Tag Archives: family

Family Bonds

Armorel and L.

Armorel and L.

I spoke with my mother-in-law, Armorel, tonight. She told me, “I feel sad tonight, somehow.” And that’s exactly how I feel tonight, just sad somehow.

To set the record straight, Armorel is not my mother-in-law any longer. Twelve years ago I gave up any official, legal status as one of her family members when I was divorced from her son. It was a painful break-up, hers and mine, for we had seemed to share a mutual understanding about life. At times the break-up seemed even more painful than his and mine.

I have missed Armorel in my life, the way she once was. I miss the bond I thought we had. But divorce can break families in unexpected ways and the lines of communication are not smooth or open.

This weekend Armorel moved to an assisted-living residence. She is 96 years old, and until now, has pretty much lived an independent life. Armorel only just gave up her car at 94, with more than a little reluctance and feistiness.

In fact Armorel has lived a mostly independent life, at times having to be fiercely independent. When she was 18, Armorel left a small fishing village in Newfoundland to join other hard-working “Newfs” in Chelsea, Mass.  She married at 28, and by 35 was the sole support of her family with two young children, her husband gravely ill with brain cancer. At 46 Armorel’s children left for college, and her home was empty. At 63 she married again but had just three sweet, short, years with her second love.

Armorel is accustomed to the tough changes that life can bring, and she’s always demonstrated amazing resilience in continuing on. Her faith has a lot to do with that.

But tonight’s phone call was challenging. It was our first conversation with Armorel since she moved to her new home, her assisted-living residence. My daughter spoke to her first and looked concerned mouthing, “she’s very sad.” As I took the phone to speak, Armorel’s wavering, deeply sad voice said to me, “Oh, Sarah.”  She didn’t need to say more. And it was at that moment that I recognized the bond we’ll share forever. It’s a bond known only by the heart and not by divorce decrees.

I knew exactly what she meant by “Oh, Sarah” and what it said of where she was right now and where she has been in the past and what she has thought about… because I know Armorel. I truly know her despite those in-between hurt spaces of our lives. I know and love all the family stories about Armorel and her sisters, a time so long ago. And I remember the wonderful times in our lives together in the not so distant past.

“Oh, Sarah” she said with such great wistfulness, and I welled up. There was so much to say and so little that would change things. Armorel knew that I understood what she meant. “I’m so sorry Armorel,” I replied. “I know I’ll get to like it,” she offered. “I know you will,” I encouraged. We both got quiet. And there was peace in that moment of quiet, a reflective space. We understood. We have a bond. We weren’t just  talking about her new living arrangement but about this stage in her life. It’s such a terribly bittersweet stage, but a stage you only face if you’ve been gifted a very long life. Armorel will, I am sure, live it with grace.

Love you, Armorel… always have, always will.

Life is good, (and sometimes just hard)
Sarah

Advertisements

A Requiem for my Father

Four years ago, I was reminded just how fragile life is when my father passed away a day after Christmas following a brief illness.  The preciousness of each day was highlighted for me  that holiday week.

Holidays often do not turn out how we  plan them.  Our lives often do not turn out how we  plan them.

This year I ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery right before Christmas, and it reminded me of the poignancy of my last holiday season with my father.  Soon after  I was back at home, I searched for the scrapbook I had made for him and found a piece of writing I had forgotten about.

The piece consisted of hastily written-down comments  my father had made and observations I had during that time four years ago.  It had been my attempt to capture and remember in writing the spirit of my father as he was leaving this world. . . .

At the end –

He was apologetic

– To me, to my daughter, to my sister (when he was confused and thought I was she)….  for hurting us in anyway.

He was quiet and reflective

     – Speaking  of his long forgotten friends from high school and remembering that a friend who was Jewish had a hard time socially in their 1940’s community.  He admired how his friend had handled it.

He was gently brave

-Trying a Healing Touch treatment offered by the hospital chaplain (My Dad was a 1940’s veteran, not a “new age” type of fellow), he commented afterwards “That was Wonderful!”  When the chaplain responded “You’re glowing”, he said “Really? I haven’t been glowing much these days.”

He was sarcastic

– Joking and laughing with the nurses, he liked that they appreciated his wry sense of humor.  Speaking of his sister, he said it annoyed him when she sat on his hospital bed without asking.  He observed… “She sits on my bed and holds court like Grace Kelly!”

He was peaceful and calm

-Listening to Christmas music we had brought, Ave Maria became his chosen favorite.  At one point he asked for us to turn off the music but to . . . “wait till Ave Maria is finished”

He was parental

– Asking my grown daughter when I was out of the room, “I think I know the answer to this question, but is she (meaning me) a good mother?”

My daughter replied “She’s wonderful”

My father replied “I thought so”

He was ethereal

– Lying so still and calm in his bed with his hands folded in prayer position, I often thought he was asleep when he was not.  If I would get up to leave the room at these times, he would suddenly open his eyes and say “Just sit with me…”      I think he wanted that peaceful protection of someone you trust watching guard while you rest.

He was illuminated

-Letting the burdens and hurts of this world pass from him, he reached out with the deep inner love that is within us all

Love you Dad!  Miss you!

Life is Fine,

Sarah


Mothers Who Walk

 

schoolboy-was-walking-hand-in-hand-with-one-of-his-teachers-725x482

During the course of a work day, I see many mothers with their children, but my heart is most often touched by the Mothers Who Walk.  Let me explain.

My job keeps me on the road between the early intervention families I visit and my office which is based in a public  school.  Our little school is pretty special because it’s dedicated to teaching only preschoolers.  It is home to the town’s Head Start program where there are morning classes, afternoon classes, full-day classes and lots and lots of preschoolers!

Every day, as I travel to and from my office, I witness the coming and going of the daily tide of students and their families.    Dedicated parents and family members  bring their children to attend Head Start and then return later to bring them home.  There is no bus transportation for the Head Start program.

Most of our students arrive by car.  It may be in a family or  friend’s car or sometimes even a taxi, but a car is the most frequent mode of transportation.  However,  some parents do not have the luxury of private transportation. These are the Mothers Who Walk.

Mothers Who Walk with their children in tow must walk at least a mile from the bus stop to our school. They walk  in sun, in rain, in wind, and in snow.  And I don’t even  know how far these mothers and their children have walked just to get to a bus that will take them to the our Head Start school.

Can you imagine walking a mile on a super hot day while in the last trimester of pregnancy?  I have seen more than one mother doing this. Some have been carrying a baby in their belly and pushing a toddler in a stroller while  holding the hand of their  preschooler.

Can you imagine trying to contain the boundless spirit of a preschooler to keep him safely on the sidewalk for more than a mile, after a bus ride or possibly two?  I have seen dedicated mothers doing this every day.

Headstart mother

Can you imagine faithfully walking your preschool child to school for an entire New England winter? Last winter after our serial snow blizzards, the snow was so deep that I could only see the heads of mothers above the piles of 4 feet high snow as they walked their little ones to school.

Today was “Fall Festival”  at our little school.  The festival was held in the late afternoon at the end of the day’s classes.  For most  parents this made it an easy fit   into their day  but that was  not the case for all  our parents.  Mothers Who Walk who have children  in morning classes had to walk to school again if they wanted their child to participate.  And some of the mothers and their preschoolers did just that!

As I was heading home after the Festival, I drove past one of the  Mothers Who Walk who was walking with her preschool-aged son and her two older boys who had also attended the Fall Festival.  They were the picture of a close-knit family as they walked home together in the waning daylight, walking closely, side by side. The symbolism was poignant. My heart was warmed by this mother’s dedication.  I wondered if she was aware of  her accomplishment in drawing  her family closer together on this festival afternoon. It’s so easy when you’re  a parent not to notice your accomplishments.

All of the young mothers I see, but especially the Mothers Who Walk , walk toward a brighter future for their children.  These mothers have a purpose and a vision for their family’s future.  Even if they do not see it yet . . .  I do.  They have made a commitment to family and to learning.

. . .  I am so incredibly and indelibly touched by that.

Life is Fine,

Sarah


Rock ‘n roll

Sitting on the floor,  toys strewn about,  in a house not my own.

I was with my teaching partner, MT, when the Earth decided to move.  MT and I only rarely do home visits together, but this past  Tuesday, we were sitting on the concrete slab floor of subsidized housing assessing a little boy’s developmental progress.

 My world was decidedly rocked.

In a moment, everything before me turned in to visual waves.  The curtains, the TV, the rug became flowing linear lines that shimmered like waves on a Spectrograph.  I asked MT if she saw it.  “What? See what?” she said.  The movement suddenly changed.  I revised and asked MT if she felt it.   MT paused and our eyes met.   Her look of concern acknowledged that something was not quite right.   We both waited to see what would happen next.

The motion intensified and then suddenly stopped.  We quickly and reassuringly dismissed it, “Maybe, the neighbor was playing music with the bass too high”.  But the dismissal did not fit.

My cell phone started ringing.  It was my daughter from Virginia calling.  “Did you feel the Earthquake up there?” she said, “It rocked our office building, but everyone is all right.”  Fear and relief claimed my consciousness at the same time.  An Earthquake.   All was well but could have been worse.

The little boy we were assessing suddenly began to cry.  His response to the environmental shift was pure and unedited.  MT reached for her phone and called her mother to check on her son.   We left the visit a bit shaky feeling decidedly off-balance. We called the office and family and friends.  It was jarring to learn that some people had not felt the quake at all.

That Tuesday evening, I remained uneasy and unsettled by my earthquake experience. I was unable to roll with the events of the day.  I thought about the distance that separates me from my daughter especially when thinking about what might’ve happened.  Other recent earthquakes kept coming to mind.  My daughter had known a college friend living in Japan when the quake hit there.

Mostly, I thought about Fate and how it sets people together or apart at critical moments in life.  For the most part, we don’t get to choose.   I wondered, what if  this afternoon had been the last of my life.  I considered my company at the time of the quake, MT and a 2-year-old toddler named  NG.

MT is gifted at being a teacher, a mother and my friend. We most always enjoy the toddlers and the families we visit.   Today had been no exception.  NG had made his silly “Thinker” face.  His favorite since it always makes the grownups laugh.    MT and I smile and laugh and sing with our students.  We really do have some pretty fine play skills.   That thought made me smile as did the next  . . . It would have been okay with me to leave this plane in such fine company.

Sitting on the floor,  toys strewn around,  in a house not my own… with my teaching partner, MT.    I would’ve been honored to be in such good company.

……Just wanted to let you know MT


Night Moves

I love this time of year, not for the long, hot steamy days, but for the long, cooler fragrant evenings.  While a beautiful summer day is glorious, the potential for a magical summer evening  makes the beauty of  that day linger even longer.  Some days, especially summer work days, I long for the evening when I will be free to enjoy the delights of the evening.  Certainly, everyone has different ideas on how to enjoy a summer evening, but here are my suggestions for some good “Night Moves” …

1. Go outside.  You can’t fully enjoy a summer evening from your air-conditioned or fan-cooled home, you have to go outside.  You really do.  If its hot inside, that’s all the more reason to go outside.  It will only be cooler.  And if you can’t go outside, fling open  a window and lean out … a bit.  Look around.

2. Feel the air.  Feel how the evening air moves against your skin.  Truly, I am not kidding.  Notice the evening air against your skin.  It has a different feel every evening.  I love the feel of a crisp evening breeze against my face after a late afternoon rain.  But I also love those evenings when the air has cooled just enough to wick the sweat off  my arms from the 95 degree day.

3.  Go for a walk.  Do it with a friend or a spouse or your kids all in tow.  Or do it by yourself…that can be even better.  Move slow or move fast, take long strides or short ones, but move in a way that makes you feel good.  The evening is yours.  Enjoy the sights and use your senses, all  5 ….and more if you have them!

4. Stand under or near a pine tree in the waning daylight.  Then, inhale.  If you’re lucky, you will catch a gentle scent of beautiful fresh pine.  Its my favorite sweet perfume on a hot summer evening.  Wafts of summer pine, as well as,  ripe peach and newly shucked corn are all on my list of fine summer fragrances.

5.  Look up at the sky.  What color blue is the sky tonight?  I only ever think the sky is blue.  At midnight it’s that black, inky blue.  When the sun is setting, its silver blue  with rainbow colors,  pink and yellow, red and orange.  I’m not an artist, and I admire (okay…envy) artists who can paint the colors of the sky.  The sky probably has more shades of blue than possible names for blue.  Ochre pit blue would be a good sunset color name.  I like entertaining what other sky blue names there could be, and certainly, I’ve wasted time on lesser thoughts.

6.  Look for fireflies. I mean this as a metaphor.  My daughter would understand.  I keep asking her, “Where have all the fireflies gone?”  Sometimes I just don’t see them.  Fireflies exist in the summer, but they can be hard to find.  You have to carefully look for the magical, the special.  Look with expectation and you may notice some magic of nature –  a flower, a bird, a star in the sky –   that has special meaning for your life right now. 

7.  Stop and Pause,  before you enter your home.  Then, Listen.  Is the wind talking?  Are your neighbors listening to music?  Are crickets chorusing loudly?  Are birds calling goodnights to family members?   Hold on to the comforting sounds.  Think of them as the ringtones of your life  downloaded for free.   And allow all other sounds to be carried away by the wind.  

I wish you a good evening, all summer long. 

                                                                                             Life is fine,

                                                                                                Sarah