Aren’t we all?

Back in 2007, following a small tea to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, my daughter overheard the following conversation between my mother and one of her sisters at the door. I jotted it into my journal:

Mom: Well, I hope we can do this again.

Her sister: I don’t think so.

Mom: Why not?

Her sister: They say I’m on my way out.

Mom: Aren’t we all?

My mom and her sisters were close but also blunt with each other (as I noted here) so this just-slightly-testy exchange amused my daughter and me. But quite apart from the personalities involved and the additional factor of cognitive loss starting in for both of them at that time, the exchange is a good reminder for me at face value. My mother is still alive, eleven years later, but three of the sisters at the tea, including the one in the conversation, are not. In the past two weeks two of my husband’s cousins died, both of them good people with long good lives (88, and over 90), and also — more startling to me — a friend from my youth group days, just a year older than I am. And as I page about in the same 2007 journal I see “cute” comments from our six-year-old grandson who is now seventeen and just got his drivers’ license! Time flies, as goes the cliche, and death is true and we’re all living our lives in the terminals of these realities.

 

The voice

Because I’ll be visiting Ireland with our daughter, I searched out Irish writers whom Eleanor Wachtel of “Writers and Company” may have interviewed. I listened to a delightful conversation with Nuala O’Faolain, which led me on to O’Faolain’s memoir, Are You Somebody: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. The book is engrossing, and the memory of her physical voice enhanced my experience of her voice in print.

Halfway through the book I googled Nuala O’Faolain about something and was shocked to discover she died in 2008. I tried to believe it through the rest of the book. How was it possible, hadn’t I just heard her speak? I have no trouble reading the words of dead writers, that wasn’t it, but there’s nothing so alive and living, so uniquely another person, it seems to me, as their literal voice. And so I’d believed her alive as I read, though she wasn’t any more, and I felt sad about that and had to adjust to it.

Something similar happened a few days ago when our granddaughter showed me a special storybook her other grandmother, who recently died, had recorded some years ago. Hearing that wonderful, vital-sounding voice again was, as our son puts it, “surreal,” for in it she’s alive. But actually she’s gone, and immediately grief plunks into the space between those two realities.

Most of us dislike our voices when we hear them recorded. We’re not used to hearing them as others do. Then along comes thinning, drying, and loss of flexibility in the aging voice box. But never mind all that, today I feel gratitude for voice, for the livingness in the voices of others and the aliveness of me in mine.

One of those weeks

We’re not long back from a week in Toronto with second son, his wife, and three granddaughters, and everything shifts into different categories when away, including thought, so there’s not much of a theme in this post. If anything, it’s the role of grandparenting, key in such visits: enjoying the children, collecting memories, hopefully blessing them too.

IMG_20180316_104221524Theirs is a busy household — the girls are 7, 4, and nearly 2 — and I was reminded of going through those years myself, how relentless the responsibilities of work/house/family, how exhausting it can be. They seemed endless at the time, but they passed of course, a fact we can now haul out as a cheerful platitude! 🙂

Besides walks, reading, a movie, McDonalds, and many wonderful interactions, H. and I “helped”: things like mending wounded stuffies and ruffly dresses (me) or putting up hooks and mudding a wall patch (H). We quite like getting involved in this way and fortunately it’s received as meant, as love. I remember my mother-in-law, in Paraguay, back in the 80s, quietly mending for me while our youngsters tumulted around her. She was the picture of contentment, with us but useful too. Useful and content combine well at this stage.

And one night I had a dream which I actually remembered come morning, rare for me. I’m shy to recount it, but can say it radiated creativity and abundance and all that day it buoyed me, and it buoys me still.

While we were gone, our Tsawwassen daughter-in-law’s mother died. Though expected, the news felt a heavy thud. She was a wonderful woman, only 62. I loved sharing grandchildren with her. Free from pain, yes, wrote d-i-l, but “I think our hearts will hurt forever.”

One of those weeks, in other words, with a whole lot in it.

When Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday converge

I find myself pleased today about the (apparently rare) convergence of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, though I’m not entirely sure why. It may be as simple as my habit of organizing life into clusters, a “while you’re there anyway…” habit in order to save a trip. Why not get two significant days over at once?

Which reminds me that my special Valentine, the man getting old beside me, has always been quite the opposite. If he noticed that he needed something, say staples, he would drive off to the office store for them, leaving me to sputter that we could have put it on the list or done it on the way home from somewhere else. (He approved this message, BTW.)

At the source of the many ways H. and I are different are strengths, I think, that are mostly complementary. And at the very least, we’re now memento mori (remember that you will die) for one another. I look at him sometimes and it occurs to me, he might be handsome but he’s definitely getting older. (Men’s jowls loosen too, I’ve noticed.)  

        A heart-shaped cookie imprinted with Remember U R dust…

I spotted a good one on someone’s social media feed this morning: A Valentine’s card that said “Hey girl, Let’s contemplate our mortality together” with a picture of a heart-shaped cookie imprinted with Remember U R dust.

Seriously, I’m grateful H. and I are still together. For friends whose partners have died, this joint day (either one) may sting. Currently two people dear to us — the friend H. immigrated to Canada with nearly 48 years ago, and the beautiful woman with whom we share grandchildren — are in their last days in hospice care. Anyone who knows love and mortality knows that these do — and will — converge.