(This is the final “Parental Journal” entry for this blog.)
On Monday, March 1, I received my last kiss from my mom.
It was the first day visitors were allowed to schedule visits again, and I was on the books for a one-hour visit with Mom at 2 pm. I was contacted by two staff persons the Friday before because they wanted me to know that Mom’s decline had become more pronounced due to her not wanting to eat much.
At about 8:30 a.m. Monday, March 1st, I was called and asked if I could come “now.” Mom had had a difficult weekend. When I arrived, there were indications that her passing would likely happen soon, and the hospice coordinator confirmed this.
Mom was experiencing the expected agitation that often happens…pulling at her blanket, reaching out, moving her hand to her throat and then to her abdomen. At one point, I took her hand and she squeezed it. I squeezed back, and then when her eyes were opened a bit, I leaned over and said, “Hi Mom. I’m so glad I can visit you today.” I could see that she recognized either my face or my voice. She pulled our locked hands to her mouth and kissed my hand. “Oh…you gave me a hand kiss,” I said. “Thank you! I’ll give you a hand a kiss, too!”
Throughout the day and night, we would often hold hands and she would firmly bring my hand to either her mouth or her chest. I was thrilled because my goal was being realized: that I would be with her during her transition time and she would know she was not alone. I spoke to her frequently, hummed melodies, and played soothing meditation music to comfort us both. My hand rested on her arm, and I watched as she transitioned through the various stages of end-of-life breathing. Shortly after 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2…my birthday…I rang for the nurse and said I thought my Mom was gone. Her death was confirmed.
Personally, I thought it was wonderful that she transitioned out of this life on the same month and date she brought me into this life. Very cool, actually. Way to go, Mom.
I can see her blue eyes light up as she responds with a smile…”You’re welcome!”
Those who travel the journey of a long-term illness with their loved ones know that the grieving process begins long before the final days. This is especially true for families dealing with dementia/Alzheimer’s.
Being on this journey with Mom has been one of the most meaningful and profound experiences of my life, and I am grateful to have shared this time with an extraordinarily determined, witty, feisty, independent, and caring woman: Pearl Inez Leogrande. August 16, 1926 – March 2, 2021.
Beyond my little black deck there are old woods that lead down to Perche Creek. After leaves have fallen, I witness beautiful sunset colors that flow behind bare branches. It can be a spectacular sight, and I began to think about where in this small city I could find an expanse where I could practice photographing sunsets enhanced by other aspects of nature like clouds, trees, ponds.
Lucky me. About half a mile from where I live there is a new housing development on the very west side of town: Breckenridge Park. Beyond the development to the west, the land slopes down to Perche Creek and farmland. Bingo. A great place to practice photographing sunsets.
Brian Lloyd Duckett is a British photographer/instructor I have followed via YouTube and the newsletter he puts out. His instructions are clear and understandable for this aging brain. Plus he’s not a kid.
One of the lessons Brian stresses is to “have projects.” As a forever beginner, I am dabbling in a bit of this and a bit of that. After this first sunset outing, I now have a project. Sunsets are fine, but I am more interested in cloud formations within them and shadow features like trees…maybe people…interesting and familiar objects.
Now that the weather is getting better, each day I check the weather forecast. I want to know if there will likely be nice sunsets. Later in the day, I check the sky. Any clouds around? If so, then I check to see what time the sun will be setting, and if I’m motivated enough, I think about where I might visit to experiment more with this “project.”
There is something comforting about looking back and remembering others who were instrumental in helping us become the people we are. As we age, many of us seem to spend a bit more time looking back at our lives and thinking about those who helped us become who we are.
Contributor friend, Bonnie M, sent me an email the other day:
My mom used to find art teachers for me when I was growing up in Cleveland, sometimes through the Cleveland Art Institute or Museum, other times just through word of mouth. Sandy Diamond was one of those teachers I worked with from the time I was about 12 until about age 18.
Yesterday I remembered a piece I wrote about my “childhood art teacher” when she died five years ago. I had been out to visit her in Port Townsend, Washington in 2011, but I had not seen her since 1971, although we corresponded occasionally over the years.
She was a special soul, gentle yet firm, and encouraged however I did art.
Here is Bonnie’s remembrance of her former art teacher, Sandy Diamond: following:
On hearing of Sandy Diamond’s Passing
The world has lost a vital yet gentle soul. Memories will have to suffice, but enriched by the letters and cards we exchanged in the year before a treasured visit in 2011.
She lived delicately and purposefully, wrote and painted and designed, and most of all, blessed me with her gentle admonitions, no–too strong a world–her gentle wisdom about life, about people, and about art.
She would not want me to write that now I “owe it to her” to paint in her memory. She would suggest otherwise–that I embrace life and embellish it with my art, that I think of it as a “healing bouquet” for others, she had written.
And I, after rediscovering her some 45 years after we first celebrated with art, after recapturing those memories, I wrote to her: ‘I feel as though in going back I can move forward.’
Perhaps that is a suitable tribute to her–moving forward. Not to let darkness prevail, but to let in light, lines, and color. In that way I can honor her memory and offer thanks for the gifts she bestowed upon me.
Among my group of gal pals, there is Lynette. Petite, feisty, funny, and compassionate, she is a joy to us all, and we love to hear her stories about growing up in a large family. As today’s contributor, Lynette gives us an up close and absolutely true tale of one of her piggy episodes…back in the day.
My dad was a pilot, a respected professional pilot who supported a wife and five reasonably intelligent children.
However, in his heart he was a farmer, a farmer who dreamed big dreams of vast rolling acres of verdant cropland and fields of fat prize winning livestock.
There would be ranch hands, field hands, and the admiration of his peers on market days.
The reality was a pretty, relatively small 80-acre farm, predominantly of timber. It was a start.
Into this pre-empire, Dad installed a dozen piglets into a hog house he built himself. It included a sturdy wire fence that surrounded a concrete outside pad where said piggies could sun and frolic when they weren’t eating their way to market.
They were well looked after as Dad “Flyboy” watched their progress, but it wasn’t long and he thought they seemed bored. After all, how many games of “got your tail” can any of us really enjoy?
Bowling balls were the answer, their master read in one of his farm magazines. They could be snouted around in some version of swine soccer, I suppose.
That worked for a while, but after a bit of time, the players soon were bored again. Bowling balls were followed by rubber car tires, another suggestion from the magazine, and the piggies liked them. Finally. Fat, happy piggies.
All went well until the pilot wasn’t able to go out to this paradise in the making due to the family home being in town. One day he asked me to go check on their food and water needs, a function for which I was occasionally pressed into service.
Upon arrival, I immediately recognized an unusual situation. One of the residents was now wearing a tire. If you can recall Disney’s “Fantasia” with the tutu wearing hippos, you can get a smellier version of the scene. The poor guy was trotting around the pen enduring the derision of his fellows–an untenable situation.
Putting on my boots, I climbed over the fence to deal with the tire, much to the delight of the pack who had always found me inept in our other dealings. We had a merry time for the next few minutes with lots of squealing, most of it coming from the pigs.
I chased the victim who misjudged my intentions. Who could blame him, since one of our earlier encounters involved my assisting in divesting him of a couple of his “boy parts.” The chase continued with one of the pigs plucking a glove out from my back pocket and the others trying to get it away from him. Chasing after the thief, I realized that I was now an unwitting participant in yet another version of “got your tail.”
I was getting nowhere.
I hopped over to the less congested side of the fence and considered my options. I immediately decided this was not to be an audience participation event. Then I noticed that the tire-wearer had retreated to a far corner of the pen and was sitting on his haunches next to a blowing ball. This was my opportunity to reenter the arena and herd the others into a separate gated area, leaving just the forlorn ballerina and me to sort this out.
Over the fence I went again as I spotted an extravagant growth of purple flowering clover. Picking a generous handful, my plan was made.
I casually sauntered over to the pig, bearing this peace offering of clover. After a coy refusal, the tired guy rose and approached. I pushed the bouquet toward him and he accepted, unaware of my scheming plan. I jumped up on the fence, planted my feet halfway up, braced myself, lurched over, and grabbed the tire. The surprised porker backed away leaving us in a tug situation now with more of me over on his side. He was just as determined to get away from me as I was to keep my grip on the manure covered tire. But with one last mutual tug, he freed himself which sent me and the tire backward into the mud on my side of the battlefield. I was now covered in some of the stuff that made the clover so abundantly lush.
I won’t share the details of my fragrant dive back to town, but I did provide a nice bit of entertainment for any neighbor who might have been watching my backyard hose down.
I related the incident to my family when I went into the house. My grandfather helpfully suggested that it might have been easier to have pulled the tire from the rear, but I pointed out that it would have been hard to get that end interested in the clover.
The hogs and I enjoyed many exciting experiences over the next few months since I seemed to be well suited for these things. They even seemed to perk up when they saw my car…remembering the good times, I guess.
Guest contributor, Patti Brown, offers a reflection on gratitude. Patti and I have been friends since the early 1980s, and I know that throughout her life she has believed in the practice of taking time to reflect on things for which she is grateful.
Among the many things I am grateful for are three very special animals.
Cats were not my thing growing up. I preferred dogs. As a young twenty-something, I lived in Canada as a traveling entertainer. Sam, a black Siamese kitten, came along at the same time I married. He adapted well to living in hotel rooms and apartments. He was there when our daughter was born, when we divorced, and for the ten years I was a single mother raising a daughter. Sam was my rock…playing, cuddling, and loving us for 19 years. When I remarried and moved into a home with other cats and dogs, I believe Sam knew I would be okay. His health deteriorated quickly, and I lost my best friend.
Twelve years later, I found a litter of kittens on the side of the road and brought them to our country home where we already had several pets. Within six months I found myself in another divorce and Mikey, a beautiful long-haired tiger from that litter, had become my furry companion. His presence helped me through the devastating loss of that marriage, and for 15 years he was my lion-spirited but gentle protector. He loved me unconditionally and always accepted my friends by greeting them and wanting to sit on their laps. One friend often described him as a person in a cat suit, which I think was quite accurate. I am so grateful for the lifetime we had together. We comforted one another in equal measure. He will always be in my heart.
I allowed myself time to grieve and became closed off from wanting the responsibility of another pet. But when a stray 2-month-old kitten was offered to me, I felt the nudge to accept the care of a very frightened being. Mango now holds that special companion spot. He romps around and makes me laugh. He is learning enough trust that he can sit on my lap and accept caresses. He still dashes for cover at any strange sound, but his curiosity soon brings him back into the room. Mango reminds me to be more patient, nurturing, and responsible. I am so grateful I could open my heart again as Mango and I live one hug, one joy, one day at a time.
(My friend, Gail Hauswirth, gave me permission to share what she refers to as a “musing.”)
“Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall rise up on wings as an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not grow faint. Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.”
From the prophet Isaiah, this prayer for patience comes to me unbidden. Perhaps sixty years have passed since I prayerfully sang these words on Sunday morning. I have tried to learn to wait. I have worked at patience. I have understood that peace comes with the mastery of “waiting.” I have longed for this peace and have worked at breathing and being…but my unquiet mind has always told me to do something. Anything. I have had real trouble letting God be God.
Now I am seventy years old, and I am waiting with the world for things to be better. I have no choice but to wait. Is this the lesson? “Be still and know that I am God.”
I cannot fix this. I cannot make anything happen in my time. I see my insignificant ability to change anything. I feel the sweep of our collective destiny as we hope for vaccines and science to save us.
What purpose can be wrung from all this suffering? Will I finally learn to be patient? Will I understand, finally, my true ephemeral existence? Will I gain perspective on that which is immortal?
I present myself as a willing student. I await my lessons.
I’m just going to say it: I did not want to die when Donald Trump wasin office.Period. I said that flippantly yesterday while watching inauguration festivities, and gal pal, Lynette, sat right up and said, “ME TOO!” I am certain we are not the only elders who feel that way. Maybe it seems a bit silly, but I just didn’t want to move on to the “next adventure” with DT still in charge and governing by tweet.
Now we move on with the Biden administration. Not that things will be easy, but at least I feel hopeful again…(remember hope?)…hopeful and very proud to live in a country that has such an incredible diverse citizenry. It was all on display during yesterday’s segments of pomp and celebration throughout the day and evening.
One of the major highlights, of course, was having lived long enough to see a female Vice President of the United States. Thank you, President Biden. Millions of women offer gratitude from our hearts.
Will there continue to be stalemates, lies, and ugly politics in the halls of Congress? Yes.
Will extremists from the right, the left, and overseas continue to be problematic? Yes.
Will we get vaccinated and help poorer countries do the same? Yes.
Will it take a long time to recover economically from these pandemic times? Yes.
Will we be wearing masks for a while? Yes.
Will the kids go back to regular classrooms within a year or so? Yes.
Are most Americans ready to take their representatives to task and insist that Congress finally get some priority things done that will benefit all Americans? Yes.
When I woke up this morning, I was in a terrific mood. After four years of government by chaos, we were “free at last, thank God almighty.”
I hope the increased interest Americans demonstrated in voting continues. It will be the only way to preserve and protect our fragile experiment of a democracy.
Like millions of other Americans, I’ve listened to way too much political news and commentary over the past four years. My excuse to friends/family: “It’s history in the making,” or “These are historic times.”
Then, on January 6, 2021, the world witnessed a siege on the U.S. Capitol Building during the process of certifying Joe Biden as the next President of the United States and Kamala Harris as the next Vice President. On that day, “history in the making” felt shocking, dangerous, and tragic.
Since that day, I often find myself thinking about “the old days” as a way to escape current news events. The 50s and the early 60s were certainly not easy times. They had their own shock, danger, and tragedy. But I didn’t know. I was ignorant and innocent; my world was very small. This past week I found myself feeling nostalgic for some of the things I loved when I was young, ignorant, and innocent. They make me smile.
That Wall Telephone
Ours was the exact same color, and it was the only phone in the house. Occasionally, I would spend a bit of time sitting on the floor in the hallway and chatting with friend. But in general, I think my mom used the phone more than I did. If someone called, she would visit for a while and enjoy the break from housework, laundry, and cooking. I don’t remember her calling others to visit. We primarily used the phone for information: planning get-togethers, finding out if a store or restaurant was open, questioning something on a utility bill, etc. For some reason, thinking of that 60s era wall phone gives me a bit of comfort. Oh, right. Nobody could text me then. Life was quieter with fewer interruptions.
When Dr. Kokatec Made House Calls
I’m not sure of the spelling of his name, but I remember the doctor coming to our house a few times when I was sick and feverish with bronchitis or some upper respiratory issue. I didn’t like the shot in the butt he gave, but to recall that I lived in a time when doctors made house calls…well, that seems amazing. I remember him as being kind, gentle, and quite chubby. I also remember him telling me that eating chocolate causes pimples. Nope. Not true.
The Used Pink Schwinn Bike
I inherited things from my cousin, Geraldine…mostly clothes. But I was super excited to become the owner of her old pink Schwinn bicycle. That thing was a tank, and it didn’t take long for my dad to help me learn to ride it. I could not find an exact photo on the Internet, but it looked something like this…in bright PINK:
That bike gave me such a sense of freedom. I could ride it hands free and loved turning corners with my arms waving in the wind. And when I stopped, the brakes screeched to high heaven. Everyone knew I had arrived. I loved that bike and thoughts of it make me smile.
The Co-op and the Empty Lot
This building is where I grew up in Skokie, Illinois. Our co-op apartment was the lower left one. One thousand square ft, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a tiny alcove kitchen, and Mom loved it. It hasn’t changed much on the outside:
Almost right across the street there was an empty lot that looked something like this:
Our empty lot had a huge tree on it. Friends and I played cowboys and Indians, vowed to make a tree house but never did, vowed to make a club house, but never did, and when we found a somewhat large animal skull, our imaginations went wild. This was a true treasure. In our minds it was proof that long ago, cattle traveled through the area along with covered wagons filled with those wanting a better life. I have no idea whatever happened to that skull. I don’t think my mom would have let me keep it. But I can see it and still feel the excitement of discovering it. I still wonder about its untold story.
And Those Other Fun Times…
Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois
Oak Street Beach was a staple of my childhood since toddler days. I have photos of my mom as a teen posing at Oak Street Beach. For my cousin and I, there was something special about going to Oak Street Beach when we were teens and working on our tans.
I was delighted to find the above picture on Etsy and wrote to Ms. Sayle Moser, the photographer, asking for permission to use it in this blog post. She wrote back: “Absolutely!…I moved here six years ago and have fallen in love with the area. With everything shut down I have really missed visiting and exploring Chicagoland. Please feel free to use this image for your blog and post with photo credit to me. Happy writing. I send Blessings for Health and Happiness in the year to come. All my best, Sayle”
So yes, I am nostalgic for Oak Street Beach. I think it’s in my family’s DNA.
This was the type of skate I used and the same type of key. Looks primitive now, but I remember the thrill of speeding along the sidewalk with them attached to my shoe. I don’t have that agility anymore and I miss it. But the memories of skating with pals are there. They make me sigh.
The Mickey Mouse Club!
Yep, even as a grandma, when I see old photos of the Mickey Mouse Club I smile. I think that show made me believe in possibilities, certainly much more than church did at the time. However, that photo does not illustrate in any way the diversity of Americans living in neighborhoods all over the country. Major manipulated failing, of course.
My nostalgia for jumping rope is because I was very good at it. Period. Today I have an artificial knee and no jumping is allowed. Just as well. I’d probably have a heart attack if I tried.
It has been a long time since I last saw my Mom. I understand the cautions that must be taken to protect the residents and staff where she lives, but not seeing her has become worrisome. The attempt to visit via phone one time showed me that she can talk on the phone for a very short time, but is more focused on what is going on around her.
I wonder about her all the time. Is she doing any walking at all, or is she permanently in a wheel chair? Does she still have a good appetite? Is she still staying up until beyond midnight and sleeping in until almost lunch time? Does she ever ask about me? Will she recognize me the next time we visit?
I don’t call to ask those questions. Staff are busy and I hate to bother them with a phone call. I know that if there are any major changes, they will let me know. We have regularly scheduled conference times, so I will wait until then.
Meanwhile, I truly miss just sitting next to her and watching her watch everyone else…eavesdropping on conversations…snoozing… enjoying a visiting music group or scheduled activity. I miss having lunch with her…doing her nails in her favorite pale, frosty pink color.
I hope we will have time in the months ahead to continue those things…or at the very least, to have some chatterbox visits again. Meanwhile, I drop by with flowers…disposable panties…personal care creams…and candy now and then. They are given to a front area security person who lets staff know that Pearl has had a delivery. Each time I stop by I leave with tears in my eyes.
Today I will send an email to ask if there is any word about when visits of any kind might resume. I know it’s hard for headquarters to predict and give the okay to communities. At least staff and residents are getting their vaccinations. I think I read that here in Missouri, people age 65 and older will start getting theirs soon.
Most days I walk around shaking my head. Chaos in DC…threats of more violence in the days ahead…worsening numbers with the original virus and now concerns about variants…millions of people in economic peril…small businesses barely hanging on by a thread…a new administration that has so much to do in such a divided nation.
In a way, it’s fortunate that with her dementia, Mom doesn’t remember what happened ten minutes earlier. She no longer asks questions about anything. She simply lives in the moment. I need to do more of that.
2021 is here and most of us are concerned about witnessing any further acts of far right extremists, ready to get vaccinated, grateful to hear a new president with a vocabulary beyond the fourth grade, and hoping to share hugs with friends and family sometime in the next 12 months.
There is a lot about 2020 we won’t miss. On New Year’s Day I was thinking about what I definitely will not miss about 2020. I sent the inquiry to some gal pals to get their input as well.
As for me…
I will not miss “government by tweet.” As soon as Donnie started tweeting in 2016, I rolled my eyes and thought, oh boy…here we go. And it never stopped. As luck would have it, as of yesterday his Twitter account has been permanently shut down. Too bad it took so long.
I will not miss being obsessively tuned in to political news morning, noon, and night. I felt like I was obsessed with a tragically comedic soap opera. With the siege of The Capitol Building January 6, there was no more comedy. We witnessed a tragic event, and now we watch as our political leaders try to clean up the mess…a mess enabled by those who would not correct the lies and confront the conspiracy theories believed by over 70 million Americans. Congress and media/social media personnel–you know who you are.
Whether he’s removed from office under emergency circumstances or exits after Biden’s swearing in, I am SOnot going to miss Donnie’s limited vocabulary which has been fodder for comedians for four years. “Fantastic” “Great” “So great” “Wonderful” “Beautiful” “Unbelievable” “Tremendous” “Like nobody’s ever seen before” “Bad” “Very bad” “Fake news” “Hoax” “Terrible.” Once he is gone, we can more easily ignore any media/social media coverage he gets. We can focus our attention on a better educated, more experienced administration that has pledged to serve all Americans. Amen to that!
From Gal Pal Bonnie M…
What I won’t miss about 2020 includes:
*Masks…masks poking my eyes; masks making my glasses fog up.
*Hearing the daily death tolls. For some reason, I cried when I heard 300,000.
*Watching the do-nothing Republicans enable Trump on and on and on, and some are still doing so.
*The lack of hugs, hand shaking, inability to kiss family hello or good-bye…the inability to even SEE family and friends.
*Watching Trump try to talk while moving his hands back and forth…his hair…his orange face. HIM.
From Gal Pal Patti B…
I will not miss the ridiculous spending on things I just had to have or the news said I must have. Here are a few examples:
*Early in the shutdown, I was told to buy cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Ten months later, I have more than a gallon of bleach, some bottle of a heavy-duty chemical I would have never bought before, and over 100 disposable gloves.
*I now have several pricey candles I thought I needed to try for their scents. They remain unused.
*Zoom meetings revealed a weakness in my computer. As a result, I now have a wired gaming headset and a conference style mic. Both continue to be less than satisfactory, but better than what’s in my computer. I returned the push button earbuds I bought earlier because I couldn’t figure out how to use them correctly.
*There is a huge bag of bread flour in my pantry that I will use…eventually. Before March 2020, I tried not to eat bread, but learning to make no-knead bread became an obsession.
*In 2021, I will not need to buy almond extract. I may never need to buy it because I purchased a very large bottle in 2020. Nor will I need to purchase cinnamon, hand sanitizer, or sweatpants.