Pulling Weeds

Pulling weeds, akin to separating wheat from chaff, is a rewarding accomplishment. By 2013 Tony’s disease brought him to uninvited apathy. It was time to start the process of gradually clearing out unused items.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 37.

“When Tony’s daily exercise on the treadmill ceased, it sat idle for awhile and was the first big piece moved out of the rec room. I sold two matching leather chairs as well when Tony’s neck started to ache. He found the material too warm when he sat in his all day. I knew the eventual job of weeding out would be enormous so was glad for a head start.

Unexpected opportunities came when my brother suggested he and his daughter visit for a weekend and help with some painting.  I’d already spoken to Tony about some ideas to freshen the place up, and selected the paint colors, but the intention was not immediate. Tony thought it was a good idea though. It was a scurry to complete the preparations. I brought home the paint, then washed and patched the walls, taped the trim, moved furniture aside, and put down drop cloths.

Above the entryway into the rec room hung an amusing wooden sign I’d bought for Tony – the letters read Wish-a-Fish Lodge. It was a poignant reminder of our past and present. I hung it up again when the paint dried.”

In 2015 I downsized to an apartment and set up a new chapter in my life. Now, after a fall last March from which I sustained a severe back injury, I’m pulling weeds again. It’s a painstaking but ultimately rewarding accomplishment.

What sustains you?

I want to share an inspirational post from my author friend Yvonne Heath. Even on sunshiney days we all need something to lean on. The privilege of sitting at the keyboard and sharing my Dear Tony thoughts with you is what sustains me. Keep your focus and move forward.


Finding your way on Mother’s Day

A dear friend recently commented to me that she thinks I’m still grieving. Her sensitivity pulled me up short; and upon reflection, I have to agree.

Mourning is not always for loss of a loved one through illness such as Alzheimer’s disease or death. Whomever is left behind also grieves for “what was once ours” – including lifestyle and standards of everyday living, our own physicality, and the comfort of long term relationships. When a shift comes, even though we see it looming on the horizon, it’s a collision of old and new.

Today, my grief for everything and everyone gone is sharp. Accepting that I’m not invincible is a hard swallow. Recognizing my accomplishments is vital, we all need to pat ourselves on the back now and then and know that with each baby step we move forward.

I attended a benefit concert here in Bracebridge on Friday. It was my first night out since March when I fell on the ice and injured my back.  The progress of  my snail’s pace improvements includes grief for loss of physicality. Then resilience resurfaced when I saw the young accident-victim whose life is forever altered. Sometimes we need a wake-up call to put things in perspective!

On this commemorative Mother’s Day, cherish what you have, recall with affection who you may have lost, and keep taking those baby steps to work through your grief. We can’t “get over it” but we can get around it.

Same time this year

I glanced often at a holiday picture on the bedroom dresser. Our faces seemed lost in time; no regrets, plenty of good fun – all behind us.  Sometimes now, when someone looked at Tony they would see that “the lights were on, but nobody was home”.

Like most couples our wedding day had been celebrated with happy guests supporting us. Being “second-time-arounders” was acknowledged as good fortune that we had found a new partner to honor and cherish. Friends were distant observers now, and there was nobody to ask for help.

I understood this clearly, there was an underlying and unspoken message that Tony was “my problem”, and mine alone. Every year the lines of communications dwindled further, now threadlike.

Tony’s lunch didn’t appeal to him, though usually one of his favorites. He wanted to eat from a tray in front of the TV today, instead of sitting at the table. Predictably, there was a collision of water glass and plate, which soaked the bun and dampened any measurable enthusiasm. I collected the upset and brought coconut pie to assuage Tony’s annoyance.

My Kleenex scrunched out of sight, I shook my tears in the kitchen sink. Coincidentally, it was time for the Canadians to skate.

The music was too touching, the swan song and final Olympic appearance of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moier. Their devotion to each other and dedication to the program were tangible – spectators and commentators caught up in the enchantment of the performance. After so many years striving together, this appearance was a culmination of all the elements together, and farewell.

It felt almost unbearable to watch—haunting, profound, deeply personal, and expressive of both joy and heartfelt sorrow. To me, it seemed like the skaters relived nearly every step of their journey together. The parallels stabbed; I had to swallow hard and pretend my tears were just a reaction to both the presentation and interrupted sleep the night before. My heart ached – for me, for Tony and for all we once shared.

Choking resentment suddenly welled up in my throat – “I’m going to get dressed and take the dog out for his walk,” I said. A few sharp breaths of wintery air would clear my thoughts and I would return to the house with renewed commitment. Stay calm, don’t argue, and keep the peace was the usual uninspiring reminder inside my head…

The date was Family Day in the province. People everywhere celebrated a time for recreation and fun together. Perhaps a little car ride over to the park to watch tobogganing and snow-saucers careening down the slope would be amusing. On the other hand, maybe a swim at the pool and a soak in the hot tub. Today though, it might be over-crowded with excited youngsters. I loved children – but there weren’t any around now. Tony’s ten grandchildren were grown, and all far away – if you considered a 2-hour distance as being a journey.

Phone conversations now with Tony’s family were perfunctory, and included no contentious topics or serious discussion. “How’s the weather there/everyone ok/the kids have really busy schedules, and work is busy too/ talk soon” and a goodbye click; obligations fulfilled from the other end till next time. Coming to terms with their father’s progressive dementia was no easy challenge for his family. Diverting focus was the alternate choice. Tony just didn’t fit anymore, anywhere. His social skills confounded; plus he couldn’t carry a conversation.

Ain’t It Funny…

“Ain’t it funny how time slips away”.

Humming this Willie Nelson melody today, I’m thinking of Valentine’s Day. Remembering romantic greeting cards in red envelopes, flowers, and maybe special dates may feel bittersweet.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3, Who Was That Masked Man… The lower storage of the china cabinet contained assorted table accessories and candles – in a box there were two small “teddy bear” angels with red hearts on the front, and another bear, white with a dashing cape and a mask. I hung the angel bears from the chandelier and set the other bear at Tony’s place. Several years previous, Tony had stayed in the city at a cancer center for treatments which lasted for a term of seven weeks. It was a tremulous time for us both; Tony travelled down on Monday mornings and returned home on Friday evenings. Just in time for Valentine’s Day that year he had thrust a bag into my hands – therein, wrapped in white tissue, was the masked bear with an “I Love You” sash across his chest, a red satin cape, and a black-slitted mask. Cupid at his best; I cherished it, bringing Zorro out only once a year. This bandit is still my best and most love-stuffed souvenir; despite the fact his cape is crinkled, his significance stands.

Into the light

Inexplicably, the words and melody of a familiar hymn flashed. “God sees the little sparrow fall, it meets His tender view…”

As caregiver’s, we see our loved ones transitioning from here to somewhere. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 17. Visualizing those times still makes me smile.

….”Most often, when I came through the front door and called out “hello”, there would be no response. The television in the lower level rec room was blaring; and the dog was now nearly as hard of hearing as Tony was. Parcels immediately were set aside and I hurried down the stairs to see if Tony was still breathing. Invariably, he was sleeping in the chair, with his chin slumped down onto his chest. Shortly after Tony and I first met, Tony’s father grudgingly moved into a long-term care facility, mostly for safety reasons as he lived alone. He was ninety-one. The location was the True Davidson Home in Toronto, we visited about once a month and thought it a quite pleasant atmosphere. Tony and his two sisters had chosen well. Tony was adamant that he would never become a “sparrow” like the old folks there – head slumped back, eyes shut and mouth agape. The inevitable happened without him being conscious of it, and the dog would be deep in slumber at the same time, with its tongue out and wheezing – quite the pair. To see them made me smile with both affection and gentle amusement – though I knew Tony would not have seen any humor at all if he could see himself.”

On the Ledge

A friend’s poetic reference to my second-floor balcony. I’m living On the Ledge.
On the Ledge I reflect, remember, and take comfort from a new and different standpoint. Reminiscences float free, my daydreams bubble; I’m secure here, amid gentle sights and sounds.
The caregiver’s journey long past, incidents bleary and bereavement dulls. Nowadays I look from atop the summit, no scrambling now for a toe hold on the cliff’s face.
The view from here includes friends’ cars in their spaces, a sidewalk that parallels the Muskoka River, animal and avian activities, treetops, sky and the stars.
Clarity is mine. Banished precipice perspective. It’s a little bit of heaven up here.
Living on the ledge transforms, enhances, and romances my point of view…

Caregivers everywhere, this one’s for you…

“I love a tree,
A brave, upstanding tree!
When I am wearied in the strife,
Beaten by storms and bruised by life,
I look up at a tree and it refreshes me.
If it can keep its head held high,
And look the storms straight in the eye,
Ready to stand, ready to die,
Then by the grace of God, can I —
At least with Heaven’s help, I’ll try;
I love a tree, for it refreshes me.

I love a tree,
When it seems dead,
Its leaves all shorn and bared its head,
When winter flings it cold and snow,
It stands there undismayed by woe;
It stands there waiting for the spring —
A tree is such a believing thing.
I love a tree,
For it refreshes me.”

-Ralph Spaulding Cushman

Night Flight

Little children familiar with Jiminy Cricket of Disney fame can usually remember the words to “When You Wish Upon a Star” – the words and melody still sing in my memory. Nursery verses of yore include “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”…too special to forget and likely taught to our children and grandchildren.

As the seasons change, so does the night sky. Sometimes we crane our necks to find a constellation that appears to have moved, or a bright star that is not exactly where it was last time we looked. I look for a particular light out there often, before my bedtime. I call it “Tony’s star”.

On this evening of the Solstice I’m sure I’ll see it, dimmer but ever twinkling. At this Yuletide season I can still touch that special someone in my heart by taking a Night Flight.