Emotional Backpacks

September 12, 2015

I think that for women, in particular, the disappointment of realizing that someone who you have always regarded highly and have invested in, has no loyalty – it is so disheartening; it shatters everything that you know.

I have some incredible, truly Angelic girlfriends that have been in my life for 20+ years and have been my lifeline – my saving grace – my safe harbour in the many storms of life….and I know how blessed I am to have them. Without them, I truly would not be the woman I am today.

In the last two years, since my father has fallen into the cruel hands of ALS, and my mother into grief’s dark shadow – I have had incredible support and I make such an effort to not bring this dark cloud into conversations, as much as possible, unless asked – because, let’s be honest, your friends can only shoulder so much and the point of friendship is to share equally in each other’s lives and to have fun…it should not be a constant state of “poor me”. I truly get that.

I know that I am not alone in the revelation of the friend who is the emotional siphon – forever in need of advice, sympathy and your shoulder – and most of us never see this clearly. Then, one day we suddenly wake up. I don’t know what the straw is that finally breaks the proverbial camel’s back – but we wake up and open our eyes and see that perhaps this person has become – for lack of a more eloquent term – dead weight. Weight that we have been carrying on our backs like a backpack, in the form of excuses – excuses because of the history.

You realize that they have never honestly shared in your joys, consoled in your sorrows, supported in your various ventures and adventures. You have been the sounding board all these years and basically, just so that they could hear themselves speak, loud and clear…you’ve been the mirror that they could look into and adjust themselves accordingly.

I guess its true – you are never too old to learn something new. And while at first glance it can be a painful realization – within scant moments this becomes something so easy to let go of. Taking off that Emotional Backpack is such a relief. You take a deep breath in and find yourself moving forward at a fresh new and easy pace, wondering – what the heck took you so long?

Breath deep – hold your head up and smile….it’s a brand new day!

The Big Move

August 30, 2015

After a lifetime, the day finally arrived when the Rental sign went up as we had to make The Big Move – moving my parents from the home they have known for over 60 years, into an apartment. My father can no longer go up and down the unique curved staircase that I used to slide down to reach the walkway. My father can no longer walk at all…thank you ALS. The time had come to seriously downsize and move forward to a living situation that will give my parents a new sense of independence.

The house was originally my grandparents’ home – a place I stayed every other weekend with great joy. Later, as a family we lived there all together for 5 years while my father got his new company off the ground (we later moved 4 doors down). Then, many years later, my husband and I moved back into the house with our two children and also welcomed our third baby there – creating yet another series of memories.

So – on Thursday, furniture was loaded onto a truck – leaving me and my mom behind to go through cupboards and closets and pack a 62 year marriage into boxes. Clothing, dishware and long forgotten items hidden at the bottom of closets all had a story – many of which I heard from the first time. While packing away her cookbooks, 2 handmade Valentines fell out, sent to her by my father (who has always been an artist and musician, apart from his profession as an Ad Man). I ran my fingers over the simple, hand drawn cards imagining the 23 year old young man, courting the girl he had fallen desperately in love with…imagining him anticipating her surprise and delight at receiving a cute, romantic Valentine at her office.

Wedding gifts, barely used….dishes from my great grandmother’s wedding in 1893 (on my mom’s side) and dishes that graced our own family table while I was growing up. A hundred – no a million memories….and only a scant few that I could own myself, but I appreciated every single one shared. I met the young young couple my parents were (and still are, in their hearts) through those memories…but I suspect that I have always known them.

Later that night, after having moved all of the essentials and settled my parents into their new home – my husband and I went back to the house to see what was left to finish in the coming days.

I walked though the front door, as I have all my life and held back the 5 year old’s urge to call out, “Hi Granny” down the hall. I could almost smell the overly well-done toast and coffee which was my grandmother’s dinner ritual. As I moved though the house my steps seemed to slow – I stopped in the doorway of my old room and ran my hand along the molding where I split my lip open at age 2 on the night of my grandfather’s funeral…I stood in that room remembering how my little sister and I used to use the “telephone” we had made out of toilet paper rolls all taped together – as if no one could hear us! Then onto the vision of my own two daughters in their beds, set up the same way, only one of them was in a crib. I continued on to the back room, my mother’s “office” and saw pre-teen me sitting with my Grandmother on her bed, laughing together hysterically as I tried to read the Hungarian/English dictionary (of course looking up as many rude words as it held) and sharing my discovery of The Beatles…and how she showed so much interest….flash forward and I saw myself, the young mother, laying with my 7 year old son on his bed reading Harry Potter every night. Finally, the kitchen – heart of the home…my sister and I doing dishes every night, probably making quite a mess as we would be fighting or laughing, depending on the day. Simultaneously – me, cooking and creating crafts and changing the curtains and table cloths to suit the seasons when it was our turn to live there as a family.

Once we got to the basement I could hear and see me with my high school girlfriends singing into hairbrushes to The Partridge Family, which would have been spinning on vinyl. Suddenly, I had no strength left and melted into my husband’s arms, sobbing. There is truly a lifetime in those walls…my immigrant grandparents from Hungary, my newly engaged parents, my pre-teen self and finally myself as an adult and own little family.

The parties, the laughter, the tears….all embedded in the walls…walls now waiting for another family to add to the layers.

Hold Onto Your Nips

August 7, 2015

Yes – I said “Nips” – as in nipples. I am sorry – but have you ever shopped at Costco? The fresh produce department is set at the unbearable temperature of sub-zero, winter/spring/summer and fall. Last weekend, I grabbed my husband’s arm and exclaimed “Oh my gosh! I can see my breath!!” and proceeded to exhale a rather impressive cloudy puff…..problem is, it wasn’t MY husband’s arm I grabbed. Thankfully it was too damned cold for me to blush.

After the mad dash, as if I was in some grocery contest, and hoping that I was actually purchasing the things that I needed – I tossed the items in our basket and then ran over to the rotisserie chicken section to warm up, and I wasn’t the only one…ok – yes I was – I just wrote that part to make myself feel better and sound saner.

I get it – they want to keep their produce perky and fresh….but other things are feeling perky and fresh in there too…and not all of them pretty!

I’ve just pulled out my sweater and tossed it into the backseat of the car and am now ready for this week’s shopping adventure (oh yes – with me there is the good chance that it will indeed be – an adventure).

Slow and Steady Fire

August 2, 2015

Almost 30 years later …hmm – where’s the romance? I think it’s probably stuffed somewhere in between the unfolded laundry and the moving boxes at my parents’ home.

Sadly, Romance just doesn’t have it’s own place here these days. Generally I am really ok with it – I get it – this is the Phase of Life we’re in right now.

Sometimes, though – I long for those seemingly endless evenings spent on our balcony on Gamble Street where we lived 30 years ago. We imagined so many incredible things on that balcony…but… not everything.

I never really believed that my parents would get older or sick and that I would have to take over, and I am sure that my husband never imagined that either.. We were two young lovers sipping cheap wine by moonlight and deciding where and when to eat – or even if we should ;) The whole world lay at our feet – at least we thought so, from the 10th floor up.
Here we are 29 years later – three children and aging parents…when did we become middle aged because I swear that we were just…25 ish years old…okay, truthfully a little more little ” ISH” than 25.
We have survived many more years than so many of our friends…and yet we still stand strong – sometimes divided in our thoughts on how to handle things, sometimes annoyed at the little habits we’ve acquired…but we still stand strong.
I still roll over in the night, comforted to feel him sleeping (and snoring!) beside me…and I still walk downstairs every morning, eager to greet the new day with him and share a cup of coffee.

I think that when you are young and starting out and knew what lay ahead – you wouldn’t take another step – not because it is so terrible but because it is so far away from the dreams you are dreaming on your own balcony…your own studio apartment…or whatever your beginning point is..

But let me say this – it is the slow and steady fire that keeps the heart warm…yes, you need to stoke it – but sometimes, when you need to – you can rely on the embers.

Glory Days

July 6, 2015

I’m listening to the Load Out Song by Jackson Brown and dear God – do I ever I wish that I had written that song…but then again, maybe I did – but only in my mind. It is so incredibly descriptive of my former life…I can smell the smoke and whisky in the air, and that rank perfume of those well-worn carpets.  I can taste the leftover sandwiches sold on the shelves of those motel diners – still don’t know if they were tuna or ham sandwiches all I know is that they were the appropriate shade if beige.

I see the smiles and hear the laughter of the roadies as they set our shows up and tear them down…almost no difference in a day…”Check Check” – rings in my ears during sound check – those scant few hours before any show – be they on the big stage or the local club stage and honestly, every performance is  literally the same – it is musicians and singers desiring to bare their souls for whatever reason – be them creative or healing.

All I know is that when I hear that song, I want to grab my suitcase and jump into a beat-up van…I want to have some crazy town anticipate my arrival , where I know that they are waiting for us…waiting for us to take them away – for a night or maybe forever.

Oh my…those were the days…I am smiling now remembering that those were indeed the days

Forever Love Affair

June 3, 2015

My dad is dying. There is no nice way to say this. The ALS is eating his body up…but his mind and more importantly, his heart – have never been sharper or stronger.

He was rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding last week and as my mom and I followed the ambulance we made silly,disjointed and distracted conversation…my mother, because her heart is breaking piece by piece – me, because I am trying to catch whatever pieces I can.

He has been in for a week – and for the first day and a half they could not see each other as the countless tests kept my father separated from my mother. The next evening we were finally able to see him and as we walked into the room he smiled, his eyes lit up like a bonfire and my mother bent over to kiss him – not a tiny peck that so many elderly people exchange,-but a long, full, deep kiss on the lips.and in that moment I swear that I heard birds singing and imagined blossoms floating down around them as I heard the silent words “You may kiss the bride” – for in that moment I saw, not just my parents but the husband and wife…the lovers that they’ve been for almost 65 years.

Role Reversal

April 29, 2015

It’s 6:30 am. I’ve already been up for a good hour. Partially because I generally wake up close to that time – but in reality, it’s because my mother woke me accidentally – she was having a bad dream…something I am sure is a regular occurrence now with my Dad’s illness. I can hear him breathing on his oxygen  machine from the kitchen – the very kitchen I grew up in. How strange this morning seems – and yet all so familiar too.

Yesterday, my Dad called me at work, something he NEVER does. Mom fell ill; she was dizzy and in bed and he was worried. Having ALS, he is now pretty much wheelchair-bound, so it is difficult for him to help her – although he so valiantly tries. Of course, I rushed directly over to their house….my old house – in fact my grandmother’s old house (talk about “coming home”).

I know I am not a doctor – but I am a mother (too) and she seems to have a virus of some sort (blocked ears). I settled her in and she napped for most of the afternoon – but not before asking me to organize my Dad’s dinner….her main concern. How funny and yet how sweet – 61 years later, she is concerned about getting his dinner on the table on time. No problem, I tell her. I leave to pick up my daughter from school and go home to organize my own family before returning…I insist that I will spend the night because the truth is that they need me to (for Heaven’s sake….who will make Dad’s breakfast if I am not here – and ALS or not – Dad still has his appetite and loves a good breakfast). Mom is all worried about putting me out – but I tell her her “Mom – you sat on edge of my bed for years when I was a kid, whenever I was sick and if I called you today to say I wasn’t well...” she finished my sentence with “I’d rush right over“. Love. Family. Enough said.

So here I am. Roles are reversed and it is strange – and yet, I feel both relieved and happy to be able to do this for them….they have given me so much. Does it take a bit of rescheduling? Of course. But my family (thank goodness that I married the man of my dreams and have such terrific supportive kids … really) and my wonderful boss and co-workers make it a cinch…ease my concerns with their honest love and support.

So here I sit, at the kitchen table – in my old “seat” waiting for Dad to wake up(although he did briefly – first words out of his mouth were – How is Mom? 61 years and still each other’s main concern, truly amazing…) so I can make his coffee and his breakfast. I feel okay – I feel weird – I feel a bit scared as that future inevitable has given me a trial run. I take solace and am reminded that; To whom much is given – much is expected.…and I know that in the end,  I will be able to finish this journey – with grace and a smile, if only to make my parents’ life easier…it’s all I can do.


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