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.
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.
February 6, 2014
I stopped by my parents’ home today to visit and say hello. My father has ALS which has been a tremendous blow to our family – we never saw it coming….a man who, although 86, puts most of us to shame with how active and in-shape he has always been. Walking 2 miles daily – rain or shine, and not in a shuffling elderly way – always striding at a clip, shoulders back. He also worked out at the gym three times a week for the last 60 years – and by the way; never liked doing the “senior group” – always wanted to push himself and work out with young people. However, this is what Life has decided to hand him and we have no choice but to accept it. One of the incredible lessons has been the moments of insight I have had into my parents 60 year-long love affair….I have always known that they loved each other and they have never been afraid to show their devotion and affection, on a daily basis. They have also felt free express their normal marital differences from time to time – so I never had a skewed idea of what marriage was all about.
But, it is the intimate moments that I have accidentally witnessed.
One day, while in the hospital awaiting results from a series of tests due to a false scare that he was suffering from a pulmonary embolism; I was sitting behind them in the waiting room and my mother suddenly said quietly “We had some really great times – didn’t we?” and added “It seems like just yesterday. We had so much fun…”
My dad responded with a tired smile and nodded. “We sure did… it’s all in here” he said, pointing to his chest…to his heart.
I had to hold back the tears because it was not my time.
Today, while chit-chatting about life in general, my dad pointed out to my mother that the times that she holds most dear were the times when my sister and I were small children and they were a young couple – a young family. He reminisced about how they used to get together with their group of friends – other young couple with young families. Glory days; for most of those lovely, fun-loving people, all of whom were a big part of my daily life….are long gone.
Once again – I kept the tears to myself because it is not my time.
I often sit and talk with my husband and wonder out loud with him – where do all these wonderful times that we are having now, the good feelings, the long evenings of parties and gatherings with family and friends, all the hysterical laughter – where do these moments of magic go ….once we – go?