Monday, March 30, 2009

Catching Falling Stars

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This bloom has nothing to do with the subject of this post. It’s here because I need flower power,


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Butter Butt power,


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and turtle power.

All good therapy.

For fourteen hours of a long weekend, the interstate scenery was captivating - saturated with fog, mist, and pouring rain all the way, baby. A little sunshine appeared below Richmond on the way home yesterday and I hooted.

Interstate roads have shoulders perfectly designed for spontaneous picture-takers who might stop illegally and admire red barns, fields of thoroughbreds, cattle, ponds reflecting Forsythia blooms near the water edge, Lake Gaston, Falls Lake, the grand and mighty Chesapeake Bay, and all wonderful rivers and basins that flow through Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. That spontaneous picture-taker would be me, but I didn’t get any this trip.

How many times did I gasp at the beauty of it all? So many times that I could scream at this very moment. My camera sat near my feet for the whole ride, as he wishes to make stops in NASCAR fashion. Stops for fuel and snacks are made with few seconds to spare and left-hand turns or U-turns are prohibited. It’s funny, in a way. Here we are, approaching our Golden Years and still rushing through life for no real good reason other than being in a hurry to get out of an automobile or to get home quickly and kiss our dogs.

Mental images of Dad on Friday and Saturday totally grip me. During the seven hours homebound on Sunday, I wished to erase some images of him. Escape. Just get out of the car, climb over the guardrail, and visit those wild turkeys and vultures near the orchard over there… Disregard the misty rain and immerse myself in a lovely distraction. Replace his images with those Forsythia reflections on the still water, maybe? Those digital images of the pond would have been downright gorgeous but Dad’s images are solidly etched in my mind, despite my odd feelings about it. I did not take photos of him and I regret it. How selfish of me, dammit. He’s my father.

Finding him in a cheery, brightly lit room full of others who had been dropped off and parked in their wheelchairs, he was all dressed up in his new yellow and green loungewear. He has not walked in more than twelve years after a massive stroke paralyzed his left side but his white sneakers had been washed and dried in the sun. His fingernails were trimmed and his beard had been shaved. It was activity time with a live female pianist who was very talented but I can’t remember a note of what she played… There were residents who raised their arms and smiled for the amplified music and singing while others sat hunched over, uninterested. They preferred to rest chin on chest for a while.

And that was my Dad when I found him. Oh, he’s over there! Hunched lower than before. His palsied hands and arms more twisted… Regrettably, I had not seen him in several months and wanted to see him smile like he always does for visitors. I ask for too much. My expectations are too high.

“Dad? Sorry to wake you. You’re missing this great party!”

There was certainly a smile and a twinkle in his eyes when I woke him. He recognized me as someone he knew before, I think, but I’m sure he did not know he was looking at his daughter and son-in-law. And his mood changed abruptly from drowsy delight to confusion and deep concern. Something was very different this visit. He focused on the floor and not on me. Gee, an unexpected twist. Off-day, I guess.

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Boston Terrier power. Therapy by Bella.


We found a quiet place to talk but Dad cried like an infant, mouth wide open, and vocal. I did not want to hear any of his apologies as he should not be sorry for anything. I told him so! Stop it! But I understood him crying about how it’s too late to have lady friends in the hallway or how it’s too late for playing the piano the way he used to play, so well. Oh, so well.

Where’s your new wristwatch, Dad? More tears spilled. For him, nothing we said was good enough. Then, I looked at my husband the same way I looked at him twenty-six years ago in wonder, what do you suppose is wrong with this crying baby?

Dad was not hungry. His diaper was clean.

I just held him and said everything’s okay. That’s all I could do, I suppose.

While his bottom lip quivered and the tears kept streaming, I used his brand new shirt to clean his face. I couldn’t speak much as the words were stuck in the back of my throat but I promised to see him tomorrow. K, Dad? I told him of a little surprise I would bring.

Today, on the window next to his bed, there hangs a bright and shiny blue star - a sun catcher from Hallmark that will safely catch and hold the sun for him.

He often sang a song by Perry Como, to me, decades ago,

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day…

Gosh, he always adored the gaudy stones with the most sparkle and shine. You know - the ones you can find in the Five & Dime? The most bang for your buck?

He still loves the shine ;-)

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful post Mary. Thinking of you...

Angie in SC

Kallen305 said...

Mary, lovely post. I am sitting here at my computer with tears in my eyes. Hugs.

Dog_geek said...

Oh Mary, I'm sorry for the difficult visit. It is so hard to see a parent struggling - I am sure he appreciated the star catcher. Hang on to the Boston Terrier Power - it will get you through anything.

beckie said...

Mary, there's not much I can say to comfort you. I know the writing and sharing of it has helped. You know we all wish you peace and you have our support.

I just moved my Dad into an assisted living facility-it was a hard decision to make. Our parents should always be srong and full of life and love. We should not have to see them become old and helpless. Life is not at all fair is it?

On a brighter note-Nascar stopper is a wonderful way to describe my husband on trips. Why are men like that??!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

There have been so many times that my mother-in-law, (Nell), has cried like a little child for no apparent reason. The nursing home has called me because they can't comfort her. It is so sad to see them this way. The thing that hurts the most is that they can't tell you what is wrong. Nell, can't put two understandable words together, it is like toddler gibberish. I understand the pain and sorrow, Mary. A great big cyber hug to you dear friend. I hope you find comfort in those beautiful little things you cherish.

RuthieJ said...

Oh Mary, what a tough visit that must have been for you. I'm glad you have the flowers, birds, turtles, and Boston kisses to help lift your spirits.
{{HUGS}} to you my friend!

dAwN said...

The post was Wonderful Mary..
Sorry about your day with your dad..

My parents are aging and I know that this kind of thing is inevitable..but it scares me...and saddens me...I know it is a part of life...but it sucks..

LauraHinNJ said...

(big strong hugs)

Julie Zickefoose said...

Raw, powerful, so sad. It is such a long goodbye. I wouldn't blame you if you disappeared for a month, sweetheart. I thought about you all evening then found this. I guess at this point the wavelength is coming through, even before I learn the details. Big hugs. Boston kisses, many, many. They do help. And that is the definitive Bella shot.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

I know how distance magnifies every change we see. And, having only a few visits to take memories with us, makes us want, all the more, for each moment to be a good one. I'm sorry this is so hard.
Maybe the pictures from your last visit would actually be better to hang onto--better times, an easier visit.
Cyberhugs to you, until a real hug can reach.

Susan Gets Native said...

Sweetie. My throat is all closed up for you.
As Julie said, a long goodbye. Losing them suddenly or watching them slowly disappear...I don't know what's worse. It all sucks out loud.
Love ya, dearest.

JeanMac said...

Oh, Mary, I'm in tears for you and your Dad. Sending hugs.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

I'm sorry Mary... I know how you feel. My oldest brother (20 yrs. older than I am) is in a nursing home in Fl--and has no quality of life at all. He's the only family member I have left (other than my own kids and their families). I visit him a couple of times a year --since he is in Jacksonville, FL and I'm in TN. I always dread seeing him--and cry when I leave. He was an engineer and such a smart man. He would be so unhappy living this way.

I'm so sorry about your Dad.. You'll just need to choose to remember when he was 'really' your father. I'll try to remember Ray as my very smart brother.

Hugs and Prayers,
Betsy

Jayne said...

(((((Mary)))))

jemkagily said...

I add my hugs to the pile. Your sensitivity makes this especially difficult for you, I think, you seem to feel things so intensely. It's what makes your writing and photos so vivid, and what makes seeing other's pain so difficult to bear. Are you allowed to bring pets to the facility? I can't tell you how many times I've seen a therapy dog (like beautiful Bella, perhaps) reach a seemingly inconsolable resident. I'll be thinking about ou when I go to visit my Dad later today.
Wendi

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Getting old isn't for the weak at heart that for sure. You are a good daughter Mary. (((hugs)))

Diane C. said...

Mary, a lovely, moving post. Good thing for flower, bird, turtle and Boston Terrier power.

Warren and Lisa Strobel said...

Mary,
I can not tell you how much your post touched me. My Father has been ill lately and I thought we would lose him several times over the last couple of months.

He has improved greatly, although I wonder if I will ever see the "devil may care" grin he used to sport when nothing in the world troubled him. If I will ever be able to erase the images of him being so ill and replace them with the images of him as a strong healthy man who taught me about birds and plants.

Sending good peace your way....
L&W

Thanks for reminding me to never forget

Beth in NYC said...

Susan's exactly right. Losing them sucks, unexpectedly or over time. I'm sorry for your and his pain.

Kyle said...

Mary, I'm so sorry to hear of such a disheartening visit. I hope that shining star helped put a little happiness back in your dad's eyes. I know that we have similar experiences coming in our future with my mom. I hope I can face that as bravely and gracefully as you obviously do. Hang onto the memories of better times as you struggle to help him through this painful period of decline. I'll be thinking of you and your family.

egretsnest said...

Thinking of you, Mary.

Kyle said...

By the way, I have to tell you... Bella is totally gorgeous! I love those Boston smiles!

littleorangeguy said...

I wish I had had a Boston to help me through the long goodbye with my mother. It took me a long, long time but now I can remember her as she was when she was her real self. And I rejoice in that.

Peg Silloway said...

You will always remember your Dad's smile and twinkling eye, and these tough recent images will fade. The long good-bye's are very hard, but you will be glad you made the visits. You will know that you did what you could at a time when nothing seems to make a difference. More hugs to you - been there, got through it, though with cats rather than Bostons. Animal hugs are the best therapy.

Beth said...

Mary, I am sending lots of hugs and healing energy your way. Your time with your father is difficult but precious. The power you have to move others with your words is a gift as I am sure you are a gift to your dad.

Beth

jason said...

My thoughts are with you, Mary.

NatureWoman said...

I feel so bad for you and your Dad and your hubby. It all has to be so tough for you. Know that I am here thinking about you and sending virtual {{{hugs}}}.

Lynne said...

Sweetest May, my heart aches for you. Big strong hugs for you.

KGMom said...

It is very hard on you, isn't it. For all your dad's crying, I trust his sadness is fleeting--partly out of frustration and an inability to express exactly what he feels--so his eyes overflow.
It is good you see him--if he were to slip away sometime and you not see him for a while, you would regret it. This way, you have no regrets--or you should have none.
Besides, you have beautiful Bella and charming Chloe always waiting for you.

Mary said...

Everyone, gee, I know you may come here looking for lighthearted musings and smiles - not such grief. Sorry... This is a time when I needed to talk about it, right here. This post took several hours to write and publish - it's one of the most difficult ones but worth the effort. Life's worth sharing.

Thanks for listening and your kind words.

Angie said...

Oh Mary, there are no words, but there are tears for you and yours, and thoughts and prayers sent to you for solace, comfort, those memories from yesteryear...I care.

Angie said...

Oh Mary, there are no words, but there are tears for you and yours, and thoughts and prayers sent to you for solace, comfort, those memories from yesteryear...I care.

Cheryl said...

Dear Mary....I am sorry to say I could not read all of the post. My tears got in the way. I look after my parents now....they live close by.....and I see the changes.....and it breaks my heart....

Thinking of you, my friend.......

dguzman said...

I cry because your post is so sad and so moving and so heart-felt. And I cry because my parents are still relatively active and young (mid-70s), but the future hangs out there before us and scares the shit out of me.

Big strong hugs to you, honey.

Naturegirl said...

Mary: A post that hits a nerve with me as I remember my visits with my mother ..visits that haunt me to this day...I wish it could have been different but all I hold onto is the fact that before she was living in the asst. living home she lived a wonderful full life.Now that she has passed on I think of her full life and choose to forget those visits to the home.
Many of us boomers know and understand the journey you are on with your dad.
A beautiful portrait of Bella!!
A lovley gesture to leave dad a star...may he catch his star!
sending comfort and smiles your way..hugs NG

Mel said...

Mi querida Mary,
You know how I feel about you. All I'm saying is that I LOVE YOU TONS and that I wish I could hug you for an hour or so.
Millones de besos,
Mel

Wendy said...

I totally understand where you're coming from. I too post when I'm grief-stricken. It helps and the support from blogger friends is such a comfort.

Your Dad may have an element of brain damage, which makes him cry without reason. In other words, it may be a physical reason, rather than emotional. It just comes out as emotional. Anyway, no matter what, it is sooooooo hard to watch your parents deteriorate.

That was a beautiful thing you did for your Dad. I am sure he will look at that star and remember your visit.
Hugs, Mary. Lots and lots of cyber hugs!

Kathiesbirds said...

Mary, love your writing. Love that song. Love your honesty. "Catch a fading memory and put it in your pocket, save it for another day." Your dad can still feel your love. It must be hard for him to know how much he has changed. I once took care of a woman who had Alzheimer's and mistakenly thought she couldn't understand things because she couldn't communicate. One night I took her out on the town to go for a carrige ride among the Christmas lights. When I went to get her in the carriage I started to explain to the driver that she had Alzhiemer's disease. She started crying and screaming and I had to take her home and calm her down. All I could think was that though she couldn't make sense with her words, her mind was still locked in there and it horrified her to hear that she had Alzheimer's and perhaps to have me tell others that. I learned a great lesson that day, about how a soul is still there even when there are no words and no language. I know that you will love him and he will love you until the end and beyond. I hope your found comfort in Bella's smile and the nature, birds and wildlife you so love. I hope you find comfort in the words of your fellow bloggers, who send your their love and compassion.

Q said...

Dear Mary,
I am so happy you were able to hug your Dad. It is hard. It is so very hard. We love them.
Great idea to get the star for him. "Catch a falling Star" was a song my Mom sang when I was little girl too. I hold tight to the memories of my Mom and Dad. I hold tight to the feelings of hugging them. I hold tight to you.
Love and light,
Sherry

Murr Brewster said...

Oh, honey.

T and S said...

That post really touched me Mary. Take care. It is always these difficult and challenging moments of life that bring out the best in us.

Laurie said...

I wish I could make it easier for you...

Cathy said...

Mary,

My brother just told me that in his last conversation with our mother, she said that my Grandmother comes and gets into bed with her at night. It seems to make her happy.

Mother has just started down that long road that your dear father has trod for the last years.

Your account is a funny, sweet, sad, beautiful tribute to love, courage, constancy and the anguish of these long goodbyes.

Take care, sweet lady.
Love,
Cathy

Kathleen said...

Mary,

I am grateful you shared this powerful post - for yourself and for all of us. We speed through life and all too soon struggle to say goodbye to those we love. It is agony to hold so much pain in your in your heart.

Your love and compassion for your dad is beautiful and strong. You are too.

Joy said...

Oh Mary, you had me right with you through the whole trip. Seemed torn straight out of a memoir. My heart goes out to you and your father. {{hug}}

PJ said...

ahh, there is no words. it's love.you were there.I'm so glad you can share in your post..I can't my mom had a mild stroke this spring break time and it hit me hard..for some reason I can't talk about it. and here you are being the best caregiver a daughter can be...bless you.

Pete said...

its not nice is it visiting those who have always been there for you and so strong and then finding them like that. walks off to wipe tears.

i do like the therapy by bella

Dawn said...

{{{Mary}}},
I am very sorry you had such a difficult visit with your dear father. I'm in the process of trying to move my parents to TX so I can watch over them. When I read your post I couldn't stop the tears. Bless you, dear lady. You are a very good daughter and a kindhearted soul. May all the birds, flowers, Boston Power and love of your family and friends continue to give you the strength you need each day. Please, be good to yourself.
~Dawn

Rose said...

Mary, what can I say? I want to give you a big hug, but since I can't, I hope you give Bella and Chloe lots of hugs, and they give you some Licker Sister kisses in return.

Seeing our parents become shadows of themselves is so difficult. Your post reminds me once again to be so thankful that my father recovered nearly fully from a mild stroke a month ago. I appreciate every moment I have with him now, for one never knows what the future will bring.

Take care, and I hope you have time for some bird therapy, too.

Red said...

Oh Mary, your post totally touched me. I'm so sorry it was such a rough visit. I sure hope the next one is much better. I'm sorry I'm so behind in my blog reading too or I would have been here sooner to give you a hug ((((Mary))))