I’m currently waiting to hear from one of the nurses caring for my dad. They called me last night to tell me he was suddenly ill, and I might need to scramble to get down to be with him. They also suggested I begin considering hospice care for him. Things are feeling pretty disconnected right now… I guess that’s natural (?), as I’m about three hundred miles away, and uncertain as to his condition.
So much has been going through my head, and my heart, these past months, deepening over the past weeks as I’ve witnessed his further decline in health (physical and cognitive). It is a path through sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, yearning, and doubt.
Dementia, seeing what it does to him, feels like a theft of his mind, and an assault on his spirit. It is heartbreaking. Beyond the personal, is the political, or the social… that we (seem to) pay very little real attention to the process of dying, focused so much on the superficial. And it strikes me that there is very little our society does these days to truly honor the dying, or to offer answers to the living.
I don’t know what is going to happen over the next few days. I am still hopeful.
I was thinking about this place today, the Ocean House Hotel at Bass Rocks in Gloucester, MA, wondering if it will weather this crisis and still be in business when the pandemic is behind us. It’s where my husband and I spent our anniversary last year, and had hoped to get back this year for our thirtieth. Since our anniversary is in May (and my state of Vermont is under stay at home order until at least May 15th), that is not going to happen. Which is fine – last year was the first year we’d ever actually done anything that big for our anniversary, we just couldn’t wait to get back, as it’s a fabulous place (and off season, such as it was in the still-chilly part of May, the rates were awesome).
I’m finding myself in this kind of pandemic funk once or twice a day… as soon as I recognize it I feel a bit of shame, and as soon as I feel like talking about it, I feel ridiculously self-indulgent. But, well, this is a small personal blog, so I’m giving myself a pass. I can talk about whatever I want. Maybe in talking about it I can turn this around.
Whenever I realize I’m feeling this way, I think of my grandmother who was this feisty Italian woman who divorced her husband when my dad was only three years old, and then proceeded to raise my dad alone as a single mother. She worked extremely hard until she was in her mid-seventies, never remarrying, and not that she never complained about anything (man, did she), she never complained about hard work, hardship itself, or surviving. In fact, in the earlier days of this pandemic, I often thought of the stories she told as I was growing up, about life during the Depression. It was obvious that living through the Depression had a huge, lasting impact on her. It seemed to inform basically everything about how she continued to live for the rest of her life – and through her stories it informed some of how I have lived my life. So when I was faced with stay at home orders that included not traveling ten miles from home (when my main grocery store is more than ten miles from my home), was faced with running out of things I hadn’t thought of hoarding, and was faced with even not being able to buy seeds to start my own garden, it really did not seem difficult compared to any of the stories I’d heard from my grandmother. I’ve been extremely grateful to have access to fresh vegetables, meats, and other groceries – not always what I’d normally buy or in the same amounts (and I am being careful to eat smaller portions and use certain supplies sparingly – recalling also my gram’s stories about rationing), but I’m not expecting to go hungry anytime soon. I’ve also actually discovered a few great companies that I’m happy to support.
My grandmother’s ex-husband, my Grampa Lee, has also been on my mind through this. While my grandmother was raising my dad he was actually serving in the Navy. After they divorced he entered the service, and continued through til the late 1940s. Unlike my grandmother he was taciturn to say the least, so I didn’t get to directly hear his stories, could only piece things together through photos he decided to share, things he liked and did, and choices he made. After the service he became a truck driver for many years, driving an eighteen-wheeler up and down the East coast from Virginia through New England. I didn’t see how big a deal that was until now, when the country is absolutely reliant on the toughness and dedication of these drivers. According to my dad, my grandfather did open up finally, the last time the two of them saw each other, what turned out to be very shortly before his death. He acknowledged that he had “fucked up” in his life, but didn’t say much else.
Reminders of each of them are around my house. Right above
my desk, right here in fact, are separate pictures of both of them, as well as
their parents, and my mom’s family as well. In my dining room are small gifts
my grandfather had brought home from Japan, and all over are things that had
belonged to my grandmother – her rosary, ceramics she made by hand, a teapot,
things I might not have chosen myself but obviously have meaning.
Reminders of them are also with me through this. Fighters, survivors, both of them. And I hate to say it, hate to put it this way – I’m being kind of facetious here… but neither of them a whiner or moper. When I realize I’m in this funk (and thus feel like a whiner and moper, despite the fact the TV psychologists say this is totally normal – sigh), they come quickly to mind. They made it through much, much harder than this – and from what I can tell, without any handwringing. As for the Ocean House and my anniversary… for their sake I do very much hope they survive, just like I hope for the survival of all such businesses. My husband and I have had bare-bones anniversaries before. I think this one will actually be quite memorable after all.
photo: Ocean House Hotel at Bass Rocks, Gloucester, MA; a cloudy cold day in May