Always subject to change, my current favourite post of the “back issues.”
Since turning 16, I have had a problem with my birthday. It wasn’t the goofy necklace my boyfriend at the time gave me. It wasn’t any cataclysmic event. It’s just that getting older stuns me.
My husband’s grandmother lived to be 101. Towards the end she was in a nursing home. Like any of us, she had good days and bad. Like the book “Evening” by Susan Minot*, her life was sometimes on playback as she went about the process of continuing to breathe. On a random visit Grandma T and I started talking about when she was young. We talked about when she would paint, and how she picked colours. We talked about when she taught, how different things were then. It was a defining moment for me. I was hyper aware of the incredible age and charm of this person – her grace and her gifts, her calm and her wit. I was also aware that inside the frail and tiny body was a person who had dreamed, created, loved, and who was not merely a remnant of a life gone by.
On another visit, I helped Grandma use the washroom. As I was clumsily trying to help, desperate to be gentle and respectful, I inadvertently snapped her with the waistband of her pants. She giggled, and said “Oh, Steve…” Later as I left, I asked at the desk what shift Steve worked. She hadn’t been admonishing in her tone, it was no mistaking the affection in her voice and I was glad she had connected with an aide in the home. No Steve worked there. As I drove home I smiled to myself. Grandma had been married for a lifetime. To a man named Lawrence.
When I am 101 and lying in a bed by a window, I want a full colour, full flavoured life on the play back reel. I want stories to tell, memories to treasure, and even pain to contrast the joy against. So that settles it. I need to stop hating my birthday and get on with living my life.
*Evening is an incredible book, and they did it justice in the movie as well. It reflects my experiences with someone who died slowly, my belief that life is not always a tidy package, and my conviction that we must seize moments we are presented with, else we will live with regrets.
Back issue fav post:
The year kitty joined the circus.
I grew up in the country. Farm girl enough that I took my shoes off the last day of school and had trouble finding them again in September. Close enough to land and nature that I understood from an early age that life is a cycle and sometimes you’re the food.
As hayseeds, we had the requisite pets. Always a german shepherd on the go, so loyal and super smart. Rabbits – which is a cruel irony as I now battle them in my garden – and cats. The first cat I remember having was a marmalade tabby named “Kitty.”
I can’t recall if Kitty was male or female. Or in fact if Kitty was the cat’s real name (my memory lacks in crisp what it makes up for in extrapolation). But I have flashes of orange cat memories. Carrying it in front of me, hanging limp in my two hooked arms, it stretched out baking on the cracked pavement of the verandah. One day Kitty was nowhere to be found. I remember asking my mom where Kitty was. I remember my sisters clamoring for something, mom trying to unload groceries, and repeating myself “…where’s Kitty?”
I know the swirl a mother feels when doing three things at once with kids underfoot and major issues at hand. I know she needed a quick solution to the immediate problem which was the cat was dead, pancaked by a Jeep just up the road, and her three young kids were asking what was up. So mom told us Kitty had joined the circus. We stared at her, mouths agape. Mom said a circus had come by, that Kitty had joined and he/she was now gone off to have fabulous fun as a performing cat in the traveling circus, so we should be happy for Kitty.
The hysterics mom said, were quite surreal. Instead of happy claps and squeees for Kitty’s newfound exciting life, she instead witnessed the complete implosion of her children, as all happiness was sucked from our bodies, replaced with staggering sadness that we had missed the circus. In fact the scene was of such utter devastation that to rectify things, mom yelled over our sobs that it was okay and not to fret. There had been no circus, Kitty was actually dead.
The sniffles subsided, the birds began to sing again and someone asked what was for lunch. Onwards we all went. Thirty years later I haven’t explained life and death to my kids in terms of pets joining the circus. The timing of life’s major events have meant our kids were old enough for a frank discussion when their grandpa died. But I do treasure the memory. And I dearly love my mother, who when faced with telling me of the sudden passing of a person I treasured, softened the blow by saying “Mrs. Delaney joined the circus…”