Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Ding. I jump slightly, looking for the source of the noise. A text. No doubt from my sister who is emptying out our late parents’ home and sending me photos. Late parents. I am still getting used to that vocabulary. I always want to say “late for what”. After I got married I used to struggle with the term “my husband”. Our life changes are marked with new vocabulary that feels unfamiliar.

My sister, bless her, has taken on the chore of getting rid of things. I spent two weeks sorting through papers and dealt with all the finances, but I must confess I am out of my element with things. I come from a family of pack rats who have a tendency to hoard. If one is good, two is better. “We might be able to use that some day,” we think. Much we keep because of sentimental attachment. We are softies at the core and we love our own history that makes us who we are. But this is my parents’ history and part of my difficulty is that things hold a person’s presence. It is hard to let go of my mother. When the house is emptied and gone there will be less of her on this earth. It is that next step and part of me resists it.

Fortunately my sister, while equally sentimental, has a tougher skin for this. She also has daughters who are helping and this week she has my niece as a supplemental strong back, hands and a bit of moral support. My sister sends me texts as she makes new discoveries and empties rooms. I am one of the few who can appreciate what she is accomplishing and I stand in awe.

Sometimes the discoveries bring my mother back to me. Now my sister has sent me a photo that I enlarge so I can study it. I whoop with astonishment when I decipher it. It is in my mother’s handwriting. On one side she has written Obama, Romney on the other with 2012 above. Under each column she has recorded the states that they won in the election. At the bottom – "President Obama Won- Yaaa! The Best is Yet to Come". I calculate back to consider what her condition was then. She was going on 86 and several years into Alzheimers, but she retained enough of herself to follow politics and have an opinion, a strong one. My mom liked Obama. I feel a frisson of admiration for her even in her then diminished state. I always admired her engagement. She used to watch both the Republican and Democratic debates because she wanted to be informed and arrive at a thoughtful decision.


Another handwritten piece titled My Motto. "Take a Piece of the World and Make it Shine!" She then lists out her address and notes that it is her piece of the world. "And Oh! Does it Shine!"

Even as she was fading she found joy in her surroundings.

They feel like messages from the grave. Happy messages that bring a piece of her back to me.

In between there are pictures of rooms now hard to identify at first glance. Once filled to the gills, now emptied. It is an odd thing. I lived in that home from the age of three until I left for college. For years until my mother turned 80 we returned there each year for Thanksgiving. Then as she diminished I spent weeks there at a time. I can picture her in every room.
Ding! "Remember this bad boy?" She texts along with a photo that I have to study to identify. "Oooh! She sewed all our Halloween costumes on that." I picture her sitting at the kitchen table with the sewing machine before her, constructing a rabbit, Red Riding Hood and even a princess out of old blue brocade draperies doing double duty as Queen Esther at Purim.

One evening this week my sister and niece were going through my parents' wedding album and sent me a wedding photo of my parents with my aunt and her husband. I recently connected with the daughter of my cousin. She had contacted me because she was interested in family history and I am the family historian. My aunt in that photo was her grandmother. My cousin's daughter reminded me a bit of my niece. Both thoughtful, articulate young women in their 20s and the two people in our family who have expressed interest in family history. Of course I introduced them. My sister said I was a bit of a matchmaker. I have a soft spot for the idea of family despite the challenges of the reality. Having tracked down second and third cousins I like the idea of branches staying connected. I was glad to hear that they had been in contact. "Send her a copy of the photo," I suggested. My sister replied, "She's sending it right now."

All of this is part of the process. Letting go of things, holding parents in our heart and connecting the next generation. Ding.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Road Not Taken

We've been enjoying a bit of California sunshine as we visit my stepdaughter's family. While we miss having them nearby, we enjoy the more extended time we get to share with them when we visit. This visit was to meet our newest grandson Vann, just two weeks old.  

As someone who chose not to have children for a myriad of reasons, it is always an interesting perspective for me on the road not taken. By opting out of that path, I chose to develop certain aspects of myself over others, exploring one self at the expense of another. When we immerse ourselves in my stepdaughter's family life, I begin to see glimpses of that alternate self. 

I have always watched both of my stepdaughters with admiration. They seem to take the challenges of child rearing in stride and enjoy the time they share as a family. They each have a true partnership with their respective spouse and each is very engaged in all aspects of child rearing. I, on the other hand, never felt old enough to have children nor envisioned that life.

When we visit I am struck by the natural affection that the children express and in turn arouse in me. We help them with their homework and hear of their latest passions, be it magic or juggling or artwork. In turn I introduce my interests as we draw on the iPad or play word games in which I try to define each word as we go. Might as well make it educational. We snuggle close as we interact in a way I don't recall as a child, building connection with touch.

One morning the three year old crawls into bed between us for a snuggle and I am pleased that she feels that level of comfort. My husband who usually can be found cradling our cat now substitutes his two week old grandson. He has a natural calm that seems to lull both cat and baby. By contrast I move quickly and can't stay still so am not as comfortable a perch.

What I find fascinating is that I recognize parts of myself in my stepdaughters and their children. It doesn't require a blood tie to identify with qualities I share or admire qualities that are very different from me. It is in that act of empathy or appreciation that we begin to build connection.

I am grateful that I have this opportunity to connect across generations, to watch children develop their confidence and talents and to enjoy the communication with my husband's adult children. Even when we choose one path, we sometimes are fortunate to get a chance to revisit those roads not taken.