Thursday, May 5, 2022

Grief is like a South Dakota spring...

Spring walk with Yogi.

The river waking.

Grief is like a South Dakota spring: You’re outside, smelling all the green, green, green; the sun is shining; birds are happily twittering in the trees. It’s a goll-dern Disney cartoon out there, and any minute bunnies will hop out of the brush pile and start singing “Love is in the Air.” Then suddenly, while you’re standing there with that goofy grin on your face, a 45 mph gust of wind blows up the bluff and slaps you in the face with bone-chilling cold. And in case you’re still standing, the wind’s packing ice pellets.

Gooseberry bushes..approach with caution.

Grief is also like the ocean, which is a slightly tired metaphor until YOU live it. You’re standing there with your toes in the water, you finally feel like you can breathe deeply again, and wham…a huge wave comes barreling in and sweeps you into a giant hole (they’ve probably dug for a new gaudy tourist hotel). This happens less frequently as you learn where to stand, but it goes on indefinitely.

Yeah, it’s like that. Like the other day, I was in Walmart when I got a text saying “Lois [my mom], it’s time to refill your prescription for…” (I managed Mom’s meds for the past year or more). There I was in the toothpaste aisle, digging for Kleenex and pretending I had something in my eye.

Grief can be good, too. I think it helps cement memories. For example, a couple days ago I was organizing Mom’s closet when I came across a white wig. Suddenly, I was transported back to a Halloween prank many, many eons ago, when Mom and I dressed up as her then-husband and Irish bartender Mike, went to the hotel bar where he worked, sat at the bar, and ordered his usual drink. We each wore black dress pants, a white shirt with a pack of Lucky’s in the front pocket, a black tie, a white wig, and black glasses. Mike stood dumbfounded behind the bar, wearing the exact same outfit. Priceless. There I was in the closet, holding the wig and laughing my arse off.

Gooseberries...mmm.

Ray and I are moving slowly but steadily ahead here at the Row. For the first time, we’re intentionally navigating this dual retirement thing. I’ve been going through Mom’s stuff, making little boxes of mementos for all the grandkids. Ray started sorting out our basement freezers, got a bee in his bonnet, and we’ve been working on gooseberry syrup and jam for two days now. Ray’s playing drums with his long-time band pals for the Friday happy hour service at Our Lady of Little Town Cabernet watering hole every week, and he has a few other gigs coming up. I’ve done a couple of poetry readings and have been writing again. I’ll go to our annual Women Poets Collective manuscript workshop retreat and reading later this summer. We’re finding our way.

That dark stuff? That's gold (gooseberry jam).

Next week, though, I leave for my hometown Big City to visit my Dad, who’s in the hospital while he waits for a room at a hospice facility, because, as my granny always said, “There’s no rest for the wicked.” And one of the many lessons I’ve learned since the whole Covid/Mom/Retirement epoch started, is that if you’re waiting around for those “golden years,” or for that time when all the bumps will iron themselves out and life will be all cupcakes and Doritos from then on, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time. Like forever.

Mom was always sooooo serious.



Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Inching Forward

I'm sure Mom is still sparkling somewhere.

This is a hard one to write. Mom snuck away during the night last Saturday, sometime in the two-hour window between 11 p.m. when I fell asleep reading in the bed next to her hospital bed, and 1 a.m. when I woke because I couldn’t hear her breathing.

When I checked on her, I believe she had only just died—her hands were cool, but her head and chest were hot (she’d been running a fever earlier). My immediate reaction was upheaval: shock, panic, fear, profound sadness. I was temporarily frozen. And I think I felt cheated, that after all these months of privately dreading the moment of her death, she left while I was sleeping, and I missed it.

I sat in the chair beside her bed and slowly calmed down. I kissed her, chatted with her, held her hand, straightened out her covers, brushed her hair, sent out my requests to the Universe for her peaceful passage to whatever adventure is next for her, texted my brothers (it was the middle of the night, my youngest brother was halfway here and had stopped for the night). Then I decided, greedily, to go back to sleep and keep her with me till morning.

Early Saturday morning, I made the necessary calls. Hospice came to do their “assessment” (verify and declare her dead), and the funeral home came to collect her—I admit I had to leave the room for the “draping” (it’s a body bag, Mr. Funeral Home Guy, you can say it). Shortly after, one of my brothers arrived. 

I spent some time dismantling our “care center”—stripping the hospital bed, putting away all the hospital-ish accoutrement, unhooking the oxygen generator (I had to do this last; I wasn’t sure I could do without the constant reassuring drone after four months). There’s nothing like furious hyper-responsibility and a list of chores to stem the grief floodgate, but it only lasts so long. Eventually, the steam ran out. We had to take to our La-Z-Peoples and sleep. 

On Sunday afternoon, my other two brothers arrived. We all worked on an obituary, sorted through paperwork, talked about Mom's final wishes. We went out to dinner and had a great time laughing and remembering, then came home to watch a sci-fi/western marathon.

Yesterday (Monday) was a little harder. My brothers all needed to hit the road early, and the medical equipment people came to take apart the hospital bed and haul it away, along with the O2 generator and tanks, and the commode. Suddenly, it was just Ray and me. Mom’s room – the biggest in the house – was a wide open, very empty space.

I realized as I looked around her room that I was already formulating to-do lists: sort the clothes for a giveaway, go through the jewelry for the kids and grandkids, collect her collection of stars in one place for family. As soon as I realized I was task-ifying Mom’s death and disappearance, I stopped. I was exhausted and raw. I gave myself permission to shut her door and spend the day resting, sleeping, watching silly TV.

I will probably need more of these rest days—we’re never really done grieving, we just slowly adapt, learn to live with vacancies. I don’t quite know what to do with myself yet. Time seems expanded somehow, round and fuzzy almost, after the intense, demand-heavy, scheduled, linear life of the past months. Mom had been in Hospice care since January 1 of this year, but the year before that was a time of her declining health, many, many medical appointments, and 4 hospitalizations. And before that was breast cancer radiation, knee replacement, eye surgery, and chemo for CLL cancer. It's been a long, hard road.

I’m not afraid of death. I’m sad to see my mother go, and I have all the typical feelings: I should have said this or done that; I should never have said this or done that; we didn't have enough time; I'm a motherless child. I have those other feelings too, for which we’re conditioned to feel guilty: relief, release to finally be a “grown up,” freedom. I’m secretly delighted that I can take a shower whenever I want, go to the store, sleep in. I don’t beat myself up for these feelings, knowing that grief always calls up the full range of human emotions.

I know, too, that death is the natural conclusion to our time here. And although I don’t know what, if anything, comes next, I believe death isn’t the end. We are, after all, powered by electrical energy, and energy doesn’t die—it just changes form.

Ray and I are inching forward now. I’m looking forward to a reading later this week with a dear friend, where I will see former colleagues. Afterward, I will celebrate poetry, friends, and Mom at our Little Town bar with a glass of wine and the live music she so loved. And if her energy is sticking around for a bit longer, as the Tibetans believed, I know she will be there with us, dancing.

Here's a little poem for us all, for the days ahead...








Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Easter's Thin Veil

It’s Easter, Eostre, spring…symbolic point between winter/spring, or death/new life. This seems a fitting time for things to change, and things are definitely changing here at the Row. 

Eggs for the Giant

Mom has turned a corner and seems to be standing (metaphorically) at the veil (also metaphorically). She fell a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t a hard boom-fall; it was more of a no-strength-left crumple to the floor. After that, walking just seemed too hard, and she hasn’t been out of bed since. She sleeps almost all the time now, except when I raise the head of the bed to have her drink something or eat a few bites of pudding (with her meds crushed up in it).

Sharing a Cracker

I’ve had two main reactions to these recent changes: (1) anxiety and (2) panic.

The anxiety came because I felt woefully unprepared for the practical care of someone who can’t get out of bed, respond, or feed herself. Thankfully, our amazing hospice folks were here to teach me the mechanics of bed-bound hygiene. But I have so many more questions: How hard should I try to make Mom drink and eat? How long do I keep sneaking in meds for other conditions, while the cancer is killing her? Is the cancer killing her, or the conditions for which I’m sneaking in meds? How much can she hear? see? feel? Should I be near her always, talking, reassuring, or should I let her rest and have some peace?

The panic came because sheit got real. My mother is dying. She’s not slowly moving toward the veil now; she’s moving back and forth through it, sometimes here with us, sometimes somewhere else. I tried hard not to let my crying-blinking-deer-in-headlights stare show when the hospice nurse said two or three times, euphemistically, “she’s had a change of condition” and said they’d start coming every day.

Daughter's Three-Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry Pie!

Masha's Blinchikis (Russian Crepes)

For now, I’m keeping the anxiety and panic to a minimum by doing things—my hyper-responsible way of coping. I’ve been sending near-daily updates to family. I finally did the impossible and called a funeral home. I’ve been making a list of people I’ll need to notify. I cleaned out closets. I did medicine inventory. I sorted shoes. I've started getting all my daily chores done before dinner, as if that little bit of tidy organization has the power to keep the veil from closing behind my mother.

GOOD Friday Service at Our Lady of Cabernet

Playing Pat the Baby

Drawing Lessons, Egg Art

Another anxiety reducer is family: My three brothers have been coming and going. We live in four states, but at one point in the last few days, Mom had all four children around her again. My oldest brother and I had an evening out at Our Lady of Cabernet, where my brother sat in with Ray and the band. I got a big, beautiful dose of the best medicine—singing a few songs with friends—and saw other people I’d been missing. Over the course of this last week, Mom smiled occasionally, tried hard to keep her eyes open for a minute or two at a time, and once or twice, moved her hands or feet to Leon Redbone on her CD player. We had a houseful for Easter dinner, so she had a parade of beloveds moving in and out of her room all day.

When my youngest brother and his partner leave this week, Ray and I will settle back into the quiet vigil. We'll take the puppy out, watch movies, Ray will run errands, we'll ready the garden and putter around the house. And every now and then I'll sense, fear, hope for, deny, or  welcome, the billowing of that thin veil.

Babies...Travelers in Both Worlds


Sunday, April 3, 2022

It's a Pity [Party]


This is my self-pity blog post, so stop here if you’d rather not hear me wallowing. I try not to let myself go here often, but it’s an inevitable detour for caregivers. We aren’t taught, especially in the U.S. “bootstraps” nation, how to care for people who are dying, so we definitely aren’t taught how to care for caregivers, even ourselves. I recently joined an online caregivers support group, thinking, at last! People who get it! I discovered quickly that it was a litany of horror stories about physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, resentment, and giving up. I feel their pain, I want to help each of them, but I CAN'T. TAKE. CARE. OF. ONE. MORE. THING. I quit the group.

Mom’s been having a rough few days, which means I’ve been having a rough few days. She’s more agitated and contrary. She falls asleep at the kitchen table but either refuses to go to bed, or when she asks to go to bed, she stays awake and restless—lifts her head off the pillow every few minutes, pulls at her bedclothes, or (more rarely now) sits up on the edge of her bed. She’s either verbally unresponsive, although she’ll often look at me when I talk to her), or she talks but doesn’t make sense (usually at 4 a.m.).

She’s been mostly sleeping through the night, though I wake up two or three times, as if my body clock is still set for the days when she was getting up every two hours. And some nights, I still have to get up once or twice to lift her legs back onto the bed and re-do her covers, after she’s tried to get up and has thrown her bedding on the floor.

I’ve been sleeping in Mom’s room since last December. Sometimes now I lie in bed and just listen to her breathe. Sometimes, when I can’t hear it, I lie awake waiting, hoping I’ll hear it any minute, or (if I’m being brutally honest) hoping I won’t. That may sound cruel, but it isn’t—I sometimes wish my mother would float through the veil in her sleep and not have to wake to another day of her traitorous, deteriorating body, and to the awareness (I’m sure she’s aware on some level) that her mind is leaving her too.

Also, not to put too selfish a point on it, I’ve come to feel that caregiving for someone who’s terminally ill is TRAUMA for you both. There’s no getting better on the horizon. Even your best caretaker efforts can’t fix dying. There’s only the question of how you can contribute to the best possible end, which will still be the worst possible end—losing someone you love. Even faith in an afterlife—her faith or mine, whatever shape that takes—can’t stop grief. And now I’ve read that anticipatory grief is a thing. Holy sheit.

Caretakers don’t often talk about (outside online support groups, I’ve learned) the isolation and self-pity that are natural parts of caregiving. I don’t go out. I rarely see friends. My husband sleeps in a different wing of the manor. I’ve cancelled all of my own health/wellness care. I recently got approved for state-assisted respite care, so I could leave the house. But because of nursing/staff shortages, I get only three hours a week. THREE HOURS out of 168. These are not cumulative, either; they can’t be rolled over for a 6-hour week now and then. 

My life is on hold indefinitely. But I have to cheerfully listen to what other people are doing, accomplishing, enjoying, where they're going. Then I stew in my guilt over not being more cheerful or happier for others. I have no schedule because Mom has no schedule—she might sleep two hours, she might sleep 45 minutes. She might be up from 1-4 hours. So there’s no time during the day that I can count on for “me” time. I’ve been working on this post for three days, writing at the kitchen table a bit at a time, between Mom’s awake times. And I had to stop working on it several times, because I started crying and couldn’t see.

Sidenote: I’ve had MANY, MANY offers of help. People have brought food by the truckload so I don’t have to cook. They’ve sent cards and flowers. They’ve volunteered to come stay with Mom so I could have breaks. It’s hard to explain why I turn down these offers—she’s still aware enough at times to know someone else isn’t me, isn’t familiar; she can’t remember most people now. She’s still aware enough to be uncomfortable with other people getting her on a commode, changing her, washing her, cleaning up her bed. She gets scared when things vary from our routine.

Yesterday, I gave Mom a butterscotch malt and said, “You love ice cream, don’t you.” Mom said, “Wonder Wonder Wonder Bread,” and I knew without a doubt that what she meant was that ice cream is the best thing since Wonder Bread, something she and my grandma both used to say about anything they dearly loved. Then later in the day, a picture of my daughter and her children popped up in Mom’s iPad slideshow, which she looks at every time she’s up. Mom said, clear as a year ago, “God, those kids love her, don’t they?” and she smiled. I put a video of my brother's band, The Linoma Mashers, on her iPad, and she busted some swingin' moves in her chair.

These tender moments, even though they’re becoming more rare, can usually pull me out of my whirring, sulky, monkey mind. They remind me why I’m doing this. And I’m not writing this so y’all will tell me what a great job I’m doing or offer more help, although I love you all to pieces for this. I’m writing this because I get it. If you went through this yourself and it was before I knew, I get it now, and I love you for having been through it, and I wish you healing. If you’re going through it now and you need to wallow, I get that too, and I’ll listen. And when there aren’t enough of those tender moments, please know that it’s OKAY to have as many good, cathartic cries as you need.



Thursday, March 24, 2022

Saints and More Saints


I sometimes feel a little conflicted about writing these blog posts, or at least, about sharing them. I'm not fishing for affirmation or praise. I don’t want people to think I’m over here being all heroic and altruistic. Believe me, I’m not. 

Back when Mom was still conversational, she asked me a question to which I gave a knee-jerk answer. I had complained to her—yes, complained—that neither of us was getting enough sleep because she got up every two hours during the night. She asked me, “Are you doing all this because you love me, or because you think it’s your duty?” I answered, “Because you’re my mother, and I adore you.” Which is/was true. But I’ve had time to think about it, and my answer wasn’t the WHOLE truth.

I’m doing this for a few reasons, and none of them have to do with me being a saint. In fact, remember the horns I mentioned in the last post? Yeah. Mom, in her liminal state, can probably REALLY see mine now…;)

Reason 1: I DO love my mother. I want the best for her, or at least the best I can provide. My mom got short-changed in her life. She was smart, curious, interested, and ambitious as a young woman. Then she married my dad at 17 and started at 18 having babies every two years. That’s what she’d seen the women around her do, and what was expected of most young women of her era. Although my dad sometimes reminded her that she was uneducated (she had a high school diploma) and not really qualified to join in their college-going friends’ intellectual banterings, Mom earned at least some of Dad’s degree (she wrote and edited his papers). But she would never have the opportunity to get a degree of her own. So now at least, I want the choices to be hers, and she told me many times when she still could, that she wants to be home for this transition.

Reason 2: I DO feel a sense of duty. I have an unusually expressive caretaking gene. An inherited or evolutionary aberration. A visiting poet once called me “hyper-responsible” when I dragged him out of our Little Town watering hole because he was 10 minutes late for his reading. I wanted to punch him in the face when he said that, but I knew he was spot on.

Reason 3: I believe dying at home is the best possible death, unless you can sprout fairy wings and flutter off into an enchanted forest on the back of your singing pet unicorn, while eating Doritos (all of which I’ve requested for my own demise). And I know dying at home is only a good death IF home has been a happy place, and IF you have loved ones who will stay with you and look after you. Those are two SUPER BIG ifs, but we're lucky that Mom has both.


Reason 4: I’m processing. I have a LOT to process—Mom dying, Dad dying, my real and imagined parental issues, retirement, change, Covidfear, aging, what life looks like moving forward, why Emergen-C changed their formula, housebreaking a puppy, the neuroscience of consciousness and reality-creation, orchid repotting…the list goes on. Good grief; how do people who DON’T write make sense of their lives?!?

Reason 5 (and honestly, my main reason): My grandmother, who mothered me while my own mother worked days and many nights, died at home. Mom and her friend and roommate Hope took care of her. Grandma died in the room that had been her bedroom for 50 years, surrounded by her own smells and sounds, her pictures, her bed linens, her hideous wallpaper, her picture window looking out at our ancient cottonwood trees, the ghost children who came to visit in the end, and the ghost church ladies who talked too much. She was soothed now and then by trains rumbling past a block away. And on her last day with us, we were all there—a circle of family around her hospital bed, holding her hands, brushing her hair back, stroking her face and arms. I don’t know if this made leaving easier or harder for my grandmother, but it seemed peaceful to the rest of us. It meant the world to me to be holding her hand for her last heartbeat, for that moment of letting go. I promised myself then, that if I could, I would give the same gift to Mom that she had given her own mother.

Honest, I’m not noble, I’m just very, very lucky—that my retirement and Ray’s retirement coincided with Mom needing more constant care, that we have a safe home and the resources to stay in it, that we have support from Hospice, that I’m still physically able. And I’m really stubborn—no matter how exhausting, frustrating, sad this is at times, I persist, by gum, because it’s also joyful, rewarding, hilarious, and because I made a promise to myself 30-some years ago.

Also, I couldn’t do this without support. Ray first of all. I can take care of Mom because Ray takes care of me. He reminds me to eat. He feeds the canaries. He makes me smoothies every morning. He runs all the errands. He takes care of this naughty baby landshark (aka puppy) we brought home. Other amazing people have been leaving us gifts of food, sending cards and flowers, stopping for visits, volunteering their time & energy to give me breaks. My kids and their spouses have cleaned, cooked, stayed with Mom when I need to leave for a bit, picked up and paid for my medicine, provided my tech support, cheered me up with their hilarious good humor and their adorable children. My brothers and sisters-in-love have given me full nights’ sleep, manicures, spa days, dinners, yarn, tax prep service, Lay’s Stax, and really, anything I ask them for.

Baby landshark at rest.

The upshot of all this blabbering is that there ARE heroes and saints involved, and they’re the people in my beautiful bubble—my family and community—all of whom make it possible for me to be the awkward, goofy, sometimes bitchy, bumbling, pigheaded genie in this lamp, granting Mom’s last wish.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Perfect Mom Moments


My mother looks at me sometimes like I have horns and blood-tipped fangs—as if she’s part afraid, part confused, part disgusted. At other times, she looks at me, rolls her eyes, scowls, and shakes her head, as if no one could be more ridiculous and annoying than I am. At other times, she looks at me with pure overwhelming love.

My point is, dying isn’t something I can “figure out” or get a handle on—at least not in the way my obsessively, overly analytical brain would prefer. There’s not a chart or graph I can consult, no “Ten Sure Signs…” meme, no Ted Talk that outlines the basic, consistent steps and timeline of dying. The doctors can’t tell me what to expect beyond the universal physiology of death, and the Hospice nurses, for whom I have the greatest respect, don’t know much more that I do.

There’s only, right now THIS is what’s happening.

For example, one day Mom can’t walk. I have to half-carry her from her bed to the kitchen table, as I speak loudly into her good ear, “Take another step. Now take another one.…” I aim the kitchen chair at her from behind, even as she’s melting toward the floor. She’ll sit at the table across from me, and when I ask if she’d like something to drink, she might mumble something unintelligible, or not respond at all, or not acknowledge that I’ve spoken. If there’s a spoon, she may scoop up air with it and eat these pretend bites. She may wad up a napkin and try to use it like a spoon.

That night, she might sit up in bed every two hours, all night long. How she pulls herself up, I’ll never understand (because I’m too tired to stay up and watch). But something eventually wakes me up—faint tapping on the hospital bed rail, swinging her feet into the bed frame, pulling up the bedding—and I get up, lay her back down, cover her up, put her oxygen back on, and go back to bed. At some point I’ll say, “You have to go back to sleep; it’s only X:00 in the morning.” The other night she answered, “You’re a liar. I know how to read a clock.”

The next day (or after the next nap or three days later…), she’ll grab hold of her walker and practically spring out of bed with little help, truck out to the kitchen (with minimal help), and wait for me to push her chair up behind her. She’ll say, “Look at these beautiful babies!” when she sees her iPad photo slideshow, or “Could I have some orange juice?” while I stare at her in wonder.

The next day we might be back to nothing quite working, or she might be confused and angry, or she might be doing great, or we might be onto something entirely new. It’s like caring for an infant, who turns into my mother, who turns into a snarly teen, who turns into a ghost just on the edge of my vision. Each requires a different kind of care and a different level of emotional fortitude from me. And I’ve learned not to take anything personally.

There are momentary miracles, too, that fill me so full of love I think I'll burst. Like the other night, as I was helping Mom up from the kitchen table, I brushed against her hand with the walker handle. She gave me a look I can’t quite describe—an “Are you trying to kill me?!? look—and when I said, “I didn’t do it on purpose, I’m just clumsy,” she SMIRKED. That look had been a deliberate tease. Then, as she was lying down, and I lifted her legs to help her into bed, her leg slipped out of my hand and dropped to the bed. She looked up at the door and called out, “Frank?!? Help me, Frank!!” And here’s the thing: She looked at me and smirked again. We don’t know any Frank, and she was totally goofing around!

Or this morning, when I told Mom to hug me for a minute so I could get the bathroom door closed, she hugged me and started moving side to side. I realized she was dancing! She laughed, and I laughed. It was a perfect Mom moment.

Maybe Mom’s daily abilities and demeanor are a function of brain chemistry. Maybe they depend on the strength of her resistance that day. Maybe they’re determined by how much protein she ate the day before. Maybe they’re the result of cancer cheesecloth-ing her brain. These maybes used to drive me insane, with my compulsive need to study, research, and explain…well…everything. But I’m (slowly) learning the WHYs and HOWs don’t really matter. What matters is what’s happening right now.

This morning, as I was guiding Mom’s walker forward, she looked me right in the eyes and asked, “How did you learn to do this?” I said, “We’re learning together.” And she smiled. Perfect. Mom. Moment.



Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The (real) Parent Trap?

Dad and Mary

I haven’t talked much about my dad, or at all really, but he’s also part of my current situation.

My mom and dad divorced when I was 12. They’d been married 15 years and had 4 kids. Their divorce was not amicable. I won’t go into the gory details of the split, the ensuing years of animosities and slights, or all the stories my mother told me over the years about what a no-good louse he was.

What I’ll say is that my dad, who is 91 today, lives in my hometown Big City with his 3rd wife of 32 years. He considers himself a born again evangelical Christian. He’s a tRump supporter and hard-core Republican. He’s an ex-vice cop and gun advocate. He’s pretty much everything I’m not. He’s also dying.

Dad has mostly untreated prostate cancer that has spread to his bones, spine, and probably other places (he’s gone off treatment against medical advice more than once because of its side effects). He still gets around his apartment with a walker, and he’s still pretty clear-minded except when he self-medicates for the bone pain. This is a sad time for my dad; he’s brimming with remorse for past deeds, and he struggles with his religion’s promise of (undeserved) forgiveness.

To complicate things, my dad and I weren’t on speaking terms for decades. He was a lousy dad, and I was a hard-headed kid. But in recent years (since just before his cancer), I decided I’d wasted enough time and energy lugging around my load of grudges and resentments, hurts, disappointments, and longing. He was an old man, and he wasn’t going to change. So I opened up the lines of communication. I made him a poster with pictures of his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, labeled with their names, many of whom he’d never met. Then Mom decided she liked him okay again.

Before Mom was housebound, she and I went to the Big City to visit Dad as often as we could, and she and Dad talked on the phone several times a week—with his wife on speaker. The visits and calls were slightly flirty and full of I love you’s (kinda weird, for me at least). Now, Dad calls a couple times a week to ask how I’m doing and to check on Mom, again with his wife on speaker. My oldest brother, who lives in the Big City, runs point with Dad. I guess we’re all buddies now.

Mom, Dad, and (slightly confused) Me

This new family luvfest doesn’t mean I’m so magnanimous, so true to my Buddha nature, that I’ve been able to let my parental issues go entirely. But my parents are dying, at the same time. I need to shelve my parent/child conundrums in order to be present and compassionate and not waste any of this time in their lives, nor the lessons it offers me, all of which I consider holy. And even if my parents (and possibly me) don’t realize it, maybe this is their last gift to me—a lighter load of old baggage to carry forward. Here's my mom and dad, singing a duet...