Once upon a time when I was young Saturday night was fun time. Off to the skating rink or to the local teen dance hall. Maybe go bowling or to a ball game or movie. Always with friends, sometimes with a date, sometimes with my brothers and cousins. If it was summer my family might be camping out on a lake and we would be around a fire telling tales. Fun times long ago.
Then when we were young together my husband and I would spend Saturday night out with friends for dinner or finding someplace with a band for dancing. Maybe have a cookout at home or a party. Saturday night was for leaving the children with a sitter or with grandparents and letting our hair down.
Later when we had an empty nest we bought a houseboat and weekends were for parties on the pier or boat trips down the lake to find a lakeside restaurant or bar or maybe there would be a festival to attend. Might get together with the children now that they were grown up and take them somewhere special.
Then there were grandchildren and some Saturday nights were for keeping the grandkids so that the kids could go out and have a good time like we used to do. Bubble baths and story books have a special appeal all their own. Then they got bigger and there were soccer games and school plays to show up for.
Now here I am on Saturday night comfortable in my recliner. After cleaning up from supper I found an old Eagles concert on television and poured a glass of wine to sip as I listen. The husband has fallen asleep watching old war movies, since it is Memorial Day weekend. The dog is asleep on my feet which is nice because it is unusually cold tonight. We quit going out all together when the pandemic hit last year and have gotten used to that for the most part. Last Saturday, since we are both vaccinated, we actually went out for dinner and to hear a local band. It was outdoors overlooking the lake so not too much for our first post venture back out in the world.
More and more often these days I say to myself, “My how things have changed.”
I have started binging Pretend It’s a City on Netflix for the second time. Why? Well I am a big fan of Fran Liebowitz. I love her sense of humor. I admire her talent and attitude. I like to thing we are alike, that we have a common outlook on life.
On the surface it would appear that we have nothing in common. I am a small town girl. Never traveled as much as I would have liked. I made my living in several administrative positions and only have two years of college; community college at that. I used to go to church and even teach the children there. Now I am athiest. I have been married for fifty-five years and have six grandkids and two great grandkids.
Fran however, is a New Yorker extraordinaire. She has been successful as a journalist and comedian. She is a lesbian and Jewish. She has no children. She spends time with famous people just as regularly as I go to the grocery. So her world is entirely different from mine.
When listening to her interviews my mind says “I would have said that”. It’s like we see the world the same way even from our very different perspectives. And, she looks a lot like my great aunt Louise, who was a character in her own right. I like that Fran does not abide bullshit. When she gets a stupid question she doesn’t answer it. Just points out the idiocy and moves on. Fran wears jeans with a big cuff and boots. I love that . I would wear that. In fact, I think I will wear that.
If I could spend an afternoon hanging out with Fran it would be fantastic for me, but maybe a bit boring for her if she were as curious about my life story as I am about hers. I can come up with one or two items worth telling but nothing to compare with her New Yorker life. But that is not really the main thing that makes her so interesting. It’s the way she cuts to the chase. How informed she is. She has experiences many ordinary people like me only dream about and it all seems so plain to her. I bet we would have a great time.
Like Fran, I have no use for bullshit. I like a good laugh. I have opinions and don’t mind sharing them. Can’t abide fake people. I am liberal and do not put up with bullies. Maybe we were sisters in another life.
As long as I can remember my favorite way to dress for costume parties has been as a flapper from the Roaring Twenties, the era of my grandparents’ youth. According to family gossip overheard at various holiday gatherings my great aunt Louise and my grandmother, Opal, were party girls when they were young. I suspect that to be true from what I noticed of their personalities. So I was impressed by their stories of jazz bands and speak easies enough to imitate them.
For my sixteenth birthday my parents let me though a costume party, since my birthday is just before Halloween. I rigged up a fringed skirt, a long-waisted blouse, strings of beads (pearls sorta) and wore a headband with a fuzzy feather. It was actually pretty tacky, but at the time I loved it. Later as an adult I made costumes for my husband and me to attend parties and rented a zoot suit and red satin dress for a Halloween bash for the last time a few years back. Goodbye to the Roaring 1920’s, hello 2020.
UPDATE. This draft is from a late night of drinking back in January when it was cold and isolation was the theme of my life. Thought I would just go ahead and publish it anyway.
On Friday morning my husband and I talked over coffee about how to celebrate our 55th anniversary. We decided just dinner out and dessert at home. Maybe watch a movie on Netflix. Plans changed as the day wore on.
The last few years have had some difficult times. Our daughter died after a long struggle with COPD and other complications. We made it through this together one day at a time by concentrating on our remaining family and supporting each other. Our daughter’s grown children moved in with us which filled our days and gave me ways to fill my time.
My elderly mother-in-law sold her home and moved into a retirement home. We took care of the sale and the move and I took on managing her affairs and we took care of moving her again when she needed to go to assisted living and then again when she was hospitalized after about her fifth fall and had to go to a nursing home. She died in January after one year of isolation due to the virus. Now we are managing her estate.
My husband’s older brother battled Alzheimers for nine years and died on Friday. Jerry’s younger brother died several years ago and his father has been dead for twenty years, so Jerry is all that is left from his family. I have a brother and sister who both live far away. My parents have been dead for a long time.
While she was living with us our granddaughter had a baby girl just six months after her mom died. She was going to school and working part time and we helped with the baby. The baby’s father had been working out of town but lost his job and also moved in to take care of the baby and look for work close to home. They had a second baby girl when the first was eighteen months old, so we had this family of four and our grandson living in our house until she finished school, went to work and they moved into their own home.
A few months after our granddaughter’s family moved out our grandson found a job in another city and he moved out. His dog stayed with us, so we don’t have a completely empty nest.
All this history leads up to the anniversary date that we just weren’t up for after my sister-in-law called to tell us that the brother was now at peace. We got burgers from a drive through and spent the evening with memories of those we have lost along the way. One more time we have to go through the grief and adjust to another empty place in our hearts. It has become commonplace, but not really easier.
Now we have fewer obligations, fewer demands on our time and we don’t always know what to do with ourselves. What’s my point? Damn if I know. I know that I got through today by cleaning house and walking the dog. I will probably get through tomorrow the same way. If I figure this all out I will let you know.
I started to try my hand at a blog a few years ago with the intention of writing about this ordinary life in small town America and my place in it. It was fun for a while and I looked forward to getting on line and finding something to say, reading other thoughts and trying to remember punctuation rules from school. Things begin happening to take up my time and cloud my mind so that I came here less and less often. There were things in my world I couldn’t get my head around enough to put words to paper about them and they were sometimes to sad to tell.
My grandson came to live with my husband and me. We loved having him and his dog with us and being a part of his life. Then his dad committed suicide. Our focus became comforting him as best we could. His mother, my daughter, became very sick. So many problems. She fell on ice and shattered her pelvis, barely survived surgery for that and had trouble walking for a while. She had neck surgery that left her with almost constant pain. She had asthma and severe allergies. She developed COPD for which she was prescribed many medications that did not mix well with others. She died of congestive heart failure about two years after her ex husband had died leaving our grandson and granddaughter without a mother when they were twenty-two and eighteen years old. My granddaughter was pregnant when her mother died and she was going to school to become a surgical technician. She also came to live with us and when the baby came I took care of her so the granddaughter could go to classes. She became pregnant again and had a second daughter when the first was not quiet two. Both babies, mom and dad, all lived with us until she finished her training and they were able to be on their own. This is why I have been so busy.
I also have a son living on the east coast with his family, two sons and a step-daughter. The year before my daughter died I organized a weeklong celebration of our son’s 50th birthday. We rented a house on the lake where the pre-teen grandsons and a cousin spent the days playing in the water and I spent my time cooking for everybody, arranging rental boats, driving other family to and from the cottage and supervising the kids so the adults could go out. That kept me a bit busy too.
After my granddaughter and her family moved out that left us with the grandson who is twenty-five now and the dog in our house. He struggled with the death of his parents and had trouble settling into a job. Much of my time was devoted to encouraging him and often entertaining his friends. Recently he also moved out of our house for a job elsewhere that looks very promising and he is managing his grief much better.
Now, it’s just the husband and me with the dog. I have gone from managing to keep two babies, three young adults, a seventy-five year old husband, a one hundred pound dog and me all taken care of in a reasonably clean house and without much conflict to trying to maintain a happy home life for just the two of us when we can’t go anywhere or do anything because there’s a deadly virus out there. It’s been quiet an adjustment.
So that’s a summary of life, my life anyway, in a small town in the bible belt.
I think I can. I say this to myself a lot. I think I can. Just a little engine trudging up the mountain, giving it all I got. I think I can. I think I can be strong for my family to lean on me. I think I can maintain this old house and make room in it for another grandchild until she is able to have a place of her own. I think I can care for a one year old while her mom attends classes. Oh, my goodness I hope I can! I think I can stretch the budget to include some of what we want as well as all that we need.
I think I can manage the care of my mother-in-law as she declines in her old age. I even think I can handle my own advancing age as it comes along.
I don’t always think I can. Many things are beyond me, even with my best effort. I already know that I cannot take care of this house and yard if my husband is not here or should not be able. I think I will manage to sell it all and go elsewhere.
My mind settled on this phrase today when I was driving alone and crying my heart out, screaming even, because I miss my daughter. For a moment I didn’t think I could pull myself together and get myself home. But I did. I always do. When the doctors called us into a room to explain that Teri would not wake up again I repeated over and over as we walked down the hall to the room where she lay unconscious, I can do this. I can do this. So I did because I had to. I held her hand and talked to her softly as the machines showed a steadily slowing heartbeat. When it stopped I turned to my husband and her children to comfort them and I telephoned her brother to inform him. I did what I had to do because I think I can.
I think I can live happily most of the time. I think I will be able to handle whatever comes next. I think I can because to think I cannot is just to damn scary.
So much has changed. Weekends used to be for fun. Now Saturday is no different from any other day except that the television programing includes less news and more sports. I don’t watch that much so it doesn’t matter. When we retired my husband and I did lazy things like pontoon rides on the lake and a lot of patio sitting. We got used to just the two of us at home and not having a schedule. Now we have our grandson living with us along with his dog; we have become great-grandparents and spend some of our time spoiling that baby. We had plans to remodel part of the house, but that didn’t work out and now we will just maintain until the time comes to move on.
For a while after I retired I spent time with my daughter doing common things like lunch and shopping. We went to her daughter’s high school soccer games and planned holidays together. We went on vacation to New Hampshire to visit my son’s family.
Then we began spending time going to her doctor appointments and navigating the disability system for her. I began to go over to her house to help with cleaning up and making meals. We made plans for when she felt better. She didn’t feel better for very long or very often. Then she called to tell me she was in the hospital and they said she had congestive heart failure. That night she underwent major emergency surgery and was put on machines to keep her heart working as she was transported to a university hospital and placed in cardiac intensive care. For ten days we went from despair to hope to panic to hope again and finally, even with the best care available her heart stopped never to beat again.
Life is so different now. Her children, twenty-five year old son and twenty-one year old daughter still very much needed their mother. I cannot be that for them, but I try to be as much support as I can. My grandson also lost his father to suicide four years ago leaving him an adult orphan. He was struggling living on his own so has come to share our home for a while to get on his feet. When I am feeling selfish I hope he stays forever. My granddaughter was pregnant when her mom died and had her baby six months later. The great granddaughter is fourteen months old now and another baby girl is expected in December. I know our granddaughter will be a fantastic mother to both, but it’s going to be hard and I hope I am strong enough to help.
My son is half way across the country from us so we miss him too. We talk on the phone and visit every summer with him, his wife and two boys. I wish we were closer, but his work is there and our home is here. We make the best of it.
My daughter was fully disabled for more than two years before she died and her husband had no money. My husband and I paid for her burial and have financially assisted her children as they get started in adult life. So, not as much money for vacations and house upgrades. We consider this an investment in their future.
So, life is so different now. Both empty and full at the same time. Nothing can fill the empty place where my child used to be. Every square foot of our house is in use and most of my hours are filled with family and their wants and needs. I am grateful that I am needed and useful instead of constantly grieving alone.
Today I drug a big box of my mother’s keepsakes out of the closet and sat down with that to finally sort through it all and decide what to do with it. After a few hours of making piles to pass on to either my son or the grandchildren and reading old newspapers, funeral notices and letters and both laughing and crying over photos most of it went back in the box to try again tomorrow. It’s possible that the kids will find some of this stuff interesting and want to keep it for a while, but it is more likely that my memories will leave this world when I do with only the rare exception.
I just can’t toss it all out yet. My mom kept her grandmother’s hair, carefully labeled and wrapped in tissue paper for more than seventy years. It feels like a betrayal not to keep that, but what exactly do I do with it? I don’t really want to display it or even pull it out to look at now and then, but I stuck it back in the box for later anyway. My younger sister’s ponytail is there in a box that once held a necklace. My sister does not want it and neither does anyone else. The kids think all this dead hair is creepy. Maybe it is creepy. Okay, I can toss that.
There are newspapers with engagement and wedding announcements, my dad’s successes, including a record high bowling score as well as his letters to the editor defending labor unions and all the grandparents and great grandparents obituaries and even local birthday celebrations and high school sports events. Maybe I will keep those around to browse over when I am even older than I am now.
I found letters and telegrams my parents wrote each other when dad was away in the army and lots of birthday, anniversary and Valentines cards that my siblings and I gave our parents. There are even letters exchanged by my grandparents. Sitting on the floor reading these felt a little like sitting with them again and hearing family stories. There is a package of report cards from my when my mother attended a Catholic school for girls in 1935 along with letters from her friends and teachers there. Mom’s report cards from the academy and back at our hometown public school were average. But my father and grandparents were mostly A students and my great aunts seemed to be top of their class, one even acquiring a Masters Degree in music. It’s nice to think there are some good genes in the background.
I am getting a bit of a kick out of all this junk. Maybe I will indulge this nostalgia for a while until I tire of it. And then, maybe, just stuff that box in a closed or under a bed for someone else to decide what to do with when I am either dead or too demented to bother. It seems I have a plan.
It has been months since I could put together a thought and hold it long enough to write it down. Sometimes I think everything is getting better and I can be myself again, but when I get still the grief and fear jump up and smack me down, back to holding back tears and faking strength while I wait for it to be real. It will be a year next month since my daughter died. Every day that passes I dread and hope for that anniversary. I am afraid that I might crash and burn and I hope that once that day passes I can believe in strength enough to get through one more, maybe more than that.
There is a support group on-line that I turn to for understanding that only other grieving parents belong to. It helps some, but it seems we are all so lost that guiding each other is difficult at best. There is empathy in this group that I find no where else. For that I am grateful. My problem here is that I am not a person of faith and most of the others are. The better place and someday we’ll be together again comments do not comfort me. At the same time I have no desire to object to whatever gets these others through their days so I keep my heathenness to myself with them.
I find my comfort in the living. I am fortunate to have a loving husband who, even though his heart is also shattered, stays strong enough for me to lean on. He still makes me laugh and we laugh together at our sometimes pitiful selves. My daughter gave us the gift of her grown son and daughter who have been a joy from the day of their birth and still warm my heart with every moment I have with them. Our granddaughter gave birth to our special, extra gift, a beautiful and perfect great granddaughter, a few months after her mother died. Her children and grandchild are the little pieces of Teri that I can touch and feel and care for; that is my comfort.
My son, my so special son, and his wife and two boys have been the light of so many days. He loved his baby sister and misses her in that unique sibling way. He is never out of touch more than a few days even though he is far from us in distance. So often when I am struggling the phone will ring and his voice brings back the sun for me.
This is how I survive the unthinkable loss of my child. I do not offer advise to anyone else in this boat except to keep breathing and hope. Hope for whatever you need.
Long ago when my grandparents all died and then my dad far too soon I told those who expressed sympathy that I wanted to just surround myself with people who love me and soak up that love. I am doing that now the best that I can. On days like this one when my best isn’t working I curl up in my ball of hurt and just wait for something better.
My hip hurts, a lot, whenever I stand up and move around. For that reason I mostly sit down these days. I have an appointment for a treatment that should have me up and moving in a week or so. I bore you with my physical condition as a way to explain why I spent my day moving from one chair to another and watching too much television.
This morning I watched the local news, read the paper, watched some of the Sunday morning news shows and a couple of documentaries on Netflex. I also spent a little time on Facebook and Twitter and sat outside for a little while watching the comings and goings in the neighborhood. In the last few days there have been some interaction with other people out shopping or running errands. I have come to the conclusion that humans are flawed creatures destined to become extinct. We will mess the earth up pretty bad before we go, but the planet will be better off without us.
Why! Because every where you look the human race is engaged in destructive behavior. It’s a shame really because we have enough intelligence to have made gains in technology unimaginable a few years ago. What do we do with it? We play games and insult each other online where we can’t get punched in the face. We have discovered medicines that can save countless lives and what do we do? We price them so high for the sake of profit that those lives are lost anyway. Plastic happened. We stopped using every other kind of packing and began throwing “away” our plastic containers until we have ruined the oceans and filled up landfills to overflowing. Turns out “away” is not that far.
We are killing each other all over the world for the most ridiculous reasons. Wars are fought to salve the egos of power hungry dictators or to maintain one religion as superior over another. We kill each other in the streets because of ethnic differences or just because someone felt insulted or because we are from different gangs.
So many humans are so greedy they are willing for others to die to keep from giving up their goodies. We have too many parents who neglect or abuse their own children. We have too many monsters who massacre children in their schools, apparently just because they can.
I seems to me we are about to get what we deserve — to cease to be. It’s our own damn fault and there are not enough humans willing to learn what we need to know to survive. Humans will continue live with magical thinking that says it’ll all work out or some power will fix it. I wish the other animals well and hope they prosper after we are gone.