Jun 23, 2018

Good and Decent

It's early in the morning of another scorching hot and humid day in Harlingen, Texas. I step outside onto the deck of my late mother in law's mobile home, seeking to escape the non-stop air conditioning, but even at 6 am the humidity is so thick that I run back inside.

Harlingen is tucked away in south Texas close to the Mexican border. It's a hard scrabble kind of town, with few pretty places, the obvious presence of the Border Patrol, and way too many fast food shops. It rarely rains, but it's got a real airport, is about 40 minutes to the Gulf, has a very low cost of living, warm winters, and a Cracker Barrel. Retirees from cold places in the US and Canada, as well as many transplants from Mexico, live there. It's the friendliest place I've ever visited.

I'm here because my in laws chose to move to a mobile home retirement park in Harlingen about 20 years ago. After my mother in law died last month, the family decided to hold a memorial service here, and use the time to clean out her house to get it ready for sale. A lifetime of books and CDs and clothes and crossword puzzles and cat figurines and movies and pictures were parceled out to family and charity and neighbors. It was an honor to be part of it.

In the middle of the time pressured chaotic cleaning, someone found all of my mother in law's belts and put them on the bed. I went over and separated them, looking at narrow belts and 2 inch wide leather belts and every other kind of belt. I couldn't remember my mother in law ever wearing a belt -- like many aging women she chose the comfort of elastic waist pants. These belts told of a different time, when I imagined her dancing with my father in law, her waist cinched in a wide belt, her skirt twirling with the music. Those days passed; my father in law died, and the belts eventually hung in her closet waiting for the moment when someone would take them away.

My mother in law told me once that she couldn't imagine living without my father in law. But she did, spending much of her 10 years as a widow volunteering at the local food bank and the VA medical clinic, playing cards and bingo, and going to dances at the mobile home park. Even without a belt, she always found someone happy to take her out for a spin on the dance floor.

Now her belts and almost everything else are gone. The house is empty. My sister in law is still asleep. It's just the two of us now. I sit here listening to nothing except the heavy hum of the air conditioner. My father in law's jokes and outlandish statements and my mother in law's no nonsense laughs and hugs are gone. The TV, which used to host the Sopranos, and eventually was set almost full time to the Game Show Network, is quiet. I miss my mother and father in law.

Couples, like my in laws, who stayed together through the best and worst of times, lift up all of us. We all know couples like my in laws -- the early black and white pictures of thin, dark- haired people leaning together, dressed in their finest, gradually turning to heavier frames wearing funny t-shirts, and then, graying hair and shrinking bodies, smiling from their twin recliners. These couples built a life on hard work and the knowledge that life owed them nothing. They were good and decent people who left behind good and decent children who, hopefully, will find themselves smiling from twin recliners some day.





Jun 7, 2018

The Sweetest Moment

Thanks for the comments on my earlier post. I love reading how our lives parallel. It's a good reminder of our shared humanity.

My son was 2 when my mom moved in with us. She was in her sixties and healthy. She watched our son while we both worked, did the grocery shopping, and generally was a huge help to us. As the years moved on, as my long time readers know, things shifted. My mom was no longer helping us; we were helping her. When I look back on those long hard days, I am grateful we decided to take care of my mom in our home as long as possible. But I also regret taking care of my mom in our home as long as possible.

It's taken me decades to figure out that our life decisions are rarely black or white. Almost everything we experience has an upside and a downside. Our moral compass and love compelled us to take care of my mom, but it came at a high cost. It affected our son, who witnessed one too many ambulance arrivals at our home. It affected my husband and our marriage and our family in a million ways -- finances, time, and stress.

For over 5 years we had very limited ability to travel away from our house for more than a few hours. That "always on duty" was exhausting. And if you were reading my blog, or were part of my real life, you heard all about it. While millions of families go through this care-taking, it doesn't feel that way when you are in the middle of it. It is a solitary experience and there are times when it is sweet and fabulous and times when it is awful and maddening.

But now we are in another phase -- we are the "older" family members. I'm now the age my mom was when she moved in with us. For years our son cautioned us that he could never do for us what we did for my mom. We 100% got it. We assured him that we would never want him to be in that position and made plans to ensure that he won't. But as my mother in law's health failed and death looked more and more certain, our son suggested we move down to Dallas so that we could all be together again. He said "I don't think I could do what you did for grandma, but I could give you a ride to the doctor if you needed it."

Dude, we're fine!

But, it was the sweetest moment. Our son had lived through watching how to care for his grandmother and now was there for his other grandmother. And at that moment his thoughts were to pull our family closer. For the first time I saw the upside of his being there when taking care of my mom was so hard. He learned, too, that it was both a blessing and a curse.

The reality is that my heart is getting a little worse. I'm basically fine, but am now dealing with some relatively mild congestive heart failure. Fluid builds up and makes it harder to breathe, particularly when walking up stairs. It's a common condition and I keep it under control by watching my sodium and through medication. But, it's progressive and we can't help but wonder about the future.

So, when the sweetest moment arrives, you seize it, not knowing for sure what's around the corner, but confident that seizing it is the right thing.

I'll keep you posted!

Jun 4, 2018

Change


"Change is great. You go first."  (from Dilbert)

About 2 months ago we got the word that something was wrong with Mike's mother's health. We spent large chunks of April and May with her and other family. Sadly, she died towards the end of May.

We spent a lot of time with Mike's family and our son during this time and it reminded us how important family is. We have no family in the DC area and, at our son's suggestion, have decided to sell our home here and move to Dallas where he (and Mike's brother and his family) live. We will also be closer to family in California.

It's going to take some time to get our house on the market, sell it, and relocate. Needless to say, the realtors took one look at my stamping room and announced that all of it had to be packed up. I hope to make a few cards over the next day or two so I can post them over time, but basically things are going to be very quiet here on the blog.

MOOD WHEN DONE: Happy and freaking out...