A Legacy; A Quilt

fullsizeoutput_1557

I still feel nauseous when I think about it.

Two years ago, when my mom died, the assisted living facility where she lived gave me 30 days to pack her belongings and move them out of her small apartment. As much as it seemed like 30 days was a long time, it wasn’t. As we had relocated to New England from Florida, a few months prior, some boxes remained unpacked as we struggled with the transition. I felt like I had completely lost my sense of “home” and couldn’t imagine how, at 86, she must have felt during this challenging transition.

But I realized I just needed to stay in her room at the assisted living place and finish everything while we also planned a memorial service for her and my dad. Some boxes were easy. Sometimes, I knew immediately what to keep and what to donate. Other times, when I would open a closet or a drawer or look at a picture, I felt the immense sorrow and grief that went with missing mom.

Every time I opened the door to her closet and looked at her clothes, I felt sick. My sadness went on for another week and became more uncomfortable until I knew I had to do something because I was running out of time.

I took all of her clothes out of the closet and separated the ones I could donate from the ones I knew I needed to keep because of all of the memories they carried with them. Slowly and meticulously, I went through piles and piles of clothes.

When people die, I heard that there are websites listed on the internet where you can make quilts out of clothes. As I skimmed from site to site looking, they all seemed robotic and impersonal. When I told one of the staff members at the assisted living place that I was thinking about this, she said: “I have a relative who makes quilts.. all by hand.. they’re beautiful; let me ask her”.

A few days later, she returned with a phone number and said, “she hasn’t made a lot of quilts but would be willing to help you; just call her.”

So as I sat on mom’s bed among the piles of clothes, I called her and introduced myself and asked her about her willingness to help me with a quilt. She agreed and told me about the quilts she would be able to make and asked: “are her clothes dark colors?”.

I looked around at the piles of (mostly) shirts alongside me. “No,” I told her, “there are mostly bright colors; mom loved bright colors.” I hadn’t realized how bright the colors were, or how distinct some of the patterns were. But as I looked at them, my memories came flooding back. I saw the shirt she had on when we sat on the back deck of the boat cooking dinner as we looked out over the harbor in Block Island, and then one she was wearing more recently when we cruised around the neighborhood in our golf cart in Florida. I saw the one she was wearing when we sat together on a bench eating lunch as we looked out over the intercoastal waterway watching the dolphins. That shirt was a “must-have” in the quilt because of how beautiful that day was. Looking at the pile of clothes and remembering those days, I realized that, as sad as I felt, everything would eventually be okay. I wasn’t sure, I felt a little better, but I still really missed mom.

Mom and I with the “must have” shirt that I needed to have included into her quilt because of how wonderful this day was. The day I taught her how to take a “selfie” – best day ever!

“What should I do with the remainder of the clothes that I use or the ones that I don’t?” she asked. “Keep them,” I said definitively. I couldn’t explain why but the thought of some of mom’s bright colors going into making a quilt for another person – another family, seemed like a perfect idea.

Aristotle once said “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” I felt that spreading all of the bright and dark materials, colors, and textures that mom wore broadened the perspective she brought to us all. When I ended my conversation with my new quilter friend, the intense sadness I felt became a little more manageable.

A friend had told me about a “fluff and fold” place about a mile away, so the next morning, I filled two large duffle bags with the clothes for the quilts and dropped them off. A few days later, when they were ready, I took them to FedEx and sent them to my new favorite Quilter in Virginia.

There were only two additional emails from the Quilter which followed our initial call. When she asked about an idea for a pattern, I sent her a photo I had of a quilt that mom’s grandmother had made for her. When we discussed size, I told her that a 60-inch by 60-inch quilt would be perfect and asked if she could make two of them, one for my brother and one for myself. I also told her to take her time as I wasn’t in a rush and knew that our loss’s most difficult memories were in good hands.

Six months later, I received an email informing me that our quilts were ready and on their way to my home in New Hampshire.

“I hope you like them,” she wrote.

Since sending her the two duffle bags of clothes, I had consistently thought the day I received them would be like Christmas morning. I knew I would receive a beautiful gift but had no idea how they would look.

They would be sent by a woman I’ve never met, who had agreed to preserve the legacy of someone she has never met whom I loved very much. Sometimes the world is impressive.

The quilts arrived in October. It was precisely like Christmas morning, and I couldn’t help but stare at them because of how beautiful they were (and are). I took pictures and sent them to friends as I was so impressed with the result. The hand stitching was lovely, as was the juxtaposition of color and texture in the materials used.

I told one of my friends, “it feels like I’m looking at a legacy in color and texture.” I remembered that poem, “The Dash,” about the quality of your life from when you are born until the time you die but in the form of the colors, textures, and fabric we wear.

When I think of all of the decisions I’ve made since mom died, having our two quilts made is one I will never regret. I challenge you to consider where your thoughts go the next time someone mentions the importance of “living your dash.” If you’re like me, maybe the subsequent thoughts you have will be more related to colors, texture, and the time you had that shirt on when you did that thing that you remember because it was such a great time.

Live your life; foster your legacy.

5:00am Wake Up Call

This photo was taken at around 5:00 in the morning in the summer of 2009. We (Mom and Dad who are sound asleep in the v-birth up forward) and I are on the boat in New Harbor, Block Island. Trey has decided that every morning he is going to wake up (around 4 and jump on my bunk because he wants to go outside to circumnavigate and perform a full inspection of the boat before anyone else wakes up).

The glitch here (and every morning that he does this) is that it’s very hard to open the sliders on the back of the boat without waking anyone else up. You sort of have to lift them – and then slide quietly to give Trey the space he needs – and then keep an eye on him because he’s walking around the boat without his little kitty life jacket on.

If all goes according to plan – Mom and Dad will remain asleep until (about an hour from this time) – Mr “Andiamo…Andiamooooh!” Aldo’s bakery delivery service – will come singing loudly in his boat while he delivers fresh baked goods to everyone anchored in da hahbah. This is the point he (loud singing guy who is somehow related to Aldo) will wake up dad who will mumble “oh jeez – that guy” and thus our day will begin.

I miss those days – and the challenge of keeping everything quiet until this point knowing that with Trey, all bets were usually off.

The Beach House – Anna Maria Island

The View at Beach House Restaurant

I think God works in mysterious ways. We went to the Sandbar for dinner a few nights ago and were told there was a two hour wait. We drove to the Beach House (where the picture on the beach above was taken – from the deck of the restaurant) and waited for only 30 minutes. I thought the discrepancy between the two restaurants was interesting as they both have really exceptional food.

Then I thought about the last time I was at each restaurant. Mom and I were at the Sandbar about two years ago. She had had a doctors appointment and we went for lunch afterwards. It was a hot day but we sat outside at one of the tables in the sand under an umbrella and had a wonderful meal.

At around 2p I said to her “we should go” as it was close to the time she usually took a nap. “No, we don’t have to” she said “we can sit here a little longer.” Sitting there watching my 85 y/o mom in the sun enjoying the beach in the background brought me back to my childhood when we spent many summer days at 2nd and 3rd beach back home in Rhode Island with our closest friends. It was like that – a wonderful summer day with mom looking really happy as she wiggled her toes in the sand while sipping on her iced tea.

The last time we were at the Beach House was a few years before that when Dad was still alive. The four of us went out for dinner (I think it was close to a time when I was flying back to Maryland and we wanted to have one last night out). Like a few nights ago, we sat outside on the deck – but back then, we were a family. I had my camera and wanted a family picture of the 4 of us – which the waiter agreed to take. It was the last family photo we had taken.

So as we sat there the other night watching that beautiful sunset, I heard the woman behind me say “We should get a picture of the three kids”. I turned around and asked her “can I take a picture of all of you?” to which she said “certainly – but we need our other son and he’s at the bar”. At that point our buzzer thing went off and she said “don’t worry, go have a nice dinner” but I said “if I see him, I’m coming back!” Sure enough he walked by our table and back to where his family was sitting so I walked over and said “okay – let’s go”. The 7 of them – mom and dad, their three children and their partners stood together with that beautiful Florida sunset in the background as I took their picture and encouraged them to “scrunch!” – which they gladly did. They thanked me and I went back to our table to have dinner. – Retrospectively I think Dad sent us to the Beach House to “pay forward” our family photo.

As I looked over at the 7 of them enjoying their dinner and each others’ presence, I thought about how quickly life can change – as it did for our family so many years ago. One day we’re having a great dinner together and then Dad’s 25 year battle with cancer worsens. Mom’s ascending aortic aneurysm grows and shortly after celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary, dad loses his battle with cancer and 3 years after that mom dies from pneumonia. So many of her friends – and her Cardiologist all said “thankfully it wasn’t the aneurysm”. Mom died the way she wanted to go as she frequently said to me “pneumonia is a friend of the aged – it usually takes you at night when you are sleeping.”

When you’ve worked in an ER as I have – and as she has, and several of our friends have, every day you are reminded that life can change in a second. You see the most loving families gather around a loved one as they die or have the critical conversations about the decisions they need to make or how to navigate the road that lies ahead. You see hands being held, hair being stroked and the “I love you’s” which are never easy to hear because of how intimately personal the conversations that accompany them are.

Life can change in a second.

Watching that family the other night I was very tempted to tell them “pay attention to this time you have and this love and legacy of your family” – but I didn’t – for a few reasons – you know, they would have thought I was nuts and honestly, it would have been weird right? – and a heck of an interruption to a wonderful dinner on a beautiful evening. But on nights like that I wish we all could put our cell phones down a little more and look into each other’s eyes when we spoke to them. I wish we had more intimate conversations with our friends to let them know how we feel about them instead of just keeping on and going along.

So after dinner the check came and the waiter told us that the cost of our chowder was covered by “some people” – the family I had taken a photo of. As we left, I thanked them for the “wonderful chowdah” and they thanked me again for the wonderful photo. – which brings me to my last point (I know – I can hear ya – end this long post). – I’m becoming more frustrated with the whole “selfie” thing. Because I know for sure that while a photo from an outstretched arm can be fun, the photos of entire families with their arms around each other are so much better. So if you see an opportunity to help a family out, ask If you can take the photo for them and just say “scrunch up”.

If I Loved You

WDIHE1737

Settling into a new career endeavor has not been easy this last month. Lots of new information and people and processes as well as a new place. It’s a huge learning curve that has me slowly moving forward step by step. But every once in awhile mom and dad show up in the most interesting ways.

Most everyone who knows my mom will tell you that she does not excel when it comes to carrying a tune. I remember many cold days singing into her ear so she could get the tone (and key) right as we sang together on the chairlift whenever we went skiing.

I always love listening to music. When we were in Florida, whenever she took a nap, I would put music on softly while I was reading or tidying up around the house – usually after lunch as she would rest until an hour or so before dinner.

One day – a few months before we moved back to New England, mom came in after her nap and sat in her chair listening to the music that was playing. Around this time her short term memory was not great – she wouldn’t always be able to remember what she had for dinner the night before or lunch earlier in the afternoon, but her longer term memory – from her childhood would sneak through quite frequently.

On this day – the music was Chris Botti and Paula Cole singing their beautiful rendition of “If I Loved You” from his “Italia” CD. Initially, as she started listening, mom said “I always wonder what this song is about; does she love him?”. After speculating a little, she soon started singing along to the song – on key. Able to remember all of the lyrics. It was the coolest thing to just sit and listen to her as she softly sang along with Paula Cole. I was astounded that she was able to remember everything about the song while also remaining completely on key.

So usually when I go to work in the morning I leave the music on for Nate and Callie – the soundtrack from mom and dad’s favorite music that was usually on whenever I visited them in Florida or on the boat in New Harbor. It’s an iTunes playlist that has 750 songs that if you played consecutively would take more than two days to complete. It’s also always on “shuffle” – god forbid Nate and Callie should have to hear all the same songs in the same order so random is good.

Today after a long a day of many meetings, I open the door to the apartment at exactly the same time that the first few notes of Chris and Paula’s “If I Loved You” started playing. I just sat on the sofa with Nate and Callie and sang along – ending with a “Hi Mom, Hi Dad” and a little conversation with them about my day.

Lately I’ve learned that grief doesn’t always show up with sadness – sometimes, like today, its more of a peaceful reflection of some great moments in time that stay with us and arrive to brighten our day.

Driving

fullsizeoutput_bb9
Photo Courtesy of M.Twomey – T.S.S. Photography

This was the view that mom had when she was in her assisted living place. One day (just about a year ago), I arrived early in the morning to find mom uncharacteristically sitting up in bed, staring intensely out of her window looking at this view. She looked like she was deep in thought so I asked: “what’s going on?”.

“Come on over here,” she said, patting the pillow in the bed next to her. As I sat down she quietly said to me “I’m trying to figure out how to tell my friends I don’t drive anymore.”

She told me she had told them that it was because I needed to have the car. “That’s okay, I’ll take the fall for this,” I told her, laughing. But this wasn’t the full truth. The truth was that months before I had arrived in Florida to help her take care of dad, she had been driving him to an appointment one morning when she suddenly felt dizzy.

“Pull over!” dad said. As there was an abundance of fast-moving traffic, she couldn’t and so they pulled into one of those wide turning lanes that they have in Florida to sit “for a minute” (which was the version of this story I had initially heard from dad when he recounted the story to me a few days after it happened).

But as mom recounted the story for me on this day, she said it was more “like 30 minutes” that they sat together in the car – with the engine off and the hazard lights on, in the turning lane of one of the busiest roads in their town. She had a TIA (which usually when I had seen her have them, lasted roughly about 15 – 20 minutes).

When she felt better, she said she was okay to drive but Dad told her “No, not yet” and they sat in the car for a little longer before heading back towards home. As she continued to tell me this story, she told me, definitively, that she didn’t want to drive anymore after that day.  She paused before quietly saying “I would never be able to forgive myself if I hurt anyone”. 

My mom had had a successful career as an acute care nurse for several years. Anyone who has ever grown up with an ER Nurse knows (as I did) what this is like.

Try to tell them you’re sick and you can’t go to school? The response will be “you’re not sick, get dressed and go meet the bus!” Or the time my dad fell down skiing; when he reached up to touch his forehead he pulled his hand back and saw blood. “I’m bleeding!” he told her, to which she replied, “oh don’t worry about it, it’s just a minor abrasion, you’ll be fine.”

Mom had a way of just navigating through illnesses and injuries that (if they were minor), kept us going as a family. If they were major (as in the autoimmune illnesses my father had), she always stayed firmly grounded in her belief that everything was going to be okay.  Throughout my lifetime, I only saw her become rattled once, and even then, as she spoke to me about how she felt, she slowly returned to her belief that everything was going to be okay.

But on this day when she said she would no longer drive as she didn’t want to hurt anyone, in her sadness and concern, I saw the depth of her compassion and caring that I’m sure fostered the great nurse that she was.

“We’ll figure it out,” I told her, “we’ll get you to where you need to be”.  “I know,” she said, and then as if on cue, returned her gaze to the trees outside and said, “aren’t those white birch trees just beautiful?”

“You Shouldn’t Have To Pay For Cats”

fullsizeoutput_b71
Take Paws Pet Photography

This is Callie – she’s our very fluffy bundle of love.

Callie was born in Lutz, Fl. She was found and brought to a shelter that is not known for keeping little kittens alive if they are not adopted. As luck (or God) would have it, one day a guy walked into the shelter, saw her, learned of her fate if she was not soon adopted and brought her south to a “no-kill” shelter in Sarasota.

An ad was placed in the local paper for “a beautiful calico kitten”.

One morning mom was sitting in her comfortable chair, sipping her morning coffee when she noticed the ad. “Hey Don”, she said to my father, “want to go look at a kitten?”.

“No, not especially” he answered – flatly, “but I will if you want me to.” I think he wanted to go with her but sometimes he would say this as I think he wanted to see how “into the idea” mom really was. And because mom loves cats – she was definitely into this idea.

In their 55ish years of marriage, my dad had come a long way about cats since meeting my mom. He was a dog person who really had no use for cats. Mom was a complete cat nut who loved having one or two cats around the house. The one cat they had at the time was a beautiful Maine coon cat (see post “I’m Trey and I’m going home!”) but mom had always wanted a calico (and unbeknownst to all of us, had been looking for one for quite a while) so she was excited to hop in the car and go to Sarasota.

Initially, when discussing cats, my father would say “you shouldn’t have to pay for cats, people should pay you to take them from them.” But this slowly evolved to “you shouldn’t have to pay for cats – people should give them to you.”

When they arrived in Sarasota and mom held her little bundle of joy, dad asked the inevitable question. “How much?”

“A hundred dollars”.

“Are you kidding?” dad asked (okay so, he may not have said it in exactly that matter but you get the point right? I mean, this is a kid-friendly blog is all I’m sayin’)

Mom explained to him about shots and needing to support no-kill shelters so he gave in and succumbed to his wife and Callie went home with them.

Callie’s little kitten intuition was so keen that she immediately “got it” that dad was not into cats. Every day she would sit in his lap with a loving look while he petted her and discussed cats “not being all that bad”.

954798_340939206078305_7380617141601076939_n
Take Paws Pet Photography

When dad died of cancer a few years later, she was lying right next to him.

It’s never an easy thing to see how much cats grieve when their owners die. Callie and Trey had stayed with mom until she died. The two of them received an abundance of attention in the assisted living place where she was; but now, she is here with me – my little bundle of love.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that we don’t rescue cats; they rescue us.

S.A.Leys Photography

Nate Is Sleeping

IMG_4563
S.A.Leys Photography

It’s the situation here in New Hampshire right about now. Yep, it’s my guy Nate – named after the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne (don’t ask – it’s a thing).

Nate was rescued a little over 10 years ago. He is by far, one of the most affectionate little guys I have ever had and is quite masterful at head bonking, He is a brown-noser in the truest sense and also snores when he sleeps – but it is the most soothing sound ever.

Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, this it overflows upon the outward world.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Tide

I grew up in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a great place to live – a beautiful community surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, Narragansett Bay and the Sakonnet River. One of the lessons I learned early on was that, like the tides, there is ebb and flow to life.

Until February of this year, I had spent just over three years caring for my mom. It was great to have the time to spend with her. After she died – I kept thinking I wasn’t ready for her to go; it was too soon.

But my mind kept coming back to the lesson I learned from growing up on “the island”.

There is an ebb and flow to life.