Dreams: Ian, Mae and Harold Arlen

I woke up to Ian Tyson singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Siri had slipped her leash and shuffled from White Noise on repeat.

I don’t need to tell you, dear constant reader, that that song is from a famous movie

The first real movie I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz. I was probably 8-years-old. That was 1944. In the province of Quebec, children were not permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a terrible fire in a theatre that had killed children, but, more likely, the Catholic Church deemed movies corrupting. The Catholic Church ruled in the mostly French province.

I had seen films, made by the National Film Board of Canada in class, quite a few of them. I think the projectionist made a circuit of the schools, English schools in my case, and we got to see whatever he brought whether it related to the curriculum or not. So I was already enraptured by flickering motion pictures in a darkened room, but the moment when Oz burst into colour sealed my fate.

Quite simply I had to go there.

True my life did not include tornadoes, but it did contain World War II, which I initially thought was right next door. Uncles were overseas, German prisoners kept escaping from the POW camp in Sherbrook and my friend’s uncle got shot down and died. Plus there was the on-going war at home, not just the struggle to live on little money and rationing, but the very real possibility that my father would eventually succeed in killing one of us.

So I dreamed.

Eventually, I realized Oz didn’t exist and I would have to make do with Hollywood. My Aunt Mae could tell the future and she said that yes, I would go there. I wasn’t clear why she was laughing as she hugged me close.

I kept scrap books of movie stars and pursued an acting career. I had a few gigs at Christmas concerts and variety shows. I did Burlington Bertie from Bow, like I saw once in a movie. I got the lead roles in half a dozen high school and university plays. The only movie role I was ever offered got cancelled before shooting started. But I did go to Hollywood. Over seventy times and I plan to return in a few weeks.

Spoiler alert: I produced a daughter who went there to live and she produced two sons. I starred as grandma. Daddy #2 introduced me to a movie star at whose Malibu beach house I stayed. Her present husband took me to Warner Bros and we ate in the commissary. I didn’t get to go to the Emmys with him, but who can complain.

So thank you Aunt Mae. You kept hope alive and you didn’t exactly lie.

I woke up thinking about dreams, the kind of dreams you have about your future and which I am informed are essential to a happy life.

Shall we count them up?

I dreamed I would have 5 children and live in a ranch house. I had 2 and lived in split levels. I dreamed I would go to university. I went to McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario and lived for 2 years in a beautiful residence called Wallingford Hall. (I won’t mention the Quoncet hut  I lived in in first year.) I learned a great deal about English literature and philosophy, and continued to do so at the University of Toronto, almost dreaming spires. So check and check.

I dreamed of going to Europe and seeing Paris and the Greek ruins and the remains of ancient Rome. It helped than my younger brother escaped there and stayed, so I was able to spend long summers there and to return several times.

As it turned out, I got caught up in someone else’s dreams that included a swimming pool and a sail boat. Okay, that seems like fun. I can only say I survived.

I dreamed of a summer home in the low mountains and hills of the Eastern Townships where I was born. Not happening. No one was going to sell to my father’s daughter. But as second prize, I found a vacation home in the much higher mountains of Kern County, California where the wooded slopes breathed pine resin and sighed in the wind.

I am not the sort who dreams of having successful children. Mine succeeded by existing, but, in spite of that, they and my grandsons have achieved excellence in diverse ways.

So what are my dreams now in the winter light of my 83rd year?

Well, I dream that I will someday wrap up the executor work for the estate of that other dreamer (of sail boats and swimming pools), and I am pleased to report that I have only 3 tasks left to complete. One of them, the release of a modest bank account, which money has to be paid to a group of people I have never met, is typical of the frustratingly slow process of executing an estate. (Come back here, Boy, and I’ll give you such a slap upside the head.)

Where would he come back from? Hummm. Well, his after-life seems to be some heavenly school room where he is studying advanced physics with a side of human relations. (Can I refrain from saying ‘which he could use’?)

I’m not sure what mine will be. It will probably be a few millennia before I can stop myself from leaning back toward incarnation to make sure things are going well, not that they ever do. But, I suppose, that’s the whole point. We long and hope, yet the real lesson comes from the unfulfilled dreams, the suffering that polishes us up and fills us with light.

And those little blue birds that flew over the rainbow. My father used to see them as a child. Then they vanished. I found them again one morning as I walked along the golf course fence in Pine Mountain Club. They were singing.

 

 

 

Winter Came: aging in a cold climate

From The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

He (Bruzek) handed it back. Then, with a grimace and a groan, he worked himself into a more upright position.

“Please help me to stand. I would feel much more comfortable speaking to you from behind my desk.”

I took his arm and helped him across the room to a ladder-back chair behind a huge mahogany desk. Behind it was a wall of bookshelves, stuffed full and leaning slightly, as if they might fall at any moment.
p 313 in my overdrive program on my ipad.

I had to recline as Vlacek Bruzek was doing when Bill Cage wound his way up through the antiquarian book store in Prague to ask him questions about spy couriers during the cold war.

I had to recline and pick up Fesperman’s book because I was exhausted. It was 11 a.m. and I was exhausted because the superintendent had called to tell me to move my car for the snow plow. The older woman -only in her late 60s next to my car – was trying in vain to defrost her windows and clear the 8 inches of snow. Fortunately, I had done that the day before and had by now recovered from that exertion.

It’s worth noting that I am so old this woman is solicitous of me.

Twenty minutes later, I had to put on my boots, my furry aviator’s hat and my -30C hooded coat and go back down to relocate my Corolla. (Full disclosure the windchill was only -15, but old bodies are cold bodies.)

That was it. I was barely able to make Masala chai before I had to rest.

I never expected to grow old. Too many close calls and a mother who passed at 58. But here I am, not yet old old. Yes, it’s a thing. In less than 2 more years I will be 85 and old old. My grandmother lived to be 96, so I guess I have to follow a new paradigm.

I suppose I should remind you that if you are lucky, you too will get there. If you’re already there, you know the truth that Leonard Cohen said, ‘You can’t reveal to the innocent youth.’ Part of that truth seems to be that for every half hour of effort it is necessary to rest 30 minutes. I mean I had to go down 13 floors in an elevator, walk 50 yards, get into my car and drive it to Visitors’ parking. How can that be exhausting?

Our bodies all age differently, of course, so perhaps yours is/will be different. If your mind can’t accept that resting routine, you have to numb it down with – preferably -‘stupid’ TV. HGTV works for me, but recently my Bell TV service has been down more than up, so I turned to Fesperson’s books. These are smart books by the way. Whereas I can’t use CNN to rest with, I can use complicated books with good mysteries.

I don’t have many old friends.One, my ex-husband, Blake, passed last March as I have documented in previous blogs. https://115journals.com/2019/03/20/blake-no-more/ My sister Georgia is 6-years younger and just beginning to feel the effort/rest effect. Another friend who is 91 has recently changed dramatically, developing an edge. She was always able to keep me believing she was charming and sweet and cared deeply for me and my loved ones. Then in one single angry outburst laid waste to that idea. Blake had also become irascible in his last days, We all forgave him as we sat beside his bed of pain. Until we had to deal with the twenty years of neglect of home and finances he left behind.

Apparently, we should all assume that our brains are de-myolinating as we age and expect dementia. I’ve got Lion’s Mane mushrooms in capsule on order. fungi.com

An older real estate collapse you don’t even remember in 1995 bumped me out of home ownership. Three years ago, my landlord sold the triplex where I lived on the ground floor in a Toronto neighbourhood I had come to love. Rent increases made it necessary for me to get out of town and at my sister’s encouragement I moved to an apartment in Mississauga. It is warm – often equatorial, even in winter, well-maintained -although the elevators can be chancey, and safe – interlopers are scared of our Shanti in the front office. First responders will be able to stretcher me out and down.

At Blake’s three-story townhouse in Cabbagetown, they had to carry him bodily down the twisty, narrow stairs. He never did get set up with a hospital bed and a potty on the first floor.

So that’s been dealt with. The fact that I really am not a suburb lover can’t matter now. Anyway I am learning to love the sky in all its moods and the distant glimpse of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment where the clouds are different.

According to my mandatory driver assessments, I am able to drive. That could change or it could gradually dawn on me that spending over $500 a month on a car is too much what with the pressure of rent increases and Bell increases. Grocery delivery, Uber and patience may win out.

It’s new territory and Tennyson’s Ulysses has advised me to “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45392/ulysses

 

Blake in the Bardo

Blake as Child #2

Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel by George Saunders has popularized the bardo concept. Lincoln, having been shot to death, spends a single night -spirit-wise – in the graveyard where his son is buried, to the consternation of its ghostly residents.

Eastern religions believe that the soul sojourns in the bardo for 49 days before moving on.

Blake left his body in the middle of March. Initially, and even before his actual last breath, he traveled about a bit, principally to my sister’s home, his ex-sister-in-law’s, where he had attended family parties, including one for his 80th birthday. He always had an eye for my pretty younger sister. See https://115journals.com/2019/03/24/grieving-for-blake-a-ghostly-affair/ and https://115journals.com/2019/03/20/blake-no-more/

He has settled down since then. He doesn’t flit about alarming the living or causing them to throw pillows. He has even given up peering solemnly over my shoulder while I try to sort out his affairs. Possibly, this is because I curse him roundly for not filing a tax return since 2016 or paying Canada Revenue what he owed.

Or maybe he has slunk away because I now owe our mutual bank nearly $9000, borrowed to cover all the expenses that I am not permitted to pay for from the estate until it is settled. I am permitted to use estate money to pay for insurance, the interest on Blake’s line of credit -to the same, rule-making bank, and Ford Credit. I plan to outfox the latter by buying out the contract. More dollars I do not have, but – hey, I’m a great credit risk.

So while I trudge from office to office -bank, real estate, lawyer, post office – clasping his death certificate, his notarized will and my ID, Blake seems to be settling down to bardo instruction. His mentors appear to be small children, mostly boys. Blake was evacuated from England to Canada at the age of 5 to get him out of the way of Hitler’s bombers. His ship was in a convoy, protected by Corvettes, a cargo of British gold at his ship’s secret centre. An earlier shipload of such children had been torpedoed with great loss of young lives. My sister Georgia believes that it is these children who are teaching Blake. I opt, as well, for children who traveled with Blake and survived as he did, but have now passed on. I include my colleague Michael who hung himself one July morning when he was supposed to be doing a group presentation with me at the Ontario College of Education.

These children were orphans of the war, despite the tender care of their Canadian foster parents.

So, Blake sits with the children. In his heart, he was always five years old, always longing to be back on the water, in the water, under the water, always unable to trust his family.

He’s still got a good few days to spend in the bardo, at least until my birthday in early May.

I can’t speak of him in the past tense yet.

But alas, we do speak of him in anger.

First, there was the problem of Alice. I defied the heirs by not pitching her out of the house at once, saying it was too cruel to show up with two cops and a locksmith and tell her to go. (TO HER OWN APARTMENT WHICH BLAKE HAD PAID TO STAND EMPTY FOR 6 YEARS) Of course, I did end up on the front porch with two cops and a locksmith after a decent interval, coaxing her to at least give us access to his papers. Surely, she wanted our co-operation and, for example, his ashes. “I don’t want his ashes,” she snarled. Heads whipped back. Sympathies changed. Documents were handed through a tiny opening between the steel door and the frame. She promised to leave by Sunday midnight. On Monday, with the same patient locksmith, we entered to an impossibly dirty, foul smelling house, but one that no longer looked like a hoarder’s paradise.

Eventually, I collected Blake’s ashes – very heavy, that boy, in spite of how skeletal he had become. Eventually, I passed his earthly remains – in a roundabout way – to Alice. He loved Alice. I tried to honour that.

I thought I was too old at 83 to lift and sort and get soaked to the skin ferrying stuff to Value Village, to battle Toronto rush hour traffic to his downtown house. So, you could say that Blake has taught me that I’m stronger and smarter that I thought I was.

We work in the house without heat – to save money. I wear a winter jacket that used to be off-while. “Is that all from Blake’s house?” asks our son Daniel. “No, I reply, sarcastically. I like wearing filthy clothes.” And I stick my head back in the beautiful fridge, bought on the hottest day last summer, and absolutely never wiped out since. There are swaths of red, sugary spills and orange spills and crusty clear ones. It looks as if they opened the fridge door, stood back several paces and flung uncovered liquid concoctions in for storage.

“Why are you doing this?” Georgia yells, as she wrestles the shelves and crispers out.

“Because….” I yell back. I am kneeling on ceramic tile. My knees are crying. My back is crying. Because, I think, I cannot let the world know what my Blake had sunk to.

He was ill. He was depressed. He was afraid. He had found a perfect woman, one who couldn’t bear to be touched, one who was young and ill-informed and opinionated, -“Are the Beatles dead?” she once inquired. – one who argued and railed and shouted and shut us out of his life for years, who abused us as we tried to clean his room before his grandsons came to say farewell.

But he loved her.

Oh, Bardo Boys….

 

 

 

Grieving for Blake: a ghostly affair

Persistent readers know that I have been documenting the demise of my ex-husband Blake here at 115journals. I’ve told of his remarkable 8-year survival with stage 4 prostate cancer, and lately his decline as he began to lose his grip on his perch. He passed away last Monday.

We have been divorced for forty years. We were married for only nineteen. We had two children, who are themselves middle-aged now. To protect their interests, I agreed to act as his executor. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wasn’t aware that I would be chief mourner and ghost-whisperer as well.

When it comes to Kubler-Ross’s  seven stages of grief, I’m a rapid cycler.

Saturday, I set up a little altar in the loving spirit of letting him go, or to be precise, getting him to go. He had turned up in Georgia’s bedroom at 5:20 a.m. in his hospital gown, trailing his blue hospital blanket, confused but vividly Blake. A few days later, Georgia’s daughter jumped off the floor and screamed as something brushed past her in a doorway. Admonitions to go to the light, to go find Leyla, his second wife, fell on deaf protoplasm, as did a final plea to go find his pet Sheba Inu.

In my place, his presence was more diffuse and business-like. He has left me to file several years of income tax, as well as deal with Alice, his resident gold-digger. On Saturday, that seemed charmingly chivalrous, so I set up an auxiliary shrine on the dining room table. As a Taoist, I keep a family shrine with pictures of my people, past and present, Kwan Yin, the Mother, Buddha and candles. I put a picture of 23-year-old Blake in his graduation gown, his obit, a book of Rumi poetry, a dozen tea-coloured roses, incense, Kwan Yin, Buddha and lit bees wax candles. It was the Saturday after his passing, the day we would have had his funeral if he hadn’t opted out of such ritual. I read him Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star
and one clear call for me
May there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.

Then I got on with my own taxes.

In the evening, I sat down to finish watching The Girl on the Train on Netflix. I had read the book some time ago, and, although I had forgotten it mostly, I knew I hated all three neurotic women and especially the drunken protagonist, who just wouldn’t let up on her ex’s new wife and may have killed her neighbour. About an hour later, my mood had swung from loving a farewell to dear Blake, to get back here: I’ll kill you myself. For my lovely Blake was every bit as good at gas-lighting as Tom, the husband in the story. We – ex-wife, daughter and step-daughter – had compared notes at dinner one February night when the family had travelled from near and far to say goodbye to papa. And he wasn’t beyond blackening each of our names to the others. Then, of course, there was the question of Alice, his latest triumph, 45-years younger, who wouldn’t let us in to see him without a hissy fit, and who had been helping him work his way through the home equity line of credit at a good fast clip.

I repurposed the altar in the name of love and told Blake to get lost.

So here I am, middle of the night, suddenly awake and sobbing with grief. I knew him longer than anyone still extant. I may have loved him best. I certainly hated him best.

He’s gone. I can’t call him up to lament about one ‘child’ or the other. I can’t depend on his caring as much as me. And no, I can’t tell Blake – whatever – anymore.

He believed death was the absolute end. There was nothing after.

In that case, settle down, Boy.

 

Comedy is Easy. Dying is Hard.

We were bird people as a family. Too many allergies for furry creatures. There were usually two budgies in a large cage, with names like Pip and Midjbill. And God help the unlucky child who pulled off the cover to find that one of these beauties had fallen off its perch.

As constant readers know, my ex-husband Blake is about to fall off his perch. https://115journals.com/2019/01/26/go-gentle-or-rage-two-ways-of-saying-g

https://115journals.com/2019/02/08/place-your-phone-in-your-shoe-and-move-forward/

https://115journals.com/2019/02/23/blake-there-on-his-sad-height/

He has had an ample allotment of borrowed time. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer nearly nine years ago, at the same time as his much younger second wife, and has outlived her by eight. Now that time is running out.

I know about living on borrowed time. I am mostly grateful to have had so much of it myself. Mostly, I am grateful, but possibly, like him, I will not consider it ample when the time comes.

Meanwhile, I have a bit part in Blake’s last great adventure. The experience veers between tragedy and farce. There are heart-rending moments, followed by down-the-rabbit-hole moments, involving, for example, shoe phones.

Stories of families gathering before or in the wake of a patriarch’s death have a common theme. Revelation. Family #1 meets family #2 and all is revealed.

We did that on such a brutal winter night that we were the only people in Milestone’s dining room. All three children were beautiful and bright, mine considerably older than the step-daughter and daughter-in-law. Once they got going, trading stories, I had to put my hand up to get a word in. Blake had changed settings, but not much else. “He did that to you too?” was a common refrain.

Since we were all now having to beg permission from his latest live-in lady to visit him we had started out a little testy. Since we had also spent a week trying to clean up the squalor of their home, we were seriously aggrieved. We didn’t want him to spend his last days like that. On the other hand, we didn’t like being screamed at to leave now, nor to contend with Blake’s desperate cries that we didn’t understand.

At least, I concluded from the family revelations that Blake had risked his step-daughter’s life less often than ours as he sailed Sirocco, the red hulled Northern 39. And anyway, we were willing participants in those cross-lake races through 20-ft waves. Or willing to risk our lives for Blake’s approval at any rate.

For a week, a kind of peace descended as Blake’s grandsons sat with him in his third floor sort of clean room.

Then they were gone. Our son Daniel and I found ourselves beside Blake’s hospital bed with his companion Alice, trying to understand proposed treatment and to inject logic into choices. Pretty much to no avail. Blake intended to go back up to his third floor. It would not be possible to equip it with a hospital bed because of the same narrow stairs that had prevented the paramedics from stretchering him down. He had had to walk down with 10/10 pain. But once his hydro-morphone dose was right, he would go back there and if he chose to, he would drive his car. This last decision led to hard feelings. Daniel and I did not agree that persons on opiates with a weakened back bone should drive.

As a result, Blake and Alice slipped out of the hospital last Saturday and ubered home. (Sans driver’s license, which the doctor had had withdrawn.) She watched him climb back up to his eerie. She reckoned he could have a few more weeks there in the company of his cats, warming his creamed soup up in his microwave and snacking on smoothies from his little fridge.

Until. Until the pain got up to 10 again on Sunday and what should she do. And he wouldn’t get off his wet bed so she could change the sheets. And he was cursing the doctors for not getting the pain meds right.

And I was saying, “Call 911!”

I was trying to shop for groceries. It was the second time in 10 days that I had tried to buy groceries while Alice shouted in my ear buds that she couldn’t handle things.

For the next 2 hours, I fielded phone calls -Alice, Daniel, Julia, our California daughter, Georgia, my sister – all of them several times, each call interrupting another. Texts dinging in as we talked. Daniel was about to go over to Blake’s home and call 911 himself when the palliative care nurse arrived at the house. The last I heard, Blake was allowed 2 more short term hydro-morphone when necessary. He hadn’t taken them. He was sitting up, his pain was 0, and the bed was only a little damp under the clean sheets.

The comic who says, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” hasn’t died recently.

 

 

 

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Place Your Phone in Your Shoe and Move Forward

Blake still perching

So Blake had a medical procedure.

Blake, as followers know, is my ex-husband, who has clung to his perch in spite of stage 4 cancer for the past 8 years.

The procedure involved unconsciousness, an expert with a needle and the spine. Enough to make most people break a sweat. Not curative but an aid to strength and pain relief.

At the same time, his far flung family had decided to come visit while he was well enough. Our daughter had arrived the night before the procedure, and his two grandsons are expected next week.

I elected myself driver in spite of the dreadful weather and my own advanced age, on the grounds that Julia had just landed back in Toronto and needed to reacquaint herself with it before she took the wheel. We picked up Blake and his live-in friend/caretaker. The two women bundled him into the front seat beside me, and we headed across Dundas, that narrow, rail-slick street, across Yonge, University and Spadina, through Chinatown to Toronto Western Hospital. I dropped them at the front door and went in search of parking. It proved to be half a mile away down an icy side street. But this was my beloved Blake, so I limped on.

Needless to say, it took all day. Julia and I were used to surgical waits, so we had come equipped, but his friend Alice had not. While the two of us were content to slip into our books, Alice craved conversation. Not even CP 24, divided screen and all, could engross her.

So we made our way through the day. We had fled the pokey day surgery waiting room after Julia discovered the neurological waiting room with its space and comfort and natural light. Eventually, we were allowed back to sit beside our patient. Time passed. Shifts ended. The doctor was paged many times. We did our best to keep Blake’s spirits up. He confessed to feeling depressed. I suffered ever decreasing blood pressure from sitting and dehydration. At the point where I felt as if I needed a gurney myself, he was suddenly released. Julia went off to the lobby to deposit a loonie and get Blake a wheelchair.

Wait! What!

Yes, dear reader. We were not in Valencia nor even Bakersfield anymore. We were in good old Canader where you don’t get a hospital bill but you do have to pitch in.

I reversed my slippery walk, paid $25 for parking, wended my way down snow-filled one way streets and arrived back at the covered entrance. And waited. And waited. And waited. And had horns blown at me. And waited.

Then Alice called. Blake’s phone was missing. I hadn’t seen his phone. Alice hadn’t seen his phone nor had Julia. But Blake swore he had put it in his shoe, which he and Julia had locked up with the rest of his clothes. When they came back to post-op, I sat beside these shoes, 10 1/2 white trainers with velcro fasteners. I had not seen a phone in either one. So – God forgive us – we told him it must be at home. Well, they told him, because he adamantly refused to be wheeled out of the lobby and I was still deep- breathing while blocking traffic.

Both Julia and Alice called his phone repeatedly while Julia raced back up to Day Surgery and searched. Everywhere. No ringing cell phone to be found.

When Julia wrestled him back into the car, Blake was spitting mad at the three women who were calling him demented and he unafraid to express it.

But it’s an old phone that needs to be replaced and surely he – a computer expert – had backed it up. No, he hadn’t. His life was lost.

I wound my snowy way down the back streets and out into the rush hour traffic and construction of an ever darker, wetter Dundas St. Voices were raised.

At last, I found my way down to Schuter so that I could turn back north onto Blake’s one-way street. I heaved the car up over a snow berm and sat there, while Julia levered Blake out of the car. I was breathing deeply when the dashboard indicated an incoming call. From Blake’s phone. Ah, we were right! It had been at home all along.

But no, dear reader.

Upon entering the house, Alice began calling Blake’s phone. Blake was sitting on the stairs. Alice was up on the landing. Julia was just inside the door. They listened to the ringing. It seemed very close. It was Julia who worked it out.

“Your foot is ringing,” she said.

They began to pry off his right shoe. As it came loose, it glowed bluely deep within.

Go Gentle or Rage: two ways of saying good night

And you, my father, there on that sad height
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Many people visit this blog –115journals.com – for one reason to get some help understanding Eleanor Catton’s enigmatic novel, The Luminairies. Ms. Catton has not expressed an opinion on my interpretation, and if she decided to do so now, I would probably not get it, just as I can no longer answer questions about the book itself. https://115journals.com/2018/09/08/what-i-once-knew-anglo-saxon-algebra-and-the-luminaries/

Others of the 300 followers catch more recent posts in their Reader or by email. Some have become familiar with my family and its ups and downs. The cast of characters include my sister Georgia here in the western suburb of Toronto and her tribe of children, my Brussels’ brother, my California daughter – she of the differential diagnosis, https://115journals.com/2018/11/08/all-is-well-differential-diagnosis/ and, of course, Blake, my ex-husband. https://115journals.com/2018/09/07/good-eggs-john-burt-and-me/

The bottom line is that Blake’s losing his grip on his perch.

Blake still perching

Returning from my recent sojourn in the Kern County Mountains of Southern California, I found him mostly confined to his third floor bedroom in downtown Toronto. It had come on him suddenly, he confided. He hadn’t had time to see to things, do that Swedish death-cleaning thing, for example.

It’s a religion to me, constantly weeding my possessions, my unworn clothes, books I no longer read, geegaws that never see the light of day, papers. I spent a morning shredding as I tried to get oriented back into my life here in Mississauga.

Blake mentioned this because he is going to leave me, his executor, to deal with a house crammed full of stuff.

I refrained from pointing out that he had had stage 4 cancer since 2010. On the other hand, he had been sailing and cruising and zip-lining through jungles and zooming down water slides until this last summer. And he has always expressed the desire to live forever. He has that optimistic turn of mind.

It appalls me. But then I have grown old in spite of that. https://115journals.com/2018/12/27/when-i-get-older-the-hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed-out/

Turns out, he’s been so busy and then so suddenly sick that he now needs a small army of relatives to clear enough space and clean enough space for him to enjoy what’s left of his time on his perch. The troops are rallying. Just don’t suggest cleaning crews. It’s more piecemeal and personal. “What is this pile?” is the current question. Could be important. Could be wash.

Then there’s the pup, a sheba inu. “Say goodbye to her,” Blake advised, implying she might be gone next time.. I thought to myself, “I said hello and  got no sign of life.” I bent down to bid the pup farewell.

Today we got the vacuum working and took up the worst of the animal hair and the autumn leaves and pet food around the bedroom. (Yes, there is a balcony.) We changed the sheets. Do many people store their sheets in tightly wound balls in linen cupboards?

Our son Daniel has pledged to install a grab rail over the tub/shower and hand rails on the steep, narrow stairs.

Our daughter and our younger grandson plan to fly out of LAX as soon as his expedited passport comes through.

Blake’s step-daughter beat us all by getting there last week and pledges to carry her weight.

Blake is very grateful to me and happy when my brother Facetimes from Belgium, but he is grumpy with his companion. He was only moderately pleased when the U.S shutdown ended today. He would be happy if only he could outlive Trump’s reign, which he sees as a threat to the world order established by the Second War, his war, the war he was refugee-ed out of at the age of 5, without parents.

In our 25 years together we were intellectual snobs. Orphaned and outsiders, we said, “Living well was the best revenge.” Then after Europe and the energy crisis, “Eating well is the best revenge.” In the 40 years since we parted, our paths diverged apparently.

I said earlier in the week, you’re going to get to go home. You haven’t been home for a long time. No, he didn’t believe that. Dead was dead. “And you a physicist!” I said. “A physicist who believes that all this loving energy can be destroyed?” “Well,” he allowed, “it is an unbelievable miracle that the human race evolved out of nothing.” “I always thought that about our children,” I said. “They came out of nothing but love.”

They are still coming, fourth generation beings who will carry us into 2100.

The One Thing You Must Never Forget to Do: contradicting despair

The Talmud tells us, You are not obligated/ to complete the work/but neither are you free/to abandon it.

The poet Rumi tells us, There is one thing in the world you must never forget to do.

Aunt Mae told me, Joycey don’t take it so to heart. She said there were millions of people of goodwill and they were all working hard. Then she cackled her uproarious laughter, she who could see the future and pronounce, “It ain’t much.” no matter the disaster. But then she said the same about death itself.

So now I near the end of my time here in the California mountains with Patient # 1 and Patient #2. https://115journals.com/2018/12/04/what-the-candle-said-caring-and-melting/ Both declare they are well and self-sufficient. One is certainly on her way there, but the other is probably on a down-bound train. No matter, I have my marching orders.

As I prepare to take up my own life again, I am doing what Mae said not to. Taking it all to heart. Taking myself too seriously. Midnight, i.e. 3 a.m., January 1, 2019, found me sleepless and full of grief and self-loathing. What did I have to show for my effort and expense? The feedback had not been encouraging. And I was as tired as an 82-year-old awake on top of a dark mountain in the bleak mid winter.

I know that the wise drag their wisdom up out of the darkness. I have watched my dear Patient #1 do this literally, coming back from unconsciousness many times, one a particularly long and perilous journey. I have done so myself. And, my elderly friend, Patient #2, is facing it daily, as age limits her senses and her scope of activity.

I have written about my grandmother in her old age wondering why she was still here. https://115journals.com/2018/12/27/when-i-get-older-the-hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed-out/ For two months, I have not had cause to question that. I was here to help. I always knew I had to stay alive in case of contingency. I’m not sure how many more contingencies I have left in me, but then I could have sworn I didn’t have the wherewithal for this one either.

My life on the 14th floor in a Toronto suburb feels distant and unreal, the desk in front the floor to ceiling window, a writer’s desk, the walls vivid with my sister’s paintings, the bedroom, curtained and warm where books wait to be read, the little kitchen where alchemy occurs. The silence.

All those shortened lines of energy, the physical bonds that are so present here will have to stretch across a continent. Technology makes it easier.

At first, I will have to catch up on all those appointments I cancelled in October and go gathering and hunting to fill the fridge. I’ll have to relearn how to sleep in a light-filled city. For a while, I will have to be Patient #3. She needs my help.

                     

When I Get Older-: the hundred year old man who climbed out…

It was 1967 and like all good Canadians, my husband and I had set out to show our 100- year-old country to our young children. We were on our way back from the east coast when we stopped at my grandparents’ farm is Quebec. The next afternoon, we got a call on the party line: could my 33-yr-old husband go up to my great aunt’s farm to help get the last load of hay in before the threatening storm broke. He set off, eager to give himself a workout after days of driving.

While we were eating supper a few hours later, he burst through the door from the woodshed. “You’d never believe it,” he cried. “There was an 88-yr-old woman driving the tractor. A 78-yr-old woman up on the hay wagon and a 71-yr-old man pitching the hay up.”

We turned to stare in incomprehension. Yes, and …

That was my grandmother’s sister, Eva, driving, not an actual tractor, but an very old stripped down Ford pickup, my other grandmother’s sister, Betsy, building the load and her husband, Ralph, pitching up. They hayed every year. Evidently, an outsider regarded such work as beyond the elderly.

I never worried about having to work hard when I got old. I never expected to get old. I almost exited when I was two weeks old, and again when I was starting school at six. That was only the beginning of my almost ends. Then, suddenly, I woke up one day to discover that I was almost as old as Aunt Eva, the tractor driver. The young husband, no longer mine, was even closer to Eva’s age. What’s more I found myself in the unlikely role of caregiver to a 90-yr-old friend. When she handed me a beat-up copy of Jonas Jonasson’s novel, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, she said, “I couldn’t get into it.”

The hundred-year-old man is Allan Karlson, a Swede – the novel is translated – who was born in 1905.

My grandmother, Eva’s sister, was born in 1900, and much to her chagrin, she lived to be 96. For at least 20 years, she went about wondering out loud why she was still here. I found this alarming, but I couldn’t convey to her how she was the center of the world for me, and, I suspected for all the other grandchildren she was so fond of enumerating. Not having her would be like not having the earth’s axis.

She lived within the same ten square miles her entire life. She never traveled farther away than 500 hundred miles. She had five children, three of them were born after me, her first grandchild, and two of these were twins. When she was already a grandmother, she had three babies. Diapers had to be washed then. She had no electricity, a tin tub with a wash board and only a clothes line for drying. Or – when she got desperate – she hung the damned things over the wood stove.

Allan Karlson, the Jonasson’s hero, who lived to be 100, had a much more exciting life. At the age of 10, he went to work in a nitroglycerine factory and taught himself to be an explosives expert. So much so, that he ended up helping out, in a strictly informal if significant way, at Las Alamos. He had already met General Franco in the Spanish Civil War before he met Harry Truman on the day President Roosevelt died. He went on to meet Churchill, de Gaulle, LBJ, Stalin, among other heads of state, and to intervene, however inadvertently, at crucial points in history. He learned many languages, spent long periods in various prison camps, walked across the Himalayas and blew things up just to be helpful. In short, he had the fabulous adventures that only a character in a satire can have. On the last page – spoiler alert – he finally overcomes the forced castration he suffered in his 20s.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who... is the work of a vivid and quirky imagination but it also contains insight: “The following spring he would be seventy-eight, and Allan realized that he had gotten old against all odds and without having thought about it.”

Exactly.

Meanwhile, my ninety-year-old friend has had her car keys confiscated. I’m pretty sure she had been driving for awhile with no idea of which dial was the speedometer. She is not happy to have her independence curtailed. Me neither. Everyday, I find myself driving her wherever her whim takes us. My dear friend with her sparkling blue eyes and her ready wit has to have me identify friends we meet in our forays, and all our conversations are conducted at the top of my lungs. Don’t talk about hearing aids, please. They are tiny, the batteries are impossible to change and they have feedback. She dreads the loss of her short term memory. Too late.

My once young husband has run through every treatment for his stage 4 cancer in the last ten years, and reports that he is unaccountably tired. He speculates that he may have to give up flying to Miami for Caribbean cruises or at least stop zip-lining in ports of call.

I have never been robust (see exit above). Unlike my friend and my ex-husband, I have spent my life not feeling up to par. I have numerous vertical and horizontal scars. I have to eat carefully, exercise carefully and rest half of every day. Yet here I am, completely unfit for the task, but still pitching hay.

What the Candle Said: caring and melting

I am reposting this a year later because I finally get it – a great liberating acceptance of what seemed like suffering and loss.

A candle as it diminishes
explains, Gathering more and more is not the way.
Burn, become light and heat and help. Melt.

Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks ‘Light over this Plain”

The candle gives good advice. Surely, such advice needs to be treated seriously, not ironically. Easy enough to post. Might even help somebody on her way. And there’s even a free candle picture to pretty things up.

But then – gaaaaaa – you find yourself screaming, “I’m melting! I’m melting!” like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with a bucket of water.

Age was melting me before I undertook this project. For the last four years, I have paid a younger woman to clean my apartment every two weeks, first Teresa and then Louisa. I could have been Teresa’s mother and Louisa’s grandmother, but these women brought not only their Portuguese cleaning skills – lots of vinegar and elbow grease – but also their warmth. They looked out for me.

Then I got the call. Invalid 1 was immobilized by pain and might or might not be mortally ill. What’s more Invalid 1 had assumed the care of Invalid 2 during the summer. Although she is in good health, Invalid 2 is even older than me and about to become a nonagenarian.

We’re short on available help as most families are these days. In my day, as we oldsters say, there were spare spinsters about the place, who would come and sleep in the single bed or on the couch and take on the nursing and housework. Not an unattached auntie to be found in our case, not even a biddable if somewhat challenged cousin. Moreover, we are scattered across the continent and those of us in healthcare are gainfully employed.

So I sallied forth. I flew out the next day (115journals.com/2018/10/24/mother-on-broomstick-celebrates-legal-weed/). Like many other mothers, I had already had practice answering such calls. I picture these mothers driving alone in cars, on planes, on charabancs, on buses and trains, sharing space with life stock when necessary, beating a path toward the need.

Invalid 1, my daughter, had been making the shorter trip to Invalid 2, her mother-in-law, daily, for several months and she had developed a real knack for it. She sort of sank into the whole experience. Patience wasn’t even required anymore. It took as long as it took, getting the house in order, checking the fridge for spoilage, making lunch, sitting and listening to the older woman, watching Dr, Phil at 3 o’clock.

Too bad this zen-like helper was now bedridden and had become the lump on the couch, as I affectionately called her.

For the first while, I saw my main task as taking care of her. Her mother-in-law, meanwhile drew on her own strength to manage better than we thought possible.

As time passed, my daughter’s diagnosis became clearer. (115journals.com/2018/11/08/all-is-well-differential-diagnosis/) and surgery got her on her feet. In little more than a week, she was back looking after Other Mom, while I watched in awe. And yes, she got what the candle was saying.

Me? I am melting. My share of the duties doesn’t seem onerous. I don’t even have to cook. Hubby does that. I do the wash and try to keep the place moderately clean. I go to appointments with her – she has to have a second surgery. I used to do all these jobs, work a full day and even give the occasional nod to my children. It’s humbling to take measure of my diminished ability.

The thing is, as soon as I arrived, even though she thought she had a dire diagnosis, she began to laugh. She was better just because I came.

And that is what love is after all. You give what you can. If there’s nothing left, you’re all the better for it.