Location: Oregon, United States

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Wisconsin Weddings and Taking Away the Keys

The Homestead. The first real part of our "vacation" (not including getting over the red-eye) involved going down to Paul's hometown to go through his mother's things one last time in order to pick out important things he would like to keep. Sounds like a picnic, right? We were braced for it, but it still brought out the grieving in all of us. Paul didn't want to spend the night in the house, as it was just an empty shell. Jill felt ill one night after we had been going through things all day, and I cried my eyes out while reading a letter Anita had written her folks after giving birth to Paul. Whew! For us, it still just feels like she is out of town or something.

Funny how certain things have meaning for each of us, too. Denise wants the baskets that Anita used to use to serve crackers. I found the casserole dish that she used to put the mashed potatoes in every Thanksgiving. Paul found a couple of trains that we will display and would like to find the motion picture camera his dad used when making family films. Stephen wanted the Frosted Flakes box with Tony dressed as a MN Twin. Then we got to the boxes of photographs, letters, and history. What on earth will we do with all of that? Precious stuff, but overwhelming. We will need more time to make sense of it all.

Wisconsin Wedding. Our dear friend Susie was married in Wisconsin to a man we have never met. The location was three hours away on deer infested roads. In fact, the standard farewell in that area was, "Bye! Nice to see you! Watch out for the deer!" And no wonder - the critters were everywhere! I found this strangely nerve-wracking and developed far-sighted night vision specifically designed to hone in on movement in the far shadows beyond the high beams, where the deer lurk before leaping out at oncoming vehicles. This gets tiresome, so instead I found myself planning departures in order to have enough daylight to get to our destination before it was too dark, like the deer were a new breed of killer vampire deer that hunt you in the night or something. Creepy.

The bridegroom, Steven, is a quiet fellow, not one for crowds of strangers, solid and true. For me, quiet people are a special assignment from God designed to get me to slow down, breathe, and listen. With Steven, when I could settle myself down long enough in the midst of wedding preparations, I found him thoughtful and engaging with a dry wit. He is originally from Scotland, and the wedding reflected his heritage throughout, with tartans, hand bindings, Celtic trinity symbols, and Celtic gifts to the wedding party. For some weddings, the choice of theme is just that: a theme around which to base the plans. But this wedding was different. It struck me particularly during the hand-binding ceremony, where the tartan of the groom is used to wrap the hands of the bride and groom together. Then they are blessed by the priest and released. The meaning is similar to the unity candle ceremony I am familiar with. But the sense of this ceremony was an overwhelming sense of belonging. Do you ever have one of those strange spiritual moments? This was one of those. It was powerful but quiet and subtle as well, like a giant invisible tartan had descended from the ceiling and was enveloping all of us (at least all of us in the wedding party). There was a sense that as long as we all lived, we would belong, that we were bound together by this sacred rite of marriage into this clan. Indeed, another part of the ceremony involved writing our names in the Register as witnesses to the event. History. Eternity. Whoa.

Taking away the keys. Before we left town, my sister and I had decided it would be a good time to meet with our parents and talk about "future plans". My mother is exhibiting increasing symptoms of memory loss consistent with Alzheimer's, getting worse each time she gets sick. Lately, she repeats questions several times throughout the day, cannot retain certain bits of information like where we were staying or how long we would be in town, and cannot manage her own medications for fear of double dosing or missing doses. Nothing earth shattering, but significantly worse than she has been.

We talked about what to do next and when. My dad started out the meeting by saying, "THE ANSWER IS NO!", then he grinned like the Cheshire Cat. Troublemaker. Needless to say, he is not real psyched about the need to move. My mom had no idea what the meeting was about, so we briefed her about our concerns and gave examples. We stated that we wanted to talk about what the next move would be and to discuss what that would look like. She had no clue that she had been repeating questions or that she had "wandered" while they were on their Cruise a couple of weeks ago (yeah, that would be a biggie. In the middle of the night, she disappeared from the room and came back with a new key. In her nightgown. When we told her she kind of laughed and said, "Did I look good?") At least she still has a sense of humor. We told her that we were concerned about her ability to drive and explained why (no recent incidents there, but she has not driven for 4 months.) Driving requires several cognitive functions and is very complex - she was not thrilled about giving it up, but agreed after hearing our concerns. After that, we had a moment of silence and my dad piped up again, "The answer is NO!" as though we were going to ask him to give up the keys next. Thankfully, that is not in the works at this time.

My dad kept bringing up his health as we discussed their future, which was appropriate but upsetting, because his issues are the kind of things that will pick you off in the blink of an eye. So we acknowledged the fact, and shrugged our shoulders at life. What can you do? It's not like you get to pick how you will grow old. And even if you could, what would you choose? The rock or the hard place? Long and slow or blink of an eye? I've seen people go out both ways and it seems like there are benefits and deficits to both.

As I think about it, this was a really sane discussion for my family. We acknowledged the issues, came up with viable plans to deal with them, and treated one another with love and respect. As a rule, we prefer to avoid pain, particularly the pain of grief and loss and therefore death and all discussions remotely pertaining to it. But we did it and are stronger for it. Now if we could only turn back time...


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