My schedule is suddenly feeling like one of those Advent Calendars.
You know, one of those calendars where people count off the days
to Christmas. Only in my case, it is the count down for my parents'
move to New York.
Eleven days from now, I fly to Chicago for a brief overnight. The
next day, I fly to New York with them to help them make the trip
and settle into their new place.
My mother had slowly been saying good bye to some of her friends. In
the past few weeks, the good byes and social occasions in which
to do this have been accelerating.
A few days ago, she and my father hosted a luncheon at an area
restaurant for several people. The daughter of two of their
oldest friends—the father had shared an office with my dad
for years before he died, the mother, still living, now has Alzheimer's—asked
my mother why they were moving.
It seems like a logical enough question to most outside eyes. Why
would my parents leave their beautiful home of over 50 years at
the ages of 88 and 83 to move to a different city where they
have few connections besides my brother.
The move is not without tremendous loss. They will be leaving the
city in which my sister lives. They will be leaving their
friends.They will be leaving the sense of the familiar and
the comfort of routine which seemingly becomes more and more important
as we get older.
My mother has lost faith in her healthcare providers in Chicago
and her sense of privacy does not allow her to go into assisted
"How depressing," she says. "To be around a bunch
of old people all the time. No one young. No new life. You
wake up in the morning and someone else has died."
So this is the decision she has made and has asked my father to
concur. A creature of habit, he has done so reluctantly. But
she is his mate. And in some senses, his life. He has
I ask her if it is getting tiresome to continually justify her
choice to well meaning friends. I say it would be easier
if people just said they understood and supported her decision
and that they would miss her.
Yes, she says.
Then, for the first time since all of this talk about moving started
after her heart attack in February, she asks my opinion.
"What do you think I should do," she says.
My heart cracks in mid conversation.
This is a woman who has weathered numerous operations for colon
cancer and adhesions, survived a stroke and a major heart attack. Who
is now struggling with macular degeneration in the one good eye
And if she has survived, it is because she is 101 pounds
of pure will, dripping wet. She has not been ready to leave
in all this time, even though for some people any of these
obstacles would have equaled last call.
No, she has string quartets to hear,plants to water and grown
children about whom to worry.
"I don't know, Mom," I tell her. "It's kind of
besides the point now," I say. "The wheels
are in motion. You've gotten this new place. You've said this is
what you want to do."
"Yes," she says. "We made a decision."
Later, as I was listening to Ray Charles sing, "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow," I started to cry. My family life
has rarely been easy. We are a complicated tribe.
But I can remember back to a time when things were not so hard. So
filled with difficult choices.
A time before my sister had cancer. Or my brother had had
open heart surgery. A time before my own cancer. Or before
my mother was so sick.
It is hard for me to remember a time when my mother has ever seemed
to waiver in her resolve. Or to ask me my opinion about anything
other than a film or book.
More than anything, I think it is the unprecedented vulnerability
heralding her question that made me weep.
Maybe they want to
move to avoid death.
saw a movie recently where people would leave their tent or
hut to die
the tent or
hut would need to be burned down and that would create a
hardship for the family.
It is so interesting
how what you write carves a portrait of who you are. Especially
since I see everything only through your eyes. Too bad your
mom and dad aren't writing as well...so their perspective is
Sunday, May 21, 2006