A Silent Drive Home

I’ve come to the inauspicious conclusion in life that old age doesn’t kill us – loneliness does. On a recent trip home this fall to visit my family members and friends in the heart of the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, I had the unmistakable experience of seeing firsthand what isolation does to people when they’ve been indiscriminately placed in elder care and then unintentionally ignored over a period of time.

I went home to see my mom and help out with some day to day activities of shopping, cleaning and cooking to lighten her workload and visit with her while we did our routine activities every day. What greeted me upon my arrival was something totally and completely unexpected: my uncle (her youngest brother) was hospitalized and subsequently placed in a nursing home, and my mom was depressed and not eating or socializing.

When I travel back to my childhood home, I expect to be emotional about seeing people and places that I haven’t seen in a long time – it’s part of what makes me, me. What I don’t expect, though, is to be so completely and totally inundated with feelings of powerlessness in situations that I have no control over – I don’t expect to be so thoroughly overwhelmed when I looked at faces long lost to any semblance of hope or redemption.

Every day I taxied my mom to and from the nursing home to see her baby brother. Every day my uncle’s strength improved, my mom’s resilience did, too. Where I once saw helplessness and desperation in mom’s eyes, eventually I noticed a life-force slowly coloring her cheeks and soon after an appetite for food and activity.

In November 2015, I read an article in the New York magazine that described a study on relationships called, “The Widowhood Effect,” and how when one spouse dies, the likelihood of their partner dying increased significantly. My mother and uncle aren’t “partners,” as such, but have had a close relationship since their youth, and I seriously began to wonder if my mom’s passing would mirror this study. She certainly was not doing well when I first landed, and I began to wonder if instead of a visit with friends and loved ones, I’d be attending a funeral for a favorite uncle and soon after a wake for my mom.

Allowing myself a brief time to deal with the emotions of the situation, one day a flicker of life suddenly appeared in my mom’s sweet eyes; and I decided that this little, gray-haired Italian passerotta (term of endearment for sparrow) still had some hell-raising left to do, and so I set out to make changes as needed.

Operation passerotta started and soon after success came as gradual and beautiful as the leaves changing colors on the hills of the surrounding Adirondack mountains.

She sat in silence. I sat quietly nearby.

I cooked and ate. She eventually started cooking and eating.

And very soon after, I became my funny, wise-cracking self, and she became her feisty rompicoglioni (pain in the butt) self.

Her brother’s physical therapy started working, and soon we started doing other things besides trips to the nursing home. Shopping at the dollar store, picking up a few things at the local grocery store – all things she routinely did before her brother’s ill health – slowly began to be part of her daily agenda; slowly began to blossom.

What amazed me each day, though; what never seemed to be missing with mom was her unconditional kindness and unwavering love for others.

Every day she dressed and put-on a little makeup. Then she walked down her apartment’s long hallway, deliberately grasping the handrails to guide herself toward the apartment steps that she took one at a time; careful not to fall or trip on her way out to her rusted, but reliable Flintstone car. And off we’d slowly drive over familiar roadways, past familiar homes.

“Take a left here,” she reminded me. “Go straight over the Meco Flats,” she continued.

“Make sure you watch for that pot hole on Easterly. I think it’s right there. Stop at the stop light and drive slowly. We don’t want to miss the turn-off,” she gently guided me as if carefully reminding herself.

“Why are you smiling?” she’d ask and continued before I responded. “Wait ‘till you get old. You’ll soon be doing the same.”

I sighed and kept smiling and went on with the drive until we reached the nursing home. Every day she walked into the place, she left a little love: a little kindness.

“I see you.” She said to the wheel-chair-bound woman sitting in the entrance hallway. “I see you,” she continued as she bent closer to her face and gently cupped her cheeks between her hands. “And I love you,” she whispered into her ear, as she smiled and kissed her cheek.

“And God bless you, too. Have a nice day.”

And down the hall she’d shuffle, taking a moment or two to acknowledge most everyone she’d pass.

Every day, we’d do the same thing. And every day she’d acknowledge the living and honor their spirit, and on the last trip to the nursing home – the last trip to my uncle’s temporary abode – we rounded the hallway’s corner to walk down one last time to sign him out and escort him home, and life hit us head-on.

I know my mother saw it. There was no mistaking it. What once was a life force, a life fully lived; was a being no more, was a soul for the heavens. A person of substance, now an inanimate lump. What once was a human, was vaguely hidden from view, by a flimsy, gray sheet on a one-way-wheeled stretcher; a stretcher of eternal rest.

We continued our walk until we reached my uncle’s room. It was time to go home and he was eagerly waiting. It was time to live life and continue what God planned.

Papers were signed, brief wishes exchanged and out the door we headed; out the door he was wheeled. Conversations were limited and emotions were raw; one last look at the stretcher-one last look at life stilled.

I looked for the wheel-chair lady. I know my mom did, too, but nowhere could I see her; nowhere was she found.

We drove home in silence – overwhelmed by the day. I remember the bright sun and blue sky and the rolling lush hills, speckled with the hint of color from a few frosted evenings, touched by the Adirondack cool air, and I silently thanked God for my car-mates and said a quiet prayer of gratefulness.

Life is precious.

Be kind to each other, People, and I’ll catch ya next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

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A Hoarder’s Paradise from Hell!

Garage sale, moving sale, yard sale…they’re all a hoarder’s paradise and most definitely an interesting study of mankind. And the Princess and I, having nothing better to do with our limited time one Saturday, decided that it was time we tried throwing one ourselves.

After all, why not join the hordes of others and hang-out my outgrown biker undies for the world to see? I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’ve put on a few pounds since my mountain biking days. I’ve earned this midriff fluff that I’m sportin’ these days.

So, that’s exactly what the Princess and I did last month – joined the multitudes; gathered everything from clothing and books, to sporting equipment and household goods, and put the whole kit and caboodle out for the world to rummage through.

And rummage, they did!

We meticulously sorted everything – making sure we didn’t confuse anyone by placing a coffee maker next to a pair of biker shorts – and ten minutes before the scheduled 9 a.m. start time, we innocently opened the gates of hell to a stampede of garage-sale-savvy-shoppers, who picked through our meticulously placed items, like frenzied piranhas.

Cazzo (Ot-so)!

The Princess, naively thinking that she’d read the morning newspaper and leisurely enjoy her cup of coffee, choked on her first gulp of hot Joe and spilled it down the front of her shirt as one of the frenetic shoppers elbowed past her and stepped onto her Croc-covered toes. Meanwhile, I stood-by – totally frozen in place – and watched in horror as people magically appeared and ruffled through (what moments before) had been our meticulously organized belongings.

Talk about the trauma of coming out! I’ve changed clothing in our car, many times, while the Princess has been driving on the freeway, but never in my days of freeway strip teasing, have I felt so naked and tossed about.

Geesch!

I never realized how crazy people can get over a pair of well-worn hiking shoes and some padded biker underwear. It’s enough to make you swear-off drinking for a while – or if you’ve never taken it up, START!

The first wave of descenders disappeared as quickly as they showed up, apparently not interested in our high-end merchandise of Barbara Streisand CD’s and Harry Potter books, and I settled into reading the first paragraph of the new Karin Slaughter book, when a new trickle of fellow hoarders dropped by to look over what we had spread out for the world to pick-through. Only this time, we actually had a real customer…or so we thought.

“So,” he began. “What do you want for this book and hat? I’ll give you a buck-fifty for the two of them,” he bargained.

“Hm,” I responded. “The hat is brand new, and as I’m sure you’re aware, is worth over $25.00.”

“I’ll give both to you for $3.00,” I continued. “How does that sound?”

“Well,” he answered. “Sounds to me like you’re gonna be keeping a lot of your stuff today,” he gruffly responded.

“Have a nice day,” he added, and out the gate he marched.

Un-hun.

At that point, there were other potential bargain hunters within our midst, and I looked at the Princess with raised eyebrows and telepathically asked her, “Are we supposed to be paying THEM to take our stuff, or what? I’m not quite sure how this works.”

The Princess, living with me long enough to read my mind, gave me one of her dumb-founded looks and just shrugged her shoulders while mouthing, “Don’t ask me!”

OK.

We got another book buyer interested in our leather-bound, illustrated edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “The Hobbit” with matching slipcase. This isn’t one of my books and I had no idea how much to ask for it. In light of my last negotiation, I figured a buck would be a fair asking price.

“Uh,” guy number two started. “What ‘cha want for this Hobbit edition? Your Harry Potter books, ya know, are going for 25 cents these days?” he coyly added on. “Just thought you should know.”

“Well,” I started out, keenly aware of gentleman number one’s rejection. “How’s a buck sound?”

“Sounds fair to me,” he said. He then quickly handed me the dollar and proceeded to tell me the story of how he and his wife met in her English class over thirty years ago; and the first failed assignment he had with her was an assignment on “The Hobbit”.

“Yep,” he continued. “Gonna give this book to my grandchild for her birthday present this week.”

“Well, what a lovely story and family tradition,” I told him.

“God bless you,” I continued. “Glad to hear that our book will be going to a loving family. Have a great weekend.”

“Yep,” he winked at me. “This book just made my day. You two have a good weekend, too.”

And with that, he got into his truck and high-tailed it down Woodside Avenue.

Now all the while “The Hobbit dude” and I had been talking, the Princess (like the proverbial rancher who closed the barn door after the horse got out) decided to use her smartphone to research the actual price of said “Hobbit book”.

“Well,” the Princess began. “I’m really glad you blessed the dude and he politely thanked you, ‘cuz you know how much MY hobbit book was worth?” she asked, while crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“Just guess,” she continued. “Take a wild guess, Lucie.”

“Uh,” I clumsily began. “I haven’t a clue.”

“But,” I continued while raising my voice. “If it’s more than five bucks, I told you to price your stuff! So, it’s not my fault.”

“No Sir-ee!” I persisted. “It’s definitely not my fault.”

“Yah, Babe, you’re right,” she jovially responded. “No biggie, Hun. Karma will bite him in the butt someday and 60 bucks ain’t gonna break us or make us. This is just another day in our storied lives; just another day in Lucie’s Shoes,” she said while winking at me.

And, of course, People, she was right.

Hopefully, this was our FIRST and LAST garage sale. The next time we need to down-size, I think a donation to some well-deserving organization is in order.

In the meantime, be kind to one another, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at “Life in Lucie’s Shoes”!