Going out into our backyard to our trash cans around 9 p.m. one evening, it occurred to me that if I did not know the time I might have thought it was early morning before the sun came up. Any car noise was muted behind our house so that was not a clock clue. The air was fall-crisp, and from what I was able to make out with my vision such as it is, the sky was not fully dark. We were in that in between period, when the light would either increase or decrease depending on the earth’s rotation.
This kind of uncertainty can throw you off, leaving you feel panicked and scared. But there can also be a sense of comfort, knowing you’re just disoriented, nothing has changed but your perception of the situation. Once you can release the confusion, you can use your logic and experience to right yourself. Whether it was night or day, I was still in my backyard, a few feet away from the warmth and safety of my home. The only difference: Time for coffee or time for a Tylenol PM?
“I can lose that chapstick four times in one day, Tom.”
My mom was a t-shirt and shorts or jeans kind of woman until her death at 79 and I have followed in her fashion footsteps. When she left this earth she left behind many tees proclaiming her love of her favorite sports teams, Ocean City, New Jersey and this country. When I cleaned out her things, I kept most of them and later decided to have a quilt made out of them. I am a firm believer that when you save items that belong to someone who has died, you honor the person by putting to use or displaying those keepsakes. I wanted to be able to wrap myself in mom’s shirts. After all, they are her.
A wonderful, talented woman made the quilt and with the technology available, pictures of mom or of mom and I make up the border around the squares of her shirts. The quilt ended up being much larger than I had anticipated and was, quite frankly, a work of art too beautiful to fold up and take out when the need for warmth or comfort arose. It had to be showcased for all to see.
Working with a local craftsman, I had a quilt ladder made and the fabric of my mom’s life hangs in my dining room. Needing to hide a fade mark on our wallpaper from a picture taken down to make room for the ladder, I searched and found a quote to be placed above it. My poor husband spent hours applying the decal to the wall, painstaking letter by letter, and the result was beyond my expectations. My short, thin mom would be dwarfed by the quilt but it resides in the same room where we always hugged before I took her home.
I encourage you to go to your closet or attic, find the box marked “MOM” or “GRANDMOM” and pull out the shoes your mom always wore to the beach and the cookie tin your nana always had filled with your favorite “melt-away” cookies. Place the canvas espadrilles on your shoe rack even if they don’t fit you. Fill the tin and keep it on your counter or table and enjoy it. Frame the last lottery tickets your dad bought before he died. Of course our loved ones live in us but having their things reside around us says: they were here.
At least once a day I touch the quilt as I pass by. And on occasion, I give it a hug. And it’s heaven.
“None of us go to bed thinking that
we won’t wake up in the morning.
No matter what is on our calendar for tomorrow,
those seconds before sleep are the most hopeful of our lives.”
— Sister Rain
One out of five people ask me if I can drive when they first learn that I’m legally blind and every time they ask, it’s like they slapped me. I don’t let them see my reaction, but my visceral response takes all my power not to flinch. Is this the deciding factor for them, if I could drive would they equate my visual impairment with their own need for reading glasses?
It happened this morning and I wanted to know why this question comes up so much. And why does it take my breath away?
The latter is easy. Driving is the thing I miss most. As I write this I’m craving McDonald’s French fries in the worst way for some unknown reason and I can’t go get them. I Uber, my husband and friends are EXTREMELY generous, taking me shopping and to appointments. But driving is freedom and independence. It’s alone time with your music blaring and your thoughts unfiltered. It’s as natural as walking and talking. It is, to me, everything . . . and the one thing I cannot do since I lost my sight.
The former is not for me to explain, so I asked the woman I just met why she wanted to know if I can drive. She replied, “Became when you said you were legally blind, the first thing I thought of was what if I lost my ability to drive? Oh my god. How would I get groceries or pick up a latte or get some quiet time away from my family? It wasn’t until you walked away that I considered all the million little things I do every day.”
I thanked her for her candidness and sat back down at a nearby table. It made perfect sense. If I love driving that much why wouldn’t other people too? My sensitivity to the subject is what causes my Pavlovian pain. A self-inflicted gunshot wound that someone else innocently fired.
Seven years after waking up blind I’m still learning to see things in a different way. Unfortunately, I can’t see other cars, traffic lights, signs. pedestrians or the road from any angle. I’m sure, however, that somehow I’d be able to spot the Golden Arches.
We all want R-E-S-P-E-C-T. But there’s something else I have been thinking a lot about lately: E-X-P-E-C-T.
It’s a tricky word and one we don’t discuss. We aren’t supposed to openly expect things from others, from life, but instead be a gracious receiver of whatever comes our way. When it comes down to doing business, though, expectation is acceptable and even required. Or if used to be. I remember a time not that long ago when people I worked with did what they said they would do within the agreed timeframe. There was reliability, accountability and integrity. Now we spend our days following up, leaving messages multiple times, and waiting for critical information so that we can get on with our lives.
I realize I sound like an old woman, but I am not longing for the days of payphones and manual typewriters. I harken back to a time when the promised proposal was sent, when test results were immediately provided, communications were returned, when business meant . . . business.
I could guess at the reason we’ve become a society of “I haven’t heard back”, but when you’re the one on the pending end it doesn’t matter the why. It’s unacceptable and just plain wrong.
If you don’t want my business, tell me.
If you want my business, tell me how much it will cost.
If I write you, reply.
If you have medical information, tell me. This isn’t a file of papers, it’s my health and my future sitting on your desk.
And that’s what E-X-P-E-C-T means to me. Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me . . . without me having to track you down with repeated calls and messages.
I’m halfway through the book I’m reading, the latest by one of my favorite authors, and I have found the main character aggravating from the start. I considered giving up after a few chapters but I love this writer so much, I can’t bail on her or her track record. This happens more than it used to – I want to shake the primary person inside the covers, I debate whether or not to move on to the next book. I wonder if as I age my tolerance for people, even fictional, has lessened so much that it impacts my beloved hobby. Or has a trend begun where the heroine has to be the opposite of a heroine, a no-roine?, in the beginning so that they may triumph in the end?
There is a good chance that not particularly liking the lead in a novel may indicate that I’m invested, that I care enough to be annoyed. I see something there, a redeeming quality, possibilities, just like in my non-fictional world. It may very well be worth seeing it through.
On the other hand, we are all faced with people and situations that we wish we could take to the library book drop, throw in the slot, listen for their slide down the chute, slam the door and walk away. There are many more books on the shelf, new people to meet, an infinite amount of life’s experiences to explore. It’s okay to move on. Not everything nor everyone is forever.
Art imitates life. Only you can decide whether to stick it out to The End.
The new season of one of my favorite shows started last week. I had saved the final episode of the previous season to remind myself what is going on before watching this premiere. That old episode had aired on February 28th.
It struck me that so many big things have happened to me and my friends in the seven months since then: new jobs, vacations, babies born, illness, injury, surgery, death, relationships come, gone or stayed . . . and A Million Little Things.
Like all 13-year-old boys,
when his mom wants to take his picture,
Piper wants to bolt.
When my mother-in-law died eight weeks ago, she left a handful of close friends behind, who have always been like family to us “kids”. Her best friend of 65 years, J, was with us the week between mom’s massive stroke and her death. She had found mom in her bed unresponsive after mom failed to show up at her house for a class they were scheduled to attend. She was sitting next to me in the emergency room waiting area when my husband came out from meeting with the doctor to tell us the impossible news, that his healthy, active, vibrant mom would not survive. J and I held each other and cried, each of our hearts breaking for the other. My 30 years as daughter-in-law felt so small compared to 65 years of best friendship. She helped us make photo boards for the funeral and was one of a handful of people who were with us at mom’s burial.
We keep in touch via text as we did even before mom was struck down and the other evening my husband and I went to see the Downton Abbey movie with her and her husband, T. We are all big fans of the show. As she and I sat in the back seat on our way to the theater, we caught up in person as the men talked up front. Mom never watched the series and would not have gone to the movie with us had she still been here. Although I wouldn’t say she was with us, as we offer to ourselves and others when there is loss, but the 15 days from when J found mom and we laid her to rest was. You don’t go through something like that together, sitting for a week together, in a room for hours and hours, day after day, telling stories and taking turns holding hands with someone you both love, waiting for her to take her last breath, both praying she goes quickly and being terrified that she will go at all, and not form a new bond.
We had a great time, the movie was wonderful and as my husband and I drove home after dropping J and T off at their home, he said, not for the first time, “They are such good people.” When my husband had asked T to be a pallbearer, T became visibly choked up. “It would be my honor”, he replied. We’ve always had our own relationship with them but things have definitely changed. Our hearts are broken and we have filled in each others’ holes and cracks just a bit.
It’s hard to imagine a time when I won’t equate this woman with those two weeks when we lost mom and that’s okay. Together we endured the very worst thing life has to offer: death.