Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Final Chapter

The book is almost closed on what needs to happen to settle my mom's affairs. Last week we accepted an offer on the sale of her trailer, which was not a given. My mom owned the trailer but not the property on which it sits; a neighbor wanted to buy it but the property owner refused to allow him to leave it where it sits, and the location is why he wanted to buy it for his mother-in-law. Yet after several attempts the property owner wouldn't give me a clear answer about what he wanted to do...until the day before the deadline when he texted an offer, which we accepted the same day. Next week my brother will transfer the title and the final chapter will be complete.

I made the two-day trip to West Virginia with two important pieces of advice in mind: Jacqueline's comment to accept that things had served my mother well and it was time to let them go; and Helen's advice to set up zones for keep/donate/throw and to touch things only once. I would not have been able to do the job in ten days without those things in mind.

I was not prepared for what I would find. My mother's trailer was exactly as she had left it and the large storage unit was almost full. The only thing to do was to begin, somewhere, anywhere. As I went through boxes, bins, closets, drawers and shelves, I set aside items for my brother to go through and things that I knew I wanted. I was able to sell the best pieces of furniture. I donated books, magazines, and puzzles to the nursing home and medical equipment to the Commission on Aging. I made one trip to a Goodwill store 40 miles away with a carload of electronics, dishes, utensils, pans, and blankets. My brother and sister-in-law each filled a vehicle, and I came home with a carload of items I will enjoy and use to share family history with my children and grandchildren. Everything else was discarded. As hard as it was, it was what had to happen. 

Ten days, 18 hours a day, and I was done. It was emotional and cathartic at the same time. I was able to stay present the entire time, which was essential for the tasks as hand. It was hot and humid so the afternoon thunderstorms were a welcome relief. I drank copious amounts of water. I talked to the neighbor's dog, Daisy, who made regular visits for pets and treats. I shared progress with family and my closest friend, whose encouragement and humor kept me going.

Through it all I felt my mom's energy and approval. I never doubted that we would find the help we needed or that we would finish the job at hand. I am grateful that I had the time and energy to do the work, and that my brother and I had time to work things through together. I think we did mom proud. 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Hello August

The support of friends and family has meant the world to me. That so many have walked this path before is a great comfort.

July held lots of conversations with my brother about all the things that need to happen to settle our mom's affairs. She lived in a small town in eastern West Virginia and the small-town connections have been helpful. The lawyer who is handling probate has an office around the corner from the courthouse; the manager of the storage facility knew a used furniture dealer to recommend; the home health aid has continued to take in the mail and water the plants on her own time; again and again one phone call has led to another phone call that has led to the person I need to talk to. I have been amazed with the information I have been able to collect from 700 miles away.

Distance communication has limitations, and my brother and I have done all we can without being in the same place at the same time. We need to figure out what to do with possessions as well as the small trailer she lived in. There isn't a thrift store or Goodwill in the town and any place to donate household items is an hour away, so there will be some hard decisions to make. We come from a long line of "Don't throw that out! Someone could use that!" It will be a challenge to overcome those voices....

But the time has come. Tomorrow I am heading to a place I never called home but where my mom lived for nineteen years. I will work with my brother and his family to sort, cull, re-home, and clean out what remains of 86 years of living. My hope is to stay present and attentive. If I do that, I will know what's right.   

Friday, June 17, 2022

Take the Long Way Home

Thank you to those of you who have commented on recent posts and those who continue to visit here.

In May I kept thinking I would start projects to work on over the summer. I dug out a quilt that I started more than two years ago by cutting out all the squares of different sizes in solid colors; I made the first block and hated the process. Then I looked at the squares from every angle and tried to configure an alternate pattern. After days of consideration, I realized my brain couldn't focus on anything that structured, so I pulled out scraps I've been putting aside for years. I cut all sizes of squares and rectangles to sew together with no pattern in mind. It is the perfect illustration of how my brain was working ~

And I love it. It's on my design board to remind me that everything doesn't need a plan, and there is not always a happy ending. Sometimes we take the long way home.

On Tuesday May 24 I got a text from my brother that changed any plans we had made or wanted to make. Our mom had fallen and broken her hip. The local hospital couldn't accommodate the surgery she needed and the closest hospital with a bed was one hundred miles away. She was transported by ambulance to Ruby Memorial Hospital at WVU in Morgantown, West Virginia. My brother drove from southeast Virginia to northwest West Virginia to be there when she went into surgery. I spoke to her briefly and figured the doctor would put in a pin, she would be in the hospital for a few days, and she would be discharged to rehab for a few weeks.

Nothing went as expected. There was a complication during surgery; she rallied from that and had a good day of eating and sitting up; then it was complication after complication. I knew I needed to be there so I started driving south on Saturday May 28, stayed overnight in Pennsylvania, and arrived Sunday May 29. My brother headed back to work in Virginia and we were in communication multiple times a day. I texted him Thursday that he might want to come back to the hospital. My sister in Scotland made plans to fly in Tuesday June 7, and we had permission to visit after hours late that night. 

It was two weeks of hoping that things would improve amidst the reality that nothing was getting better. Mom didn't leave the Surgery Intensive Care Unit until June 8, when she was finally granted her wish and moved to in-hospital hospice care.

My mom died peacefully that night just after midnight. 

So much happened and there is so much to do now, with most of the tasks falling to my brother. We are all sad and tired and trying to do things we have never had to do before. I have some thoughts about how to write about all of this; I started a notebook the first day of her fall and haven't stopped taking notes. I wish I'd had a guide and still wish there was a reference for what to expect, what to do, and how to get help when we need it. 

I may just figure out how to make sense of this somewhere down the road.

The journey continues....

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Habits And Routines

It took a bit of work to get into a habit of getting on the treadmill every day. Once I did and started feeling the benefits, it got easier to keep the commitment. The timing was flexible on the days my granddaughter was here, and I kept up the daily routine last summer through the problems with the floor in the family room. 

Last fall I fell into the habit of walking each morning between 9 and 10. With the treadmill in the sitting room I can monitor laundry, and I nibble breakfast while I'm walking. 

I didn't recognize how much I relied on this routine until two weeks ago when I had the house to myself for a couple days. First thing in the morning I got busy, flitting from one thing to another because I had so much I wanted to get done. Early afternoon I was frazzled and frustrated, and I took a moment to think about what was different. I had not taken time to walk. I chuckled and got on the treadmill.

This past month I have moved walking to later in the morning which has thrown me off a bit. Ken and I make use of the space in the house with an appreciation for what the other person is doing, so now it works for me to walk after 10. This isn't a big deal but it coincides with me trying to add other elements to my routine, and I'm struggling. I'm having trouble settling into time to sew, time on the computer, time for projects that I enjoy. I feel scattered and anxious.

My answer has been to turn my attention to the house - cleaning, repairing, painting. It's okay in the short term but it's not a good long-term solution. I have been in this place before and remember that things do not resolve on their own.

I am putting this out there to hold myself accountable. My doctor and massage therapist are helping me work through the havoc this time of transition is playing on my body. I have suggested adding a stretching program to my schedule, and they both think that's a good idea. Now I just need to start.

I find a way to make time for the things I value. I always have time for my kids and grandkids. I have made daily walking a priority. It takes effort to add something new to my day, to decide to add a new commitment. I have the time. It's up to me to decide how to use it. And I know once I commit to something, I will honor that commitment. I am giving myself notice. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Two and Fifteen

Wednesday marked two years since the coronavirus began to have an impact on my life. March 9, 2020 was the start of a period of time that I could not have anticipated. Life has not completely returned to how it was in the "before time," and my expectation is that there will not be a 100% return to how life was "before covid." I will continue to make the most informed choices I can based on the best scientific information I can find. 

As I thought about the date there was something in the back of my mind which eventually floated to the surface. I got into the box of house papers and warranties under the bed for confirmation: March 9 is the date we closed on this house fifteen years ago. It's funny that I hadn't focused on that before. Every year I remember the snowstorm on March 17 that stranded us in the middle of painting each room before we moved in a week later. I think about how the kids helped us load and unload the U-haul in the rain, followed by dinner at Ruby Tuesday's and breakfast at Friendly's. That spring I was finishing my graduate work with no internet or cable at this house, and there was not reliable cell phone service. If I had known what we were in for I'm not sure I would have continued to press so hard to make things work, as there were multiple issues to resolve before the closing and the parties involved were not always helpful.

Life is often one foot in front of the other, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. 

The journey continues....  

Tuesday, February 22, 2022


 When I first noticed the two's in the dates this month I did not look far enough ahead to see that the best "number" day ever was today. My birthday is this month, and my middle child's birthday is tomorrow, so February is a good month in a normal year. 

As an adult my birthday was a bigger deal when the kids were younger. I made sure there was cake and Ken helped with gifts when they were too young to bake or shop on their own. When they moved out of the house they remembered, and they still do, which is what really matters to me.

I used to set goals for when I would turn a certain age. Sometimes I met them and sometimes I needed more time, which was okay because I had started working towards something I wanted. I set the goal to have my college degree by age 35; I graduated at 36 which was close enough for me. I had my first full-time teaching position two years later.

I started that job with all the optimism and enthusiasm of a first-year teacher at any age. Within weeks the joy was gone ~ I found myself in an untenable situation, co-teaching with a person who everyone knew needed to be removed from the classroom. No one would step forward to say or do what needed to be done. In January I told the principal that I would not return to work with this person the next year due to the situation, and he asked me if I would be willing to help correct the problem. I had nothing to lose, so I said yes. Another new-to-the-school teacher also agreed to speak up. At the outset, we did not know what the outcome would be...and we didn't know until the day after school was out in June that the problem person was transferred to another building to be closely supervised.

The interim months were stressful and difficult. I was in survival mode, trying to make it to the end of the schoolyear. I decided to take a personal day for my birthday, determined not to spend that day in that place with that person. I thought about what I wanted to do just for me, what I could do to take care of myself. I wanted to be at the ocean. I drove to Camden, bought a cup of coffee, and sat in the harbor on that cold February day. It was the perfect thing to do. 

I thought about that day yesterday at the ocean, this time at Popham Beach with my husband and granddaughter. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the waves rolled in as we walked along the shore. It wasn't my exact birthday but the sentiment was the same ~ time to reflect and be grateful for another year. I have mixed feelings about this aging thing and am working to find ways to be okay with the inevitable. More days like yesterday are sure to help.   

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Two Twenty Twenty-Two

 More two's to celebrate. It's the small things these days. My mom and I were talking today about how much has changed and keeps changing and how little we have any control over. The days run together unless we make sure they don't. 

So when there is something that makes me smile, I take note ~ interesting number combinations, the pattern of temperatures for the blanket I'm knitting, the image of Anne teaching her granddaughter to knit with chop sticks, and a new quilt pattern that challenges my thinking about perspective and directionality. 

My year-old grandson has started taking steps, and we all clap during our video chats. This week is February break for the grandchildren so we will see all of them over the next several days. The things they are learning and the stories they tell are amazing. They light up our days.

Today is number 713, just 17 days shy of two years of  living in a pandemic. Slowly I am making up for lost time by scheduling visits with grandchildren and doctors' appointments. My fingers are crossed that I will be able to travel out of New England this summer, to be determined as the weather gets warmer and if the rates of covid continue to decline. I have a friend in Pennsylvania that I need to lay eyes on and chat with for hours. I have family in Virginia and West Virginia that I need to visit and enjoy a laugh with. As so much has fallen away and ceased to be part of my daily life, weddings and births and celebrations of lives well lived have come to pass. It is as important as it is daunting to re-enter the world outside my corner of the woods. The more I go the easier it will be. It's only through doing that it will get done. 

Time's a-wastin and the journey continues ~