It’s 4:30; it’s been snowing for a few hours now. The quietude of the outdoors is afoot as the snowflakes are very small. I remember years ago when we used to ski at Killington, around this time we’d be in the lodge at the top of the mountain getting ready for the last run down. It was cool to sit there and have a hot chocolate while we waited for everyone else to clear out. Then we’d head out, put our skis back on and stand at the top of the trail for a bit taking in the beauty of it all, the snow in the pines, the crisp mountain air, wood stove smoke off in the distance, – Vermont in the winter. And then we’d ski down – new snow after a great day of skiing.
At the bottom of the trail, once our run was complete, we’d head to the car where there would be a small cooler with NY Sharp cheddar cheese, Triscuits, and sodas (Okay, insert favorite beverage here ; )) to enjoy on the ride home as we’d head through Woodstock and then back to 89 and Grantham. I miss those days. Killington is 7:45 and 470 miles from here, so I will stay here tucked in under warm blankets. All this to say – batten down the hatches kids, it’s headed towards the Northeast. And yes, my weather app is telling me Killington is expecting 12″ – 18″.
We’ve had an abundance of it as a result of the #Covid19 pandemic which has made me think a lot about the way I spend my time.
What inspired me was the sharp increase in guitar and musical instrument sales as well as puzzles; the “things you can do when you have an abundance of time on your hands” activities. My neighbors and I have two large tables downstairs in a community room which presently has no less than 4 puzzles on them. It’s the coolest thing as it’s not uncommon to find boxes of puzzles on each table as many residents have been contributing to our endeavor. We now have 4 full cabinets of puzzles, most of which we have completed and some of which have been put on hold because of the colors being too close to each other.
We’re at the point where we’ll complete a thousand piece puzzle and then shift to something easier like a 100 – 300 piece puzzle that usually is left on the table after someone visits Walmart or the Dollar Store.
During Christmas, I tried to order some additional Liberty puzzles online and was amazed at how many of them were sold out. I love @libertypuzzles and I think I wasn’t the only one who thought of them around Christmas time when shopping for puzzles for family and friends.
This (below) was one of my favorites. I refer to it as the “work on the puzzle – crave coffee” puzzle. We purchased it for $1.00 from the Dollar Store.
When working on a puzzle of Venice, a group of us decided that we were never going to go to Venice because of how difficult the puzzle was – even though 3 of the people who helped put it together had traveled to Venice at least two time in the past. Whenever we would get really frustrated I’d say to them “come on you guys – you’ve been there before this should be easy!” which just made them more frustrated. When we finally finished it, back into the cabinet it went with an abundance of relief that it was completed.
I May Be A Puzzinstigator
So before I proceed further with this story, you should know that I am one of the puzzinstigators (puzzle instigators); one of the people who can’t stand it when the puzzle table has nothing on it. I may be one of the people who takes trips to Walmart, the dollar store, or Amazon to make sure we have enough puzzles to keep us occupied. It is a great bonding experience and yes, it’s nice to be able to select which puzzle should be the next one to complete.
When the pandemic was at it’s worst and we had reached 200,000 deaths in our country, I found myself feeling more depressed and quite homesick. I went online and ordered 3 puzzles, one that was a Vermont country setting, another that was a Maine Lighthouse, and the last one which was a map of New England. The writing on the New England Map was so small that there were several calls to “put it back in the box and do it later!” “I have no interest in going to New England – ever!” one of them said.
Like most of the others, we ended up completing it and this morning I sent it to a friend from home in Rhode Island because I wanted the puzzle to go somewhere where it would feel loved and appreciated – because you know, puzzles are sensitive like that.
The puzzle pictured at the top of this post has been our nemesis since the beginning of the year. One night when we were watching Jeopardy (and yelling out the answers), one of the residents came in with a paper bag and walked over to me and said “I have some puzzles that I picked up at the Church – they were giving them away for free..” “Excellent, thank you!” I said.
She pulled out three boxes of puzzles but the one above was the one that got to me. As Robert Redford said in “The Natural” (a movie I have watched at least 10 times during the last year), “there’s nothing like a farm.” The colors, texture and so many different shades of blue and green; this was a wonderful puzzle. The other thing I loved about it was that even though the puzzle was 1000 pieces, some of the pieces were quite large which made me think this would be an easy puzzle for all of us to put together and that we would have it completed in record time.
It’s now May – the puzzle was completed only a few hours ago. No less than 6 of us worked on putting it together, but on any given night we were lucky if we connected more than 5 – 10 pieces.
This past Saturday night I came to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore so I sat at the puzzle table for hours, sorting out the pieces by colors and shapes – trying to get to a place where we could have it completed. What often happens when we have puzzles like this is that some of the other residents will say “give it up, put it back in the box and do something easier” which sounds really tempting right? – except when you’re one of the people who has worked so assiduously on putting it together. Even after only a few pieces are connected, once you start, it’s very hard to look back or give up.
And I think that, for me, this has been one of the major lessons of this pandemic.
Yes, there are times when I am frustrated, times when I want to take the puzzle apart before it is complete and just put the pieces back in the box for another day instead of taking a long hard stare at colors, shapes and textures. It is easier to just say “forget it, I’ll do this later.”
It’s quite the metaphor when thinking about these last several months.
But completing puzzle after puzzle after puzzle with friends and working together while staying socially distanced, with masks and hand sanitizer has been a blessing that has kept a lot of us going and having quality conversations away from politics, Covid or the traumatic events that have affected every state in our nation.
“Here – I think that piece goes next to it.” instead of “what? you voted for (insert opposition candidate here)?”
I have a much greater appreciation for time and the value of conversations around interests and events of the day. I also appreciate the thoughtfulness of our friend who thought of us when she saw all the puzzles on a table at her church – and ended up bringing them home.
As tragic as the covid pandemic has been, and continues to be, there are several life lessons which should not be overlooked. The importance of relationships and friendships, thoughtfulness, and most importantly, the value of time.
I woke up about 1/2 hour ago listening to the birds singing outside. I’m thinking they have commandeered a nest in one of the trees outside but I can’t see them, I can only hear them.
Anyhoo so I’m thinking today is the first day of Spring and it’s a wonderful way to wake up. At 7:00 my alarm goes off and I see that it’s 28 degrees outside. A little chilly for all that singing they were doing. But now it’s quiet and I’m thinking they probably just said “screw this – let’s go for cawfee” and they’re on their way to the diner down the street.. or maybe Panera.. dunno.
Here’s why, like many people across our country, I’m a fan of Dr. Fauci.
In 1992, my mom called at 6:00 am one morning and said: “your dad is in the hospital at the Brigham; get here when you can.” (I was living just outside of Amherst MA at the time, it took me under an hour to get there).
It was one of those calls you never want to receive.
Mom and dad were sailing and had arrived in Cuttyhunk, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. They had just put the boat on a mooring in the harbor and were getting organized when dad suddenly fell flat on the deck of the boat and briefly lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness a few minutes later, mom was so concerned that she radioed for the seaplane to come and pick them up so they could fly back to the mainland for medical care.
Mom was a retired Emergency Department, Registered Nurse. Dad had been feeling “sluggish” for several months (initially they had thought he had asthma), but during this weekend, he felt well enough to go sailing. As mom remained more conscious of his symptoms, she decided to call for the seaplane right away.
Things Get Worse:
They flew back to New Bedford and then went to a hospital that, because of their small size and limited resources, could not fully assess what was going on, so he was subsequently transferred to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Within minutes after arriving into the Emergency Department, Dad had six seizures, followed by a brainstem stroke, which left him in a coma. By the time I arrived, he had been admitted to the oncology pod, still in a coma, while they continued to evaluate him. Because Brigham is affiliated with medical schools in Boston, — many teams subsequently arrived to assess his symptoms.
After days of obtaining a thorough history, tests, labs, he was subsequently diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis syndrome — (which was confirmed when his Brigham team consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases).
After a few more days, mom and I were scheduled to meet with the neurology team to discuss whether he would ever come out of this coma and what our best next steps should be in caring for him (i.e., “do we bring him home?”, “does he need surgery?”, “what is his overall prognosis?”). From his team at the Brigham, we learned that multi-organ failure was a symptom of Wegener’s and that there were less than 500 people in the United States who had been diagnosed with it. It was referred to as an “orphan illness.”
Dad’s Wake Up Call
A few days before our scheduled meeting, one night after dinner, the phone rang. It was my Aunt (dad’s sister) asking Mom if she could bring a priest into the hospital to pray for dad. So late Thursday night before our Friday morning meeting with the neurology team, my Aunt and my cousin were with the priest who was praying over dad. At one point, he reached for my dad’s hand to hold it, and he (my dad) jerked his hand away, which caught everyone off guard as it was a sudden jerky movement from a guy that (up until that time) had been in a coma.
Fast forward to early the next morning (6:00 am Friday): I was the first to arrive and was walking into the department when the primary Doc asked me, “is the rest of your family here?”. “No, not yet,” I told her, at precisely the same time Mom and my brother came around the corner and walked down the hall to where we were standing. The Doc looked at my mom and said, “I can’t really explain what happened, but your husband is awake and conscious. They have the news on so he can be more oriented to time — but we were all glad to see him awake and talking to us”.
Because the illness he had affected his organs, he needed to stay a few weeks longer and then also (subsequently) have cardiac double bypass surgery.
All this to say — while Dr. Fauci was not his Doctor, the fact that dad’s team at Brigham and Women’s consulted with him was inspiring because of the quality of care they provided and the years added to his life.
Let’s Just Think About This
Now, whenever I see Dr. Fauci standing behind the President or speaking at a press conference, I feel a lot more relieved because of how knowledgeable he is considering the complexity of the Covid-19 virus. And then I remember my dad and the battle he fought. Because of the care and recommendations he received, he was able to live another 22 years (and celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary with mom).
Having experienced the autoimmune illnesses that we have in our family, we learned that Dr. Fauci is a guy you would want to have on your team because of his knowledge, tact, compassion, and the length of time he has been at the NIAID. It’s 2020 — he’s worked at the same place since the mid-1980s; let’s just think about that. In my mind, a 40-year career at the same place isn’t just a “job,” it’s an honorable life mission.
As my dad’s illnesses progressed over the years (and in 2009 when his symptoms worsened), we went to one of the top-notch cancer treatment centers in the country close to where they lived in Florida. The team informed him and mom that his cancer had returned, and there “was nothing we can do for him.” They told mom she should “just bring him home and watch over him.”
But — as usual, that didn’t deter mom who asked their neighbors for names of oncologists in the area. Once she found some names, she called me and said: “I have some names and was wondering if you could look them up on your computer.” I researched each name on her list a bit more and found that one of the Oncologists had completed his residency in Boston. Mom and dad scheduled an appointment and drove over to meet with him.
In meeting with the Oncologist, they learned he had been a resident in Boston (at the Brigham) for the same Doctor who had been dad’s Nephrologist (the Doctor on his team who had contacted Dr. Fauci to confirm his diagnosis). He subsequently agreed to care for dad and provided care in the form of that delicate balance of chemo and radiation, which led to his cancer being in remission for a few more years.
As illnesses go, however — (especially when they’re compounded with his Wegener’s), Dad’s cancer ended up coming back, and that’s what was the cause of his death in 2014; years after the guys at the best cancer place said to mom there was nothing they could do for him.
Retrospectively, on the one hand (and when mom has had this conversation with other people), they have said to her, “well, the Cancer hospital was right as that’s what he died from.” On the other hand, when I think about the quality of his life from 2009 forward and the time we all spent together, I’m pleased mom didn’t listen to them. I’m glad we were able to find an outstanding Oncologist as well as a great primary care physician who had retired from Johns Hopkins and set up his practice on Anna Maria Island, close to the beach and 15 minutes away from mom and dad’s home.
I’m proud to live in a country where you have experts and highly skilled professionals like Dr. Fauci and Dad’s team at the Brigham that you can ask (or consult with) who can make recommendations and broaden your scope of knowledge. And yes, where they also support each other in hospitals and healthcare organizations across the country who continue to provide compassionate care for the patients and families they serve. While I have never met Dr. Fauci, I will always be grateful for him and our Brigham and Women’s team for their excellent care, recommendations, and follow-up.
Today I was at Walmart looking for one of those hook thingies to hang Christmas decorations on my door. I was distracted by this really beautiful Christmas tree – the ones that have snow on them. A man walks by me and says, “wow, they’re getting so expensive, aren’t they?” (it was a 7.5 ft. tree for about $160.00). He tells me “I don’t even get a tree anymore” and that he doesn’t really celebrate Christmas since his wife died of liver cancer about 15 years ago. “She fought hard,” he tells me.
We discuss how relationships are interesting like that – how you really see someone’s strength when they are faced with adversity. He smiles upon hearing this “yes, she was quite a fighter,” he says. “I’m sorry about your loss,” I tell him – thinking that even though it was long ago, he still misses her. He tells me that there will not be anyone else for him (not sure how we got to this but we did) – but he seems content and walks me through his thoughts about the rest of the trees and the Christmas lamp post that is next to them that he thinks will be stolen in a second if someone actually purchases it and puts it out on their lawn. “Maybe it’ll help the mailman see where he is going as it gets darker,” he says.
I loved speaking with him, not only because he was telling me about his life but also because he actually looked like an elf. He was a little guy – about 5’4″ ish with short wavy hair, jeans and a red and black checkered flannel
shirt, and one of those small little cute beards on his chin – the kind that you see on elves when you’re shopping at Walmart.
When he left, I kept looking at the tree. Like the last thing I need in my place is a 7 1/2 ft. Christmas tree (that honestly – I would seriously keep up until April because it looked really cool). But when I think about our conversation and what he first said when he walked by me, it was like mom and dad were speaking through him – like a tactful “what the hell are you thinking buying a tree like that?”. (It was a Teresa Caputo like moment)
And yes, I left without it – but it was definitely the high point of my day. When I left, I had the 8 items I was holding in my arms and went to check out at the register (one of the ones that are staffed because I hate the self check out thing). The lady in front of me said “Please go ahead of me – you only have a few things,” but I said, “No, you go ahead, I just need to stand here and think about the way my life is going.” (which made the lady behind me crack up and tell me all about her daughter and the 7 (!) Christmas trees she has in her home.
I love these conversations that take place during the holidays; they’re not kidding when they say, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”.
On my way to Portsmouth, NH, the Lexus RX SUV I have been driving (Dad’s car) officially crossed into the land of 100,000 miles.
After I received my master’s degree, I had the opportunity to work in hospitals as far north as Vermont and as far south as West Virginia. Whenever I moved, dad would always encourage me to find a good auto mechanic in case anything ever happened to the car. “You need someone you can trust,” he told me “and if you do, and they’re good, you can keep driving that car”.
Did I listen to him? – No. I didn’t find a good mechanic. Instead, I found the best pizza restaurant and the best Chinese food delivery service along with the best restaurants and theaters.
No, I did not seek or locate an automotive mechanic.
At the time dad gave me his automotive recommendations,I had a really cute little Honda Civic sedan that I loved.When I moved to Vermont, I went with him to trade it in for a Toyota Camry as he wanted to know I was in a bigger, safer car.When the Camry was totaled (after I was hit on route 95 just north of New Haven, CT), it was time for us to go exploring for yet another car.
Because I had a really great job, I could afford a better car on my own so I asked my dad to accompany me while I test drove every car I have ever wanted to drive or own in my life. And like the good sport that he was, he took it all in stride and came with me.We drove Honda’s, a VW Jetta and yes, I even subjected him to a really cool Jeep Wrangler; no, not a hardtop, the one with the side windows that you could unzip during the hot summer months when a drive to the Cape was in order.
The last car we drove was a brand new, bright red, Acura Integra which we found at Acura of Newport.Once I started driving it, I was smitten. I told him – “I LOVE this car!” as we drove and drove all around Newport. We were at the tip of Ocean Drive when he said to me “You know, we’re going to have to take this car back to the dealership right?”
“Why?” I asked him, jokingly – as we continued driving past the mansions along the drive and then toward Bellevue Avenue. Did I tell you I loved the car?
“You have to pay for it”, he said.
When we returned to the dealership, we negotiated the cost of the car and then I thought that because I had driven the red one for so many miles (and because red cars tend to get pulled over a lot), we purchased a nice navy blue Integra instead. More conservative; less likely to be pulled over.
Every car I drove from that point on was an Acura – some of them were owned, many of them were leased but I absolutely loved driving them. I also loved the fact that they had everything already in them when you picked them up: a nice sunroof, heated seats for those cold, late nights coming home from the hospital, space for my bike, a great sound system, the way they hugged the road when you drove them and the fact that the mileage was really, really good. The other thing I loved about them is that you could talk to anyone on your phone through the sound system of your car just by pressing the small black button on the steering wheel as you drove. If I was listening to music, it would be immediately disrupted by the call coming in with information about who was calling displayed on the screen in front of me.
The last Acura I had was a white “Bellanova pearl”ILX – very beautiful (and very fun to drive).
I arrived in Florida in September of 2014 (when this picture above was taken).
Sadly, Dad died after his long battle with cancer a month after I arrived at which point mom’s memory declined severely. As we adjusted, she and I realized that it was better for her not to drive. We also decided that it would be better to reduce the number of cars we had. Because the Acura was leased and the Lexus was fully paid off, the Acura was the one we (okay – Mom) decided to let go of (honestly, I wasn’t ready to let it go as it was such a beautiful car). The fact that it was a newer lease also made the decision difficult. But we also knew we needed to be practical with our decisions.
In trying to figure out the best solution, I knew it was better to be honest and open about our situation. So I drove to the Acura dealership in Sarasota, told them that dad had died and I would be caring for my mom and that we only needed one car as mom was not driving and asked if they could help.
The dealership was immensely supportive and purchased the car back from me. Their customer service and management was nothing short of phenomenal (which is also another reason I always went right back to Acura whenever I needed a car – their customer service is phenomenal).
After they purchased the car, mom and I resorted to cruising around in dad’s Lexus which (at the time) only had about 60,000 miles on it.
Mom was pleased with this low mileage and used to tell everyone “it’s a nice car driven by a little old lady who never takes it anywhere”. If you knew my mom, a very analytical, quick-witted and astute retired ER Nurse, you would know the term “little old lady” was not quite the way people described her. But as her memory was fading and her steps were not as lively as they had been previously, our pace did slow down a lot.
If we drove around the neighborhood, we would usually use our golf cart. And we only used the Lexus when going to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store or out for lunch. After some surgery on her legs, she would also start using her cane more frequently and would often have trouble navigating the high step into the Lexus.
After 3 years in Florida, I was offered a job in New Hampshire and mom and I decided to return home to New England. She found a nice apartment in an assisted living place close to our friends in Rhode Island so we packed our belongings in the Lexus and headed north. While it was a fast trip, driving with mom (and our cats – Nate, Callie, and Trey in their carriers in the back seat), was a fun ride. Mom had wanted to go slower so we could stop and see friends along the way but because I could not defer orientation with the new job, we only had three days to get “home” to New England.
Once we arrived, mom settled in to her assisted living place while I continued on to New Hampshire to start my new job.
As I relocated to my new city of Manchester, I thought again about what my dad had told me: “Make sure you find a really good auto mechanic”.
And yep, again, I didn’t listen.
It was during the second week of orientation at my new job that the transmission of the Lexus (which had been repaired a month-ish earlier in Florida before we left) decided to stop working. When the light went on, I found the nearest automotive repair place closest to me (using AAA) and drove to see if they could help. I immediately assumed this was going to be a very arduous and expensive endeavor which would cause me to miss a full day of orientation.
But what actually happened was that I walked into a really good automotive repair shop that not only agreed to repair the car, the mechanic also drove me to work so I ended up missing only 5 minutes of orientation instead of a full day.
And as the subsequent months progressed, the guys at AutoCare Plus not only fixed the transmission, they also changed the oil and told me what the best tires would be to put on the car so that I would have no problems driving between New Hampshire and Rhode Island so I could spend every weekend with mom. If I ever had any glitch with the car, I would take it to them and they would explain everything from what needed to be done, to their recommendations and the cost. I trusted them and they did really great work.
In the 2 hours and 6 minutes it took for me to get to mom’s apartment from New Hampshire, I frequently would sense the “I told you so!” coming from my dad as I drove, feeling safe in the knowledge that everything that needed to be done with the car was done.
6 months after relocating home to Rhode Island, mom passed away. I spent the next month packing, donating and subsequently moving everything out of her apartment. Having such a large car was a blessing, but the more I drove it, the more I thought it was too big for me and time to go back to driving a smaller car.
At the same time, I also realized that the car has some great memories, is in very good shape and is completely paid off so, since that time, I have continued to drive it. And while I miss not being able to press a button and talk to my friends from a button on the steering wheel, I have come to enjoy the quiet rides and beautiful scenery along the New England roads whenever I am driving.
When I first arrived in Florida, the car (which at the time was 10 years old) had 60,000 miles on it and because mom and dad were so proud of this, I tried to go easy with adding additional mileage to the car, so going over the 100,000 mile mark as I did yesterday, has been quite an occasion filled with good memories of conversations in the car along the way and the benefits of the message that dad always tried to convey that I finally did listen to – “Find a good auto mechanic whenever you move to a new town”.
This is Nate. He’s my guy, named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. For the last threeish years, Nate and I had been living with my mom in Florida and taking care of her. She had two cats of her own, Trey and Callie (pictured below). Trey is the oldest, a Maine Coon cat who thinks he owns the world, Callie is a little diva (who’s a year younger than Nate) and then Nate, who sort of has a personality of his own and is probably one of the most affectionate cats you will ever meet. He is a master at headbonking.
Mom and I had made a deal that if I found a new career endeavor in New England, she would move back with me as she wanted to see her friends and watch the leaves change in the Fall. Hearing her discuss this made my job search more focused as I wanted this wish to come true for her.
A few months later, I was hired and we made plans to move. Initially, she wanted to live with me but then decided that it would be better for her to be in an assisted living place closer to her friends in our hometown. I decided I would stay in the town where my new job was and then commute back and forth to visit her on the weekends.
Originally, because it was only a few days, I left Nate at home to guard the fort on the weekends I would visit her. But as mom became iller and I was spending more time with her, I decided to keep Nate with me. Together, we would drive to and from Mom’s normally listening to books on tape or podcasts along the way. He seemed to be a lot more relaxed everytime we listened to “This American Life” so it became a thing.
From our visits and conversations during the week, I thought mom was getting better. This thought was short lived however as, on a Friday when I spoke with her, I heard her coughing and realized this wasn’t the case and that the pneumonia she had developed was still present. I decided that Nate and I would head out earlier than we usually do the next morning and also called the staff and asked them to check on her that Friday night.
Early on Saturday morning, her nurse called to tell me that when she had arrived to give mom her medications, she had died.
It was news I never hoped (and wasn’t ready) to hear.
After making calls and asking for help from a friend, Nate and I got in the car and headed south to mom’s.
The next month was a foggy blur as I emptied out mom’s apartment while taking time to have a few big ugly cries as I wasn’t ready for her to leave. And while Nate and I spent time getting things together, Callie and Trey were definitely struggling.
Callie is a rescue cat (her story is here). A beautiful and also very affectionate little girl who had a tendency to sleep with mom on her pillow above her head. Mom would go to bed and she would tell me “the next thing I know, Callie’s on the pillow kneading before settling down and purring while finding her comfortable spot to spend the night”.
And because she was a girl, every time one of the guys got close to her, she would growl wanting to make sure she had her space and her “mom time”.
Trey was the master of the house. He was “mom’s cat” and had been part of our family for several years. Even before they settled in Florida full time, Trey had traveled with them back and forth to Rhode Island. At one point, during one of their flights, she had opened his carrier to pet him during a layover at Dulles International when he decided to push by her hand and take a nice long walk along the concourse.
Mom, not wanting to scare him, followed him from behind until she could finally get close enough to grab him. Hearing her tell the story was hilarious and Trey had many events like this but usually did really well between living in Florida during the winters and on their boat with them during the summer.
But when mom died, he was lost. And while I knew that cats grieve when their owners die, I never realized how bad this grief process could be until I watched Trey for several days after her death.
The morning I arrived, mom had died but was still in her bed. What was reassuring to me was that she looked the way she always had whenever I arrived early in the morning; resting quietly looking content.
Trey was lying across the doorway to her room. It almost seemed like he didn’t want anyone to enter and didn’t want her to leave. And he didn’t move – as the nurse, and subsequently, the funeral home director went into and out of the room, he stayed exactly where he was – lying fully sprawled out, blocking the doorway, watching everything.
When the funeral home director came back with the gurney, I picked Trey up and took him to mom’s chair in the living room. I think he liked that he could still smell her presence so he stayed there… watching everything like a hawk with those big Maine Coon Cat eyes of his.
Callie, initially had hid under the bed but then followed us into the living room where her “people” were.
The following days were the worst as Trey and Callie realized that mom was no longer there. I’d watch as Trey jumped from the top of her bureau (where the clothes she had worn most recently were still in a pile) and then to her bed; he was clearly looking for her. Callie had settled into the floor of her closet where she slept on top of her shoes.
A day later, it was early in the morning when I decided to take a shower. I had closed the door when I could hear the feverish scratching of paws against the door and loud yowling. When I turned the shower off, I grabbed a towel and opened the door to see Trey – it was like you could actually see the sad, disheartened, “oh, it’s only you” look on his face.
A few days later, my brother arrived. Together we discussed Callie and Trey and keeping them together or separating them. Because Trey had been the only cat my parents had had for several years before rescuing Callie, we decided that Trey would go back to Florida with Scott and Callie would move in with Nate and I as they seemed to get along pretty well.
The next few weeks also seemed trying for Callie and Trey as furniture was donated (along with antiques and books and other belongings). What had been their home had transitioned to suitcases, duffel bags, and boxes which subsequently were taken to different places. The emptier the room became, the more confused they all appeared to be.
Because of this transition and the grief they had, I paid a lot more attention to what I was doing and made sure that we developed as consistent a routine as possible for them regarding spending time together, feeding and bedtime. I also made sure that some of mom’s clothes were available for Trey to lie down on.
On the last day, I put Callie and Nate in their carriers and took them to my car. Trey and I were the last ones to leave mom’s room. I made sure we had a conversation and a prayer about mom watching over us in heaven and then thanking Trey for being so brave before we closed the door behind us.
A few weeks later Scott returned to take Trey home with him. Watching them together going through security at the airport, I knew that both Trey (and Scott) would be happier together but I cried as I watched them leave. Trey had endured probably one of the toughest times in his life but I knew he would be happier having all of Scott’s affection to himself and being in warm, sunny Florida where he could watch the birds play outside while watching the world go by.
And Callie and Nate have settled in well together here in our home – adjusting to their new place.
The title “home is the sailor, home from the sea” is from the poem Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson. This was how my mom would greet me whenever I would return home after being away at school.
When my parents sold their house, they asked me if there was anything I wanted to take. The one thing I really wanted was a picture (this picture above) that had been in the attic and had a huge slash in it where the moonlight is reflected.
When I was younger, I had spent many years carrying sails up the stairs to the attic so I could hang them up to dry after an evening of sailing. Every time I would hang them up, I would turn and see this picture leaning against a table, torn and in rough shape, but reminding me of the awesomeness of sailing home in a storm.
Home to the comfort of a safe harbor.
When I discussed wanting the painting with mom, she hesitantly said she didn’t think it could be repaired. But on Christmas of that year, she and dad gave it to me (fully restored as shown here) as a Christmas gift. Mom told me she had taken it to a friend who was an antiques guy who knew a painter who restored art.
It’s still here with me – with a little extra light from the moon to find our way home.
Two years ago, when my mom died, the assisted living facility where she lived gave me 30 days to pack her belongings and move them out of her small apartment. As much as it seemed like 30 days was a long time, it wasn’t. As we had relocated to New England from Florida, a few months prior, some boxes remained unpacked as we struggled with the transition. I felt like I had completely lost my sense of “home” and couldn’t imagine how, at 86, she must have felt during this challenging transition.
But I realized I just needed to stay in her room at the assisted living place and finish everything while we also planned a memorial service for her and my dad. Some boxes were easy. Sometimes, I knew immediately what to keep and what to donate. Other times, when I would open a closet or a drawer or look at a picture, I felt the immense sorrow and grief that went with missing mom.
Every time I opened the door to her closet and looked at her clothes, I felt sick.
My sadness went on for another week and became more uncomfortable until I knew I had to do something because I was running out of time.
I took all of her clothes out of the closet and separated the ones I could donate from the ones I knew I needed to keep because of all of the memories they carried with them. Slowly and meticulously, I went through piles and piles of clothes.
When people die, I heard that there are websites listed on the internet where you can make quilts out of clothes. As I skimmed from site to site looking, they all seemed robotic and impersonal. When I told one of the staff members at the assisted living place that I was thinking about this, she said: “I have a relative who makes quilts.. all by hand.. they’re beautiful; let me ask her”.
A few days later, she returned with a phone number and said, “she hasn’t made a lot of quilts but would be willing to help you; just call her.”
So as I sat on mom’s bed among the piles of clothes, I called her and introduced myself and asked her about her willingness to help me with a quilt. She agreed and told me about the quilts she would be able to make and asked: “are her clothes dark colors?”.
I looked around at the piles of (mostly) shirts alongside me. “No,” I told her, “there are mostly bright colors; mom loved bright colors.” I hadn’t realized how bright the colors were, or how distinct some of the patterns were. But as I looked at them, my memories came flooding back. I saw the shirt she had on when we sat on the back deck of the boat cooking dinner as we looked out over the harbor in Block Island, and then one she was wearing more recently when we cruised around the neighborhood in our golf cart in Florida. I saw the one she was wearing when we sat together on a bench eating lunch as we looked out over the intercoastal waterway watching the dolphins. That shirt was a “must-have” in the quilt because of how beautiful that day was.
Looking at the pile of clothes and remembering those days, I realized that, as sad as I felt, everything would eventually be okay. I wasn’t sure, I felt a little better, but I still really missed mom.
“What should I do with the remainder of the clothes that I use or the ones that I don’t?” she asked. “Keep them,” I said definitively. I couldn’t explain why but the thought of some of mom’s bright colors going into making a quilt for another person – another family, seemed like a perfect idea.
Aristotle once said “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” I felt that spreading all of the bright and dark materials, colors, and textures that mom wore broadened the perspective she brought to us all.
When I ended my conversation with my new quilter friend, the intense sadness I felt became a little more manageable.
A friend had told me about a “fluff and fold” place about a mile away, so the next morning, I filled two large duffle bags with the clothes for the quilts and dropped them off. A few days later, when they were ready, I took them to FedEx and sent them to my new favorite Quilter in Virginia.
There were only two additional emails from the Quilter which followed our initial call. When she asked about an idea for a pattern, I sent her a photo I had of a quilt that mom’s grandmother had made for her. When we discussed size, I told her that a 60-inch by 60-inch quilt would be perfect and asked if she could make two of them, one for my brother and one for myself. I also told her to take her time as I wasn’t in a rush and knew that our loss’s most difficult memories were in good hands.
Six months later, I received an email informing me that our quilts were ready and on their way to my home in New Hampshire.
“I hope you like them,” she wrote.
Since sending her the two duffle bags of clothes, I had consistently thought the day I received them would be like Christmas morning. I knew I would receive a beautiful gift but had no idea how they would look.
They would be sent by a woman I’ve never met, who had agreed to preserve the legacy of someone she has never met whom I loved very much. Sometimes the world is impressive.
The quilts arrived in October. It was precisely like Christmas morning, and I couldn’t help but stare at them because of how beautiful they were (and are). I took pictures and sent them to friends as I was so impressed with the result. The hand stitching was lovely, as was the juxtaposition of color and texture in the materials used.
I told one of my friends, “it feels like I’m looking at a legacy in color and texture.” I remembered that poem, “The Dash,” about the quality of your life from when you are born until the time you die but in the form of the colors, textures, and fabric we wear.
When I think of all of the decisions I’ve made since mom died, having our two quilts made is one I will never regret. I challenge you to consider where your thoughts go the next time someone mentions the importance of “living your dash.” If you’re like me, maybe the subsequent thoughts you have will be more related to colors, texture, and the time you had that shirt on when you did that thing that you remember because it was such a great time.
As a child growing up, whenever I would get stuck with trying to resolve an issue or challenge, my mom would say “Now let’s just think…” and together we would weigh the pros and cons of finding a resolution.
Over time, her “Let’s Just Think” comment became a mantra that was used frequently; and yes, there were also times when it was the punchline for a funny story or memory. But it always had a moment of clarity or insightful resolution as well.
Worthy of a blog and worthy of inspiring stories or quotes to accentuate the positivity of life, the insights from experiences and the wisdom we all gain every day.