Sunday, December 27, 2015

Family Goodbyes

Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
Lourdes, Iowa
My mother came from a large family; she grew up somewhere in the middle of a group of twelve (plus two more who died in infancy). Consequently, family gatherings when I was a child were large, boisterous. After she died, I didn't see these relatives often, reconnecting just in the last ten years or so.

Last week, word came that one of her four remaining siblings had died. I hadn't seen Aunt Roselyn in at least thirty years, but remember their home as a happy one; filled with good feelings when we came to visit.

When I stopped by my brother's house to bring Christmas cookies, he asked if we could alter our travel plans and leave a day early to attend the funeral, which was last Wednesday. At first, I said no. Too busy, new job, no vacation, long time no contact, etc., etc. He was OK with that. But then I stopped. My excuses glared, tinny and fake, as just that - excuses. There was no real reason I couldn't or shouldn't go, and so we went.

Those of my aunts, uncles and cousins who could make it were there, along with her friends, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All were sad, but for ourselves left behind, not for her. Her last years were filled with the confusion of dementia - she has gone home to see her siblings and husband, to garden in Peace.

Her funeral was in a small country church in north central Iowa. The second Vatican council passed the church by - her side altars, large central edifice and communion rails remain intact. The church is near where my mother grew up, many of the aforementioned family gatherings were held in the church hall.

As all were gathered for the post-funeral luncheon in the old school gym / parish hall, I stopped at the top of the wide old oak stairs leading down into the room, transported for a moment back through the years to the gatherings I'd attended there as a child. I shook my head to clear it and joined the crew, to find my cousins had experienced the same sense of deja-vu. We shared memories and stories of the days we played in classrooms in the upstairs hall. Do you suppose the classrooms were still there? The front stair was locked, but didn't that door next to the kitchen lead to another staircase? We tried the door, and it was indeed unlocked. The old worn treads were covered in dust, otherwise untouched by time. Memory led us upwards and we found ourselves in the single hallway that had served as a small country school. Now used for some sort of classes and religious ed, the only things missing were the shelves and coat hooks that once graced the hallway. The shadowy dark seemed fitting as we peered through the glass on the doors to look at the old desks and chalkboards, beckoning with their almost-forgotten memories of afternoons spent making up games to stave off boredom while waiting for the grownups to finish eating and talking.

As my brother and I pulled away to resume our journey to Minnesota for Christmas, I found myself glad I had taken the time to come to say goodbye. I've traveled far from those uncertain days - it's good for me to revisit them now and again; to reframe the shadows; to share the stories.

Aunt Roselyn, rest in Peace. (and say 'hi' to Mom, eh?)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Cactus

I have to admit, I stole it. Even though its owner was sitting right there. It was clearly unloved and neglected, down to just three leaves, those more gray than green.

This was several years ago at work. I'd stopped by to talk to my friend Anita. As we chatted, my eyes wandered around her cube, finally lighting on the saddest excuse for a Christmas cactus I'd ever seen.

When we finished talking, I scooped up the plant and told her I was taking it to intensive care - she could have it back when it had a fighting chance to live. She didn't try to stop me.

I put the poor thing on my windowsill (I rated a cube with a window in those days) and tenderly nursed it for several months. It was slow to respond. but that ghost of green never went away, and eventually became stronger, spreading through the leaves until they were healthy and shiny again.

It took a while longer for it to be brave enough to put out new sprouts; to regain enough strength and trust to grow. At this point my conscience started bothering me, so I took the plant back down the aisle and offered it back to Anita, who graciously declined. She was not a bad sort, but her spot in the office just didn't offer the right sort of light for the plant to live.

Not at all sorry, I took it carefully back to my desk, and continued to water it and watch it grow. My little spot of green. It took at least another year, but the plant rewarded me with two brilliant red blossoms one dreary fall week.

When I left AT&T, the plant came with me. (Of course!) When I left home for my trip, I reluctantly handed it off into foster case - I knew it wouldn't thrive in the uncertain environment of the camper van. When I came home, I got it back - still healthy and green - moved it into my condo, then into my new house. It's still not fond of moving; not quite certain yet of this place. The light isn't quite right, and I haven't been able to find the perfect spot for it.

Still, now and again, it blooms. On its own schedule, watching the clock of Christmas in a world tied to ours but not visible to my senses or calendar.

Until, last week when the calendars synced up. I noticed a small tip of red on the end of just one branch. I watched carefully as it grew and swelled and finally burst into full flower - to my eyes, a bird just taking flight.

Somehow joyful.
Beauty in the darkest days of the year.
Color amidst the gray.
Light in the darkness.

** happy sigh **

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cat Confusion

I think I'm over-identifying with the cats this morning.

A while back, I wrote about the battle I'd lost - Monster had decided the sink was not only a BOX, but even better, was a BOXWITHWATER! Since then, getting a drink from the trickling faucet has become his cherished morning ritual. He prowls the upstairs as I get ready each morning.  As soon as I set foot on the stairs, he zooms past me to get to the sink to await his drink. (I've added a daily note to self: take care on the stairs - if he hasn't already zoomed past, he will, and worry about my footing is not on his radar screen.)

It took Angel a while, but she got in on the action. She watched the ritual for about a month, then cautiously joined him in the sink, then not-so-cautiously.

I've managed to hold my line about the countertops being off limits, and they're really not a problem in the sink because as soon as the water is turned to full flow and starts splashing them, they're outta there.

I want to reuse the kitchen sink that came with the house.  It's the style I want, and is heavy-duty enough to last for some time. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a model number for it, so the countertop people were unable to pull a template to do their cutout. They're ready to begin fabrication and so asked us to pull the sink so they are sure to cut the proper sized hole.

You see where this is going.  Last night, Joe de-installed the sink so we could get it down to them. This morning, the cats got on the counter for their morning drink, looking desolately into the hole where the sink used to be. I let them look for a minute, and got them a bowl of fresh water to drink. They took a few polite laps, but then returned to looking at the hole, then at me, then back to the hole.

I needed to get ready for work, so shooed them off the counter, and started to pull my things together. The minute I turned away, they started to double-team me. One would jump up. While I removing him from the counter, the other would take a turn. They'd get up there and meow plaintively at me - what did you do with the BOXWITHWATER??? - winding unhurriedly but effectively away from me as I tried to dump them back on the floor.

Their confusion was clear. They like their morning drink and couldn't understand why the box was gone. They looked to me to fix it. I had no way to let them know this is a temporary loss, that the BOXWITHWATER will return sometime next week (along with new and improved countertops!)

I kind of feel the same way. Cancer has been messing with my treasured rituals all year - disturbing the balance of work-family-friends-leisure. I don't understand why, and would like it back the way it was. Please and thank you. Perhaps there is a larger picture beyond my ken, but I am unable to see it and am confused and a bit forlorn.

And here comes the trust thing, 'round again.

Because I have to believe there is a larger picture, that all of this will somehow get fit back in and the hole will be refilled. Not that it happened for a reason, I don't believe there are reasons for stuff like this, but that the Universe is on the side of life and will move to mend the rift as best it can.

Trust - I'm working on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


I'm working on the gratitude thing, I really am.

And, I am grateful.
The box explosion has been contained - almost everything has a home, and the stuff that doesn't is on its way out the door.
I have all my dishes back in the kitchen, and there's room in the cabinets.


Cancer strikes again.

This time it's a friend I've known for some thirty years. He's about my age, and found out last week that he has a brain tumor. Still waiting to hear some of the details, but we know it's the spreading kind. They've operated, which has relieved some of the pressure on his brain, but weren't able to get all of it.

and, again, I find myself asking, "why him?"

He is a good man, he is honest. He goes to church and is kind to children. He loves art and sports and drives in the country and horses and does his best to do good and not harm in this world.

He doesn't deserve this - no one does.

He's been in the hospital for a couple of weeks already; first while they figured out what was up, then to recover from surgery. We've gone to visit him several times; have spent a lot of time talking about good food. They have him on a low-carb diet, which leaves him hungry. And since it's too hard to talk about the hard stuff, food is an easy topic. (I understand why they're adding insult to injury this way, but helped him skate around the edges of the rules on Thanksgiving.  The meal we put together for him was kinda-sorta low-carb - and the nurses all looked the other way. After they helped us reheat the plate so his dinner would be hot.)

So, I am grateful - for small pleasures able to smother large pains, if only for a short time. For a top-notch medical team - who are giving him the best care around. For laughter - we laugh anyways when I see him. For his faith - it is helping him through this.

Give thanks, always and for everything.
(that's in the Bible somewhere...)
I'm trying.