In a short time, change can sweep over a family like an Atlantic Ocean wave.
A year ago this week I watched my mother have her most serious stroke. I was reading to her from my favorite poetry book when she started shaking unmercifully and seemed to lose something inside herself. She died within three weeks, at the end unable to talk, eat, sit, stand or even barely squeeze a hand.
We were lucky. She only spent three weeks in a long-term care facility, attached to the retirement center where my parents lived since 2005. My father could visit her any time, day or night. She died peacefully in the presence of family members, knowing on some level she was forever loved and cherished.
In some ways it seems like a million years ago. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of her. Her birthday came weeks after her passing; my father and I went to the family cemetery and placed red flowers on her grave. Red was her favorite color, crimson to be exact as in the "cream and crimson" of Indiana University.
That was a peaceful day. She had a long illness and my father provided 24/7 care during the last seven years of her life. We suspect her dementia started in the early '80s as a result of small TIAs.
The worst day for me in the last year was my own birthday. My mother loved birthdays and holidays. When I was a little girl, she hosted fancy parties for me. My classmates came in their party dresses. As a former elementary school teacher, Mom organized games and activities followed by Blanche Hathaway's famous angel food cake, boiled icing and the requisite number of candles.
I was grateful for another year, but I woke up that hot July morning thinking of Mom, and I went to sleep that night thinking of Mom.
Somehow when the calendar rolled around to a new year, I passed into a new world, a world in which my mother had died the previous year, not this year. A small note, perhaps, but it felt important.
I think of Mom every time I open my Bible where I keep a smashed red rose from her funeral, on the same page as Psalm 121. Mom was a simple yet elegant person, and we requested no flowers but covered her with a large bouquet of red roses, greenery and baby's breath.
This weekend I'm going to visit my father and meet his new girlfriend. When you have been married 56 years, and I might add, happily married, being alone is a terrible struggle.
At the beginning of October when my husband and I were boarding a plane for Italy, my cell phone rang in the Detroit airport. It was my dad and he asked me how I felt about him dating again. I told him I thought it was great. He asked my brother also, who also gave him a blessing he really didn't need.
Then he kissed a few frogs before he found his princess. He lives in a retirement home where they moved when Mom became so she couldn't stay alone in their home. Dad has always been among the most rigorous, vital, healthy men in the place, and been a photographic model for the retirement home. (His slogan could be "I have all my hair, all my teeth, I'm mentally competent, and I can afford to live here," but we'll leave that to the retirement home marketers.)
Naturally he is a catch. When Mom died, two bus loads of women came to the wake from the retirement home. Many of them were overly friendly to dad, much sooner than I felt appropriate. But I am not widowed and I'm not alone and I'm not in my 80s.
There was some heartbreak.. One woman dumped him because she "had a leaky heart valve." You don't hear that one much on the dating circuit among my Baby Boomer friends. He stopped seeing another one because she was deaf as a post. He has a booming voice, so she must have forgotten the hearing aid batteries that day.
This weekend I will meet his new "lady friend" as he calls her. I'm sure she is a very nice woman. Dad is very nervous about it. I don't plan on humiliating him in anyway. His lady friend has read my book, so I feel she has a good idea of who I am. The fact that she suffered all the way through the book is surely a point in my favor.
I promise I will behave, because I'm sure it is what my Mom would expect.