Monday, July 29, 2013

I'll stay shotgun until the day we die

This leg of our vacation has is camped at my sister's house. That part isn't unusual-- they have more than enough room for us to stay, so when we come out we stay with them. What is different is they aren't here. This year they celebrated their 20th anniversary, so we made a plan for us to watch their boys while they went to Hawaii together. What we didn't know (and couldn't have known when we scheduled this trip last fall) was that our youngest sister would be here, too.

What this means is we 3 different approaches to daily living, however, which has taken some getting used to. Caroline has been here for a month or so, so she's mastered the boys routines. This is also her Stateside home, whereas we're in vacation mode. Among the 8 of us, I think we've pulled off what needs to happen as well as what we'd all like to do.

What has been an added bonus about Caroline being here with us is not everyone needs to go on every outing. On Friday, the oldest and youngest nephews came with us and explored Virginia City, an old mining town. Yesterday, all 3 nephews were tired and wanted a day chillaxin' at home, so they stayed behind while we went to Gardiner and then toured through the Paradise Valley area. As much as I would have loved to have my nephews along, it was also good to have a day with just the 4 of us. My babies are definitely not babies anymore, and I treasure every moment I have with the two of them-- I only have to look at how often my siblings and I are all together to know the future is wide open. We started taking a family vacation on the '5' anniversaries-- 5 year, 10, etc.-- figuring the kids are a part of our marriage. I hope we are able to continue having both of them (and their eventual families) meet up with us for future trips, but for now, I'm thrilled with any chance to have the 4 of us in a car, exploring together.

What I am reminded of when we travel is how in sync Dave and I are. We balance each other out nicely, and often it only takes a single conversation with him to make me feel better about the world. He and I went off to the store the other night, and then he saw the impending sunset and took me to a place where I could capture it. We got about 90 minutes together, and my outlook on life was so much... calmer, I guess, as a result. He is enjoying being my camera tech, and I am always happiest when he is driving me somewhere. In many ways I feel like I lucked into this life-- how did I get such wonderful kids and supportive husband? Some of it is work-- we have not taken anything for granted-- but it also has a level of good fortune to it. Regardless of how it came , I'll accept the gift and be very thankful for it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

still Grandma*

Thanksgiving 2010. Cape Cod. Before.

Life isn't fair: the sooner you get used to it the happier you'll be.

I've been known to say this a time or two, and it is sadly true. Our family has been living with this reality as my dear mother in law has been losing her ability to think and communicate. We can tie the beginnings of her losses to the fire that consumed their house back in 2006. Their house burned to the ground, with all their possessions inside, while she was away working. At that point, she was renting a room closer to her work, as the commute was over an hour each way-- which meant she had a few of her things, mostly clothes-- and while she was spared the panic of watching the house engulf, she found out in a shocking 'I-don't-believe-it-is-real' sort of way. They rebuilt, and all seemed normal, but looking back, that is where the problems started.

At first it was just word finding issues. Heck-- I have word finding issues, for Pete's sake. The issues were growing, though, and coloring her ability to communicate. She had talked to her doctor, who said she had aphasia, not dementia, which we had no choice but to accept. When she retired from proofreading, she told me she couldn't keep up with the young ones anymore, but she was 70... so yea, that seemed normal. It turns out she suspected then the issues were more significant than general aging-- although she did not tell us about her fears. I can't say as I blame her.

Dave's dad had to be hospitalized a few years ago, and that is when I started to realize it was really becoming an issue: she couldn't tell us why he needed to be admitted. Soon after that she got lost driving to Dave's sister's house, and had a harder time taking different routes to familiar places. Last summer we brought her with us to her sister's house on Cape Cod. Her parents built that house in 1955, and she'd been visiting there routinely ever since. At varying points on that trip, she did not know where she was or who her sister was. Regardless of her diagnosis, something was wrong.

Last week, things reached a crisis point. Dave's dad has done an incredible job caring for her, but her needs have superseded his ability to keep her safe. Sundowning has been a problem-- when we took her to meet both her sister's at the other sister's house this April, she'd forgotten that we'd gone already by the time we got her back home. She's been sleeping less and less, and she started leaving the house after dark. This once strong, independent, creative, and intelligent woman can no longer stay safe in her home; I think I mentioned that life is not always fair...

Last week she started living with Dave's sister, in preparation for being checked into a memory care unit. I know she did not want to go, but I do think she heard us when we explained we needed a safe place for her to live. His sister found the perfect place near her that has 2 cats to pet and gardens in which to get her hands dirty-- two of her favorite things. It's never easy to make these decisions, but it is easier knowing she's in a good place. One of our former babysitters works there, and she was incredibly helpful throughout the intake process. Neighbors helping neighbors, indeed.

While I am not glad they had to endure the fire, I am thankful they got to experience the outpouring of love and community support that came after the devastation: not everyone gets a chance to be present at their own wake, and in many ways, that's what the benefit supper was. In light of where her path is taking her, I am so glad she had the chance to be lifted up by that experience. I hope she knows that this move is an act of love.There are a lot of people who love her very much-- her siblings, her dear friends and neighbors who were instrumental in her being at home as long as she was, her extended community of support, and her husband, kids, and grandkids. I hope this feels like home, and that she is happy.

*The title is a nod to Lisa Genova's book Still Alice, which is about a woman who contracts early onset Alzheimer's disease. It's not the best written book ever, but it is filled with helpful information about what happens in the brains of people with dementia. I highly recommend it if you're interested in the topic-- or caring for someone afflicted.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

enough influence to last a lifetime

Season 12 of Project Runway aired tonight. For the last 12 seasons (and 2 of PR All Stars), I have watched on the east coast while my fabulous uncle has watched on the west. Every weekend we would exchange a flurry of emails dishing on the designs-- and the designers. We'd make predictions on who would make it to the finals, who would get auf'ed, and who the judges would demoralize next. One of the hardest things for me to do would be to wait to read his emails if I had to wait 'til the weekend to watch the replay online.

My uncle played a huge role in my life, and I think I did the same for him. Uncle Bob was Fabulous, in every sense of the word. He was single, neat, and over 30... not that there's anything wrong with that. When I was a junior in high school, we spent Thanksgiving with my grandparents and him (he was living with them, providing support after my grandfather had yet another stroke). He and I would stay up late talking, and one night he showed me a movie. He loved movies, and classic Hollywood actresses... but this one wasn't a classic. It was about a young boy who figured out he was a homosexual. I didn't pick up on his reason for showing it to me immediately, which I'm hoping is because it really didn't matter to me, but more likely because I was a very black and white thinker as a teen. When I went to visit him as a new college graduate, he told me stories about the Vietnam War protests at UWisconsin-Madison in the late 60s, the early 70s in San Franscisco, and when the "gay man's cancer" hit in the early 80s-- he worked in the hospital credited with identifying AIDS during the outbreak. Largely because of AIDS, he moved to AZ to care for my grandparents-- consciously choosing to help them with their lives and probably saving his own. After they passed, he moved to Palm Springs and worked for the Barbara Sinatra's Children's Center and at the Desert AIDS Project, as a volunteer coordinator in both places. He made a career out of helping people in need, but was one of the most judgemental I have ever known. "Remember Darling-- you'll never get a chance to impress them with your brain if they don't like what they're looking at..." He taught me about growing up, and I helped keep him young.

He never married-- nor did he have any desire to. He couldn't understand why so many of his gay friends wanted to be in a legally binding long term relationship-- but completely supported their right to ruin their lives if that's what they so chose.  He came of age during the Stonewall Riots, and almost lived long enough to see DOMA struck down. He never had kids-- my Gawd, so messy!-- but I know my siblings and cousins filled that role in his life.

I got a perspective on life from him that my parents could not give me. He rounded out my thoughts-- starting with that movie in 1986-- and continuing throughout my adulthood. He took me clubbing after I'd graduated from college. My parents flew me out to stay with him, and he asked his straight friends where the hot clubs were. It took all of 15 minutes in this joint for him to lean over to me "You want to go someplace fun?" I danced like fool, and was in no risk of sending the wrong impression in my Victoria's Secret dress.

He had his first heart attack at 44. There's a family history of deadly cardio events-- my grandfather had his first stroke in his 40s (which he survived, but eventually is what got him), and my great and great-great grandfathers dropped dead in their 40s. Luckily for me, he had access to great medical care and survived it-- but he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure by 55, and was not supposed to see 60. He died this March of a massive heart attack. He had just sent me an email about his youngest brother who had died suddenly 2 weeks before, of a bleeding esophegal ulcer, and his cousin who was only a few years older than him who also died suddenly in her sleep. "Do you know The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? I'm afraid to close my eyes!" He signed off with a Game of Thrones reference-- I'd told him to read the series after he started watching it on HBO. Hodor (Hodor Hodor Hodor) signed off that day, now carrying me around on his shoulders for the rest of my life, helping me get through whatever may come my way. When they went out to take care of his things, my mom and Uncle Jim found the signed and stamped birthday card, complete with the $5 bill he sent for our birthdays every year, ready to be mailed. In his final hours, he left me multiple sources of comfort to hold onto-- including the knowledge that his final acts were done knowing how deeply he was loved and how much he meant to me.

Back to Runway. Tonight as I watched the premiere with my family, I didn't get teary watching, which sort of surprised me. I think it's because I could almost see him here with me, straightening the remote controls to be perfectly parallel to each other, cigarette in his fingers, trying to figure out who should be in, and who would be out. He looks like he did when I went out in 92-- probably because he'd rather that's the image I see than how he looked this spring.

As I've told many of you, I bought a Chloe Dao dress for my cousin's wedding, in his honor. When I got the email from Chloe's sister explaining it was their mistake but it was only available in a size 0 I figured Fate had spoken. (Sorry, Uncle Bob, but my size 0 days are long gone.) I got a follow up email saying since  it listed on her website as being available for a sale purchase, they would make this one special for me, in whatever size I wanted, and honor the sale. Yes, indeed, Fate was speaking... and I know he was very proud of me in that dress. In fact, I know he was very proud of me, period. There is no greater gift than that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

zen and the art of preserving

I love prepping for winter. I know it's an odd way to describe berry picking, making jam, working at my local CSA farm, and freezing and canning the produce, but there it is. Yesterday I went raspberry picking with my friend, and we picked for 2.5 hours. Honestly, I'd have kept picking if I could have, even in the heat and humidity. It was me, the plants, the berries, and the task at hand. That's it. There was a nice breeze, and I was free to think about what I wanted to make with all my berries (ps: 12 quarts is a lot) while also thinking about song lyrics, my to do list, and anything else that's been floating around in the deep recesses of my mind. I get the added bonus of knowing that the work I do now will pay off in January makes it all the more satisfying.