket lay on Daddy’s bed sometimes, although my mother had beautiful linens. But this was Daddy’s special blanket (I still don’t know why), and it made every one of our many moves. Ending up (for me, at least), forgotten at my sister’s, who promised to rebind it. It made a move with her, as well — into her darling new duplex apartment.
And now it’s home, with me. I look at it, thrown over the sofa in the family room, and the room shifts: my father is sitting in another living room, and we’re talking about something. It doesn’t really matter what. For that priceless moment, I can see him, hear his voice, smell his distinctive aftershave&sweat&Stetson hat smell. That’s what I bid on. It just happens to live inside a soft, 70-year-old blanket. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
After an early morning — spent w/ a lawyer, not every my favourite thing to do — my sister called and needed help. She’d been left holding the bag (actually, 6 bags) for her HS reunion gig tonight, and hoped her big sis would help out.
So I picked some flowers from the garden, she picked up Thai soup, and we got to work cutting up fruit for trays, and bread for cocktail sandwiches. And I did just fine until…the watermelon <cue solemn voice of foreboding>.
This next photo is NSF blood-phobes. I cut my finger w/ our verrry sharp new cleaver. You might say… I clove it. BIG slice into the finger and its poor nail. It’s like the WORST papercut. Stitches almost certainly won’t help, so I didn’t even bother.
Sigh. My sister was horrified — it bled alot. But it’s stopped that, and left this interesting pattern of honeycomb on the Bandaid that had nothing like that before it wrapped my finger.
You’ll be seeing shorter posts for a few days, I assure you. Typing is… iffy. Make that ouch-y.
I still feel like Isaac Bashevis Singer, though: if it hadn’t been this, who knows what it might have been? And it was great to see my sis! I blame the whole thing on the watermelon, personally.