Friends During Quarantine

I had a hankering for egg salad. Who knows why. Maybe it’s because I thought it was the advent of spring, even though it was 50 degrees outside? Maybe because I was nostalgic for Sunday afternoons of my childhood?

I read the recipe carefully. “Boil a large pot of water and carefully lower the eggs into the water, making sure the shells don’t crack.” Well, goodness. the first two eggs into the pot of water cracked. Now what?

As I pulled the eggs out of the boiling water and doused them in ice water, I laughed at the two cracked eggs. One had a mustache and one had a toupee. And I couldn’t bring myself to crack them (more), because of the dynamic conversations that they were having. At some point, I’ll eat them. But for now, they’re great companions. Cracked Eggs.jpg

Thankful for a pandemic

I’m not quite sure how to process this.Today was one of the happiest days in memory.

I realize that the world is in a horrible state. We’re sheltering in place, worried about a disease that is spreading at unprecedented rates. I haven’t had in-person connection for almost two months. There are so many uncertainties.

And yet, I am so happy.

I woke up without setting an alarm, something that is a rare luxury. I meditated, knowing that I wasn’t racing against time, that I could stay in that state for as long, or for as little, as I wanted. I talked to Mom, the same incomprehensible conversation about a man planting a tree for her, six times today. I am so thankful that I’ve learned not to care about the truth, and learned instead to care about connection and laughter. I cooked a new fish curry recipe that turned out surprisingly delicious. I made a beautiful salad with nasturtiums. I joined my San Francisco Glide Zoom service, and clapped and danced and hallelujahed. I sat on the porch, sipping iced tea doing the NY Times crossword for an hour and a half. I completed it successfully; the first time this year! I laughed when I was shown a congratulations message for a 1 day streak. That’s not a streak; that’s a first. I discovered words in the NYT Spelling Bee app and reached the genius level. I closed my eyes and felt the warm winds meet my face as I swung in the swing that prompted me to buy this house. In July 2017, I climbed the 20 steps from the street to the porch, saw the porch swing, swang in it, and declared, “This is my house.” I sat swinging today, thinking that may have been the best decision I’ve made in my life. I came inside and precisely cut material for masks. I had forgotten how much I loved sewing. I love measuring the patten, cutting to the precise 1/8”. I love feeding the material through the machine, stitches even, cutting threads to the quick. I love assembling cloths I bargained for in Zambia markets, in Indonesian markets, in Indian markets. Thinking I would make dresses, and fabric sitting 20 years in a trunk. Pulling them out, knowing this was the best use of fabrics bought eons ago. Listening to jazz and Motown on Pandora. Singing along, imagining my life as a back-up singer, wearing a short fringed dress and shaking a tambourine. And then joining a book club by Zoom, recently reunited, of friends from the year 2000, when we were bright-eyed and new to San Francisco. Unlike in-person books clubs, where the book is rarely mentioned, we discussed the plot, character development, author choices. Another Zoom call, discussing a class we’ve taken online. Another FaceTime call with a long-time friend.

So thankful for connections. So thankful for time. So thankful for choices that have brought me here. And, strangely enough, thankful for this pandemic that has invited me to examine what is important. And what is not.

Pandemic Surprises

One of the things that I’ve loved about this pandemic is porch surprises – both given and received. It’s a delight to drop something off on someone’s porch and text them, “Surprise waiting for you on the bench outside your door next to your rain boots!” or “Enjoy what’s in the brown paper bag on your porch!” And equally delightful to receive a similar message. I received a message saying there was a piece of funfetti cake on my porch (and who doesn’t love brightly colored cake with sprinkles?!?) and was delighted to be able to talk to the givers from a distance, because I immediately ran out to fetch the said slice of cake.

I’m taking a class on the science of well being. One of the ways to increase happiness is to interrupt it, so that you don’t get used to it (hedonistic adaptation), and then you can have multiple instances of happiness. I thought about this when I took a first bite of the cake. It was so good! I can’t remember when I last had cake. Gosh. The sweetness. The sugaryness. The crunch of the colorful sprinkles on the icing. I thought about the principles I had learned about happiness. I told myself I’d have just one more bite, then save the rest for later. And I had one more bite. And one more. And one more. And then I ate the whole thing. And I was pretty darn happy.

Funfetti Cake

I forget to take a picture until it was gone…

New Life, Gone

On Saturday morning, I went to the porch to sweep it off and to set out the basket of granola bars and packets of nuts for delivery folks. The little wren flew out of her nest when I opened the door, and I quickly did what I needed to do, then went inside and closed the door. I stood out of site and waited the two minutes that it normally takes her to return to the nest. Sure enough, she did, and I watched as she nestled into her home, hidden from site once again. I felt so lucky that she had chosen to build her nest there and that I was witness to it.

Around noon, I peeked out the door to see if the mail had come. I noticed something on the table below the nest. What was that?

I slowly opened the door, and moved closer. No. NO. NO!

Two cracked eggs were on the table below the nest, yolks spreading across the table laden with pollen. I stood on a chair and peeked inside the nest. All the eggs were gone. The little wren was nowhere to be seen or heard.

I held out a glimmer of hope that the chicks had hatched, and miraculously left the nest already. A quick Google search confirmed that was impossible and the most likely culprit was a predator – a blue jay, a snake, a raccoon, honestly, any critter.

The tears began streaming down my face as I cleaned up the mess. I went inside and continued crying. The tears were for the mother wren. But also for the loss of hope. And for the loss of what used to be normalcy. And for all the other times that I had felt like crying, but hadn’t.

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New Life

I opened the door and started walking across the porch to sit in the swing. I saw something coming at my face from the corner of my eye and ducked. It was a tiny wren, and it had come out of the nest in the Christmas wreath hanging on the outside wall. I moved closer (but not too close) and peered into the nest. There were eggs!!!! At least four, maybe more. I was delighted! And then regretted interrupting the little wren. I went back inside, closed the screen door, but left the front door open and waited. The wren came back to the nest, nestled inside, then poked her head out and looked all around. I stood perfectly still until she retreated into the nest, and then walked into the house. I can’t wait to hear baby chirps soon! eggs.jpg

A Letter to Dad

Today marks one year since Dad passed away. In some ways, it feels like yesterday that we were in the ICU, holding his hand, talking to him and praying as he was taken off life support. And in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. There have been so many moments this year that I’ve wanted to talk to him, or tell him “I love you,” or seek his advice, or give him a hug. For fifty years he was my biggest cheerleader, my rock, my support.

I predicted today might be emotional (and yes, there were many tears) so I took the day off work. Months ago, my grief counselor recommended I think about how I wanted to spend the day. What I wanted to do was spend the whole day on the mountain, wandering in the woods, then having a nice dinner with Mom and we could share our favorite memories. And maybe that will happen next year. When shelter in place orders were given, I thought, “Well, I anticipate I’ll be pretty teary, I might as well spend the day unpacking some of the boxes I haven’t gotten around to and going through all the files.” (Note: In hindsight, this wasn’t really the best way to spend the day.)

For the year since his death, I’ve been plagued with nightmares that I didn’t tell him everything I needed to. Did he know how much I loved him? Did he realize how much his guidance had influenced me? Did he know how much I respected him? I know that he knew I loved him. We said it all the time. We were affectionate. We hugged each other before bed, and said, “I love you; see you tomorrow!” But did he really know what that meant? I would wake up in a cold sweat, screaming, worried that things were left unsaid.

On December 26, 2018, I boarded a plane for Bogotá, Colombia, to visit friends and celebrate New Year’s with them. I had spent the prior week with Mom and Dad, and Dad wasn’t feeling great and refused to go to the doctor. I remembered writing him a heart felt Christmas card (more like a Christmas letter) and leaving it on his desk. When I arrived to Bogotá, I learned after I left he had gone to the ER and had been admitted. I re-booked my return flight to come home early and went straight to the hospital. That was the beginning of the four and a half month journey, ending with his passing on April 14, 2019.

I never knew if he read the letter, as it sounded like they went to the ER shortly after I left. Once back, I asked him why he waited to go to the ER, and he said he knew that I wouldn’t go to Bogotá if he wasn’t well (which is true) and it was important to nourish relationships.

And today, as I was clearing boxes, I found the card/letter I had written, tucked into his day planner. The envelope appeared to have been torn open hastily, it wasn’t the neat slit that was the mark of bills and letters in their household. I re-read the letter, and understood that he knew.

Dear Dad,

I love you so much and I can’t imagine a life without you in it. It’s been so hard to see you in pain and I wish there were something I could do to ease the pain and discomfort that you’ve been feeling. And now I worry that I haven’t told you everything that you need to know – that I love you dearly. That I aspire to be like you – selfless, compassionate, and loving. You’ve been such a sounding board throughout my life – helping me with both minor and major decisions. Your guidance has turned me into the writer I am – one who loves the craft. I admire your patience with mom, and how much love and care you shower her with. I admire your quest for justice and your commitment to equality. I love how you’ve crafted a life that is extraordinary for both you and mom. I love how open you are to learning and curious about the world. It’s been one of my joys to travel with you and mom as an adult. I think fondly about how we rode camels in Egypt, how we navigated through the Seoul subways, how we walked along the Great Wall in China and then ate the soup where we had to crumble our own crackers. And celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary in Vienna was such a treat. It really was magical wandering from market to market, watching the snow fall gently (and not so gently), and listening to the music. You’ve been the best dad – there’s nothing I would have changed, even if I could. Whenever friends and colleagues meet you, they comment on how lucky I am – and it’s true. 

I love you so much, 
Lori

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A Very Good Day

I went to Mom’s to refill her pill boxes (her caretaker, Gloria, isn’t allowed to dispense medicine, only remind Mom to take it). Gloria brings all the medicine and pillboxes down to my car (which I’ve Cloroxed repeatedly) in a plastic bag, I refill the boxes, Clorox everything I’ve touched, and she takes them back up to Mom’s. Today I asked Gloria to have Mom come to her balcony.

Mom initially looked out into the distance, and I, three floors down shouted, “Here! Mom! I’m here!” She eventually saw me, we waved at each other, and we tried to talk, but Mom couldn’t hear me because she won’t wear her hearing aids. I yelled louder, then realized it was futile, so we blew kisses instead. And she smiled. And I attempted to take a selfie of us, because I realize we have so few pictures together, and got a portion of my forehead, and her smiling. And it was a good day.

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A Flood of Fears

I’ve reflected a lot on why yesterday’s conversation with Mom upset me so much. The most obvious; Mom was disappointed and I was the cause of that disappointment. That never feels great as a child, and that’s my Achilles Heel. It didn’t matter that I actually can’t do what she was expecting. In her Alzheimer’s mind, it was Saturday, and that’s the day that we go out (which has been the case for almost a year). I don’t know why she remembered this yesterday, and not any of the other Saturdays this month I haven’t been able to see her, and I’m grateful she’s only remembered once.

Yesterday was one year to the day of me getting ready to leave for Charleston, and Mom came and sat on my bed and quietly said, “I think Dad is hurting.” (Mom and Dad called each other that when speaking to any of the children). I rushed into their bedroom. It was the one-year anniversary of my only time ever calling 911. And silently begging the paramedics to hurry. And asking the ER doctors if the infection they discovered could be fatal. And breathing a sigh of relief when they said, “No, it’s a routine infection in dialysis patients; we just need to get him on the right antibiotics.” (They were incorrect; it was fatal.)

For the past 363 days, the words of someone (I’m not sure who – a social worker? the ICU nurse? An assisted living facility director? Her doctor?) have constantly sat at the back of my mind. “Statistically speaking, your Mom will likely die within the next year. When someone spends that long with a partner (60 years in their case), it’s common for them to die of heartbreak.”

I’ve been rooting for Mom to hang in there. We’re almost at the year mark. I realize it’s a silly wish; people die when they die. Her making it to Tuesday will not buy her any more time beyond that.

And when she asked me how long it would be like this, my own fears were suddenly exposed. I don’t know how long it will be like this and up until that point I had done pretty well of staying in the moment and focusing on what was true right now. With her question, all those questions I hadn’t allowed myself to ask came flooding over me: Will I ever see her again? Will she suddenly pass away and I won’t be there like I was with Dad? Will she die alone? Will she know that she is loved, even though she’s alone? Will she ever understand that I would be there if I could be, but I can’t?

And, that’s why I couldn’t stop crying.

 

A Very Bad Day

Her voice choked and I could tell she was crying. “I really thought you were going to come visit me today. I was waiting for you to come.”

My heart dropped. That was what I wanted, too.  And I know how emotions spread, so I tried to remain calm as I explained, “Mom, I’m not allowed to come there anymore.”

“Why?”

“Because of the virus. They’re trying to keep everyone safe. Visitors aren’t allowed; they don’t want anyone bringing in germs.”

“Well, I’ll just leave.”

“You can’t do that, either, Mom. Everyone has to stay at home. I miss you so much, Mom.”

“Well, how long will it be this way?”

And this is where I had to swallow the sobs that were rolling from my gut, through my chest, and stuck in my throat.

My  voice trembled as I said, “I don’t know, Mom. It’s already been several weeks, it might be several more. It just depends on how long the virus lasts. They’re trying to keep everyone safe.”

“This is a very bad day.”