After the Funeral, the Unpacking Begins

IMG_20190915_080126224_HDR[1]I’m unpacking. It’s weird because now I can unpack all the way. In recent times, I have kept the suitcases handy and partially packed because my next trip to San Jose and another Dad crisis was always just around the corner.

I have the whole 13-hour drive cemented in my head. I know where to get gas, use the restroom, sleep, eat, and find good radio stations. I know how long it takes and when I will arrive.

When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, I had to think for a minute before I could define that light area straight ahead. Oh, it’s the bathroom. That’s not where it was at Dad’s house or in the motel. This is my house.

For the 23 years since Fred and I moved to Oregon, my destination has always been my parents’ house. Dragging in after the long drive, I could expect a hug, dinner, and a soft bed. I remember one Christmas when my mother greeted me at the door by telling me, “My Christmas present is here!” Me. Ditto, Mom.

Everything has changed now, and so have we. The house will be sold, and my brother and I won’t visit San Jose as much. We can stop commuting because God is taking care of our parents now.

My father and mother are together again, Clarence “Ed” and Elaine V. Fagalde, side by side. It feels right, but it hurts. Yesterday in Portland, on the shuttle from the terminal to the long-term parking lot, the woman sitting next to me answered a phone call from her mother. Afterward she said, “No matter how old you get, your mother’s still checking up on you.”

I felt the tears coming. “If they’re alive,” I said. “You’re lucky.”

And then we arrived at the Q bus shelter, grabbed our bags, and went off to our cars. She was probably on the 205 freeway before I stopped crying enough to drive slowly toward the parking lot exit.

It’s going to be that way. Obvious triggers and not so obvious ones will bring tears. I’ll sob and scream then go on, refreshed for a while. The tears signify how much you loved them, said the wonderful Fr. Saju on Friday at Dad’s funeral Mass. The priest had seven funerals last weekend, but he made everyone feel as if theirs was the only one.

Putting a loved one to rest involves a lot of quick planning and last-minute detail, but it went well. We didn’t have a huge crowd at St. Martin’s, but every single person who came was special. The music by the talented Ophelia Chau was gorgeous, and Fr. Saju included everyone, Catholic or not. We laughed and cried. The military honors, complete with “Taps” and a flag ceremony, tore our hearts. And then there was a barbecue at Aunt Suzanne’s house, where cousins from different branches of the family got to know each other over hamburgers and linguica dogs, potato salad, chili, beer, and five different kinds of pies.

It was ridiculously hot outside, 97 degrees, so eventually we all crowded into the air-conditioned house and watched cousin Rob’s slide show of old black and white photos, yelling out guesses as to where they were taken and who all those people were. That’s Uncle Don! No, it isn’t! That’s Jack. No, it’s–” We kids have to fill in the blanks now. I hope Dad and Mom were watching together, smiling at the memories, knowing all the names.

I came home yesterday. When the plane landed back in Portland, it was 60 degrees, overcast and raining. Suddenly the light sweater I didn’t need in San Jose was not enough coverage. That’s Oregon. This morning I cleaned, filled and lit the pellet stove. Annie is sprawled on the love seat warming her belly.

It’s odd being home. I already feel memories starting to fade. I don’t want to forget where I was the last few days or the last few months. I want to hold on to those precious memories, just like I wished I could hold on to the red rose I snatched from the funeral flowers. I didn’t know how I’d get it through airport security, so I left it for the motel maid.

Do I really not have to go anywhere until Thanksgiving? Can I actually make plans and expect to keep them? Is my father really gone? And my husband and my mother, too?

This is part of growing up. The cousins whose parents have not already passed away are doing the same caregiving dance my brother and I did for so many years. All too soon, there will be another funeral, another name etched in stone.

But it’s not all darkness. As Dad’s ashes were slipped into the niche with Mom’s on Saturday, my cousin’s daughters and my niece’s son and daughter, ages 1 to 4, ran around between the walls of ashes and the commemorative benches. Knowing nothing about death, they laughed and hollered, rolled and jumped. To them, this place was almost as good as Disneyland.

Take a lesson from the children. Grab joy wherever you can. Fall, cry, get up, and play some more.

I’m home. The next chapter begins.

Online series save us from the real world

Mcleod's_daughters_screenshotWhen you find yourself praying for the well-being of a TV character on a show that ended 10 years ago, you might be having a problem with reality. As you wander through your real life, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “I wish Alex would come home” or “Lord, don’t let Tess lose the baby.” Yeah, yeah, they’re fictional. The actor playing Alex is not really in Argentina, and the actress playing Tess is not really pregnant. But their world is so real!

What am I talking about? This time it’s “McLeod’s Daughters,” an Australian series that aired in the early 2000s. It was quite popular there, and now it’s available on Amazon Prime. The story takes place on a cattle and sheep ranch called Drover’s Run in the Australian Outback. A feminist “Bonanza,” one writer called it. Owner Jack McLeod having died, it is run by his daughter Claire. Soon her half-sister Tess, who grew up elsewhere, moves in. Along with workers Meg, Jody and Becky, the women run the ranch and get into all kinds of adventures and romances. The scenery is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the horses are beautiful. What’s not to love?

Next door to Drover’s Run is the Killarney ranch, where the handsome Ryan brothers Nick and Alex live with their irascible father and society maven mother. They have an assortment of handsome employees, too. The folks from the two ranches are always visiting, borrowing things, helping each other, and getting together at the Gungellan Pub. They also do cattle drives, shear sheep, and fix a lot of fences. They deal with thieves, droughts, sick cattle, and a shortage of money, but they always come out all right. And of course, the men and women fall in love.

The series lasted eight seasons, with 32 episodes per season. That’s a lot of video to watch. Over the years, characters left and new ones came in. Rodeo queen Stevie moved in to take Claire’s place. Tess and Nick moved to Argentina. Cousins Grace, Jaz and Regan moved in and out and back in again. Meg went off to write a book; Moira moved in. Toward the end, viewers complained that it was too much of a soap opera. Agreed. But by then I was so hooked, I took a morning off to watch the last two episodes. I couldn’t wait all day.

I didn’t want to risk finding out what was going to happen until I had seen it all. Early on, I looked up one of the actors and found out something terrible was going to happen. No! I don’t want to know these things in advance. So yesterday, after I watched the end, clutching my dog for fear the good guys would be killed at the last minute, I prowled the net looking things up. I learned that most of the cast changes happened because the actors decided to leave. I learned that the show waned in popularity the last two seasons. The “where are they now” features were unsettling. Everybody looked different. Wait, is that Stevie on an episode of Baywatch? Where’s her cowboy hat and red hair?

I had it bad. It was not the first time. Ask me about “Downton Abbey” or the “Gilmore Girls.” Or “Offspring,” another Aussie series.

I don’t have a “smart” TV. I watch these things on my Kindle Fire tablet. Yeah, it’s small. I forget that after a few minutes. Annie and I curl up on the love seat, and the hours go by. Unlike dramas on the broadcast networks, where you watch one episode and then wait a week for the next, I can watch one after another. There are no commercials. If I need a break, I can pause the video. But I don’t want to.

Am I addicted? Probably. But my doctor says I can’t drink, I don’t want to do drugs, and I don’t have much of a social life, so it’s a safe outlet.

Things have been crazy in my real life lately. My father’s condition is getting worse by the day. After trying to talk with him on the phone every night, I’m usually frustrated because his hearing is so bad he misses most of what I say, and there’s not much I can do. I can’t fix his legs that don’t work anymore. I can’t improve the care or the food or heal his wounds. Nor can I be with him every day. I’ll be heading back to San Jose next week. Meanwhile, I send myself to Drover’s Run, where no one is ever alone, help is always on the way, and you can always count on your “mates.”

When trouble at work is keeping me awake, I send my mind off to Stevie and Alex’s wedding. The horses, the gowns, the vows; was there ever anything so beautiful? When I despair of getting enough pre-orders for my upcoming book (Gravel Road Ahead, order here), I think about how Meg’s book got published so easily. Soon she was signing copies all over the country. I can be like Meg.

Fiction.

Thank God for made-up stories that make us feel better. What makes the TV networks think we want to watch game shows and reality shows all summer? We don’t. Please, take us away from reality for a while.

When I write fiction, it takes me away. I can create my own Oregonian version of Drover’s Run. I guess I did that with my novel Up Beaver Creek. And now that I have left Drover’s Run, I think maybe my time was not wasted. I have some new ideas for PD and her friends.

I need to take a break from the videos for a while to clear my head and write my own stories, but I know I’ll get hooked on another series.

What about you? What shows do you binge-watch? Can you watch one episode and move on? Is it okay to escape reality this way for a while? Come on, share your guilty video pleasure.

 

I Can’t Believe It’s All Happening Again

Remember last year when my father broke his leg, a tree crushed my fence and part of my house and my dog had knee surgery for a torn ACL all within three months? And then the west was on fire all summer?

Well, ditto for 2018. It’s déjà vu bigtime.

This June, I traveled south to California to help my dad. I had visions of making major progress with the house, yard, his caregivers and his doctor appointments. He was not doing well. His leg never really healed, so he was still using a walker. He had fallen recently, only skinned his knees, but needed the paramedics to scoop him off the pavement in the back yard. He complained about blurry vision, his clothes getting too loose, and being tired all the time. He obsessed over the gardening and other tasks not getting done.

I thought I would swoop in and fix everything. Instead I woke up on the second day with the stomach flu and couldn’t move beyond the bathroom for the next 48 hours. I didn’t feel much better until a week after I got home. I helped as much as I could, cleaning house, pulling weeds, and running errands while trying not to puke, but didn’t do nearly as much as I wanted to. Dad said, “I didn’t expect you to work.” Yeah. I can just hear him telling people, “She was here for over a week and didn’t do a damn thing.”

The day I got back to South Beach, I picked Annie up at the kennel. I didn’t leave her home with the neighbor feeding her this time because she had been barking for two weeks straight at the bear prowling through our neighborhood. Ten days of that would surely cause the neighbors to lose their minds.

We were overjoyed to see each other. But as I settled in the back yard with the cell phone to make some calls, I noticed my dog suddenly holding up her back left leg. She couldn’t put any weight on it. No. I just paid off the last surgery. Dear God, let it be a thorn or a hangnail, but I already knew what it was. In big dogs like her, when one knee goes, the other is almost sure to follow. The vet confirmed my diagnosis, torn anterior cruciate ligament. Yesterday I found myself back on the road to Springfield to meet with the surgeon, a cheery fellow who said, “Same song, second verse.” We scheduled surgery for Aug. 16. Here we go again.

Once again driving I-5, the air was hazy with smoke from Oregon’s wildfires. Like last year, fires are blazing all the over the West, including a horrific blaze in Redding, and others near Yosemite and Clear Lake, where my brother and my cousins live. The fires seem bigger and harder to control this year. Here’s a link to information about some of the worst California blazes. Please God, watch over the firefighters and help them stop the fires.

And then there’s Dad. On July 25, a year after I sprung him from the nursing home to start his new broken-leg regime at the house with paid caregivers, he fell again. Blood all over the kitchen again. He called my aunt on his cell phone again. The paramedics came again. They had to break the screen door, which he keeps locked. This time, his legs and hips are intact, but he needed 11 stitches on his left arm and has damaged his right shoulder, which means that none of his limbs work as they should. But he refuses to go to “rehab” or have nurses from Kaiser come to the house. He’s a stubborn old cat. He sees his doctor on Aug. 10.

What if dog and dad both need my attention at the same time, 700 miles apart? Annie does not travel well, and I can only lift her 75 pound hulk into the car so many times before my osteoporotic spine crumbles into a pile of shattered bone. Plus Dad would probably trip over the dog. I spent last year running back and forth trying to deal with everything at once. I’m trying not to think about it.

So no tree trouble this year, right? Not exactly. When that other monster tree tried to eat my house, another tree fell at the far end of the yard. The weather was so bad I didn’t see it, didn’t get it included in the insurance claim. It’s still lying on the fence. Yesterday I noticed another tree is leaning on the fence and yet another is resting atop the woodshed. I can’t afford to pay someone to deal with them, so they sit. At least the limpy dog can’t jump over the sagging fences. Also, the bear has moved on, or Annie is too stoned on painkillers to bark about it.

So, déjà vu. I’m using the definition loosely. Actually the phrase does not mean having the same thing happen twice. It’s having the feeling that you have experienced something before. The urban dictionary translates it from the French as “already seen.” Yep, seen it, done it, did not get the T-shirt.

I have to go find Annie’s inflatable collar. Hey God, stop laughing at me.

Click below for a few refreshers on the events of 2017.

“On the Road to California Again” 

“It’s Knees to Me. Annie Preps for Surgery” 

“It’s All About the Dog These Days” 

“Choking in Smoke as the West Burns” 

“If a Tree Falls, It Breaks the Fence”

If you want to read even more past posts in a handy all-in-one-place format, consider buying a copy of my book Unleashed in Oregon: Best from the Blog. (Sorry for the plug, but gee, if you buy a book, it will make me feel better.)

Torn between San Jose and South Beach

You know how when you’ve been away from home for a while, you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are? That’s how I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. I open my eyes and expect to see windows at the foot of the bed, but no, there’s a closet there. I go to the bathroom and reach for the toilet paper on my left, but it’s in front of me. I open the refrigerator and reach for the milk I just bought, then realize I bought that milk in San Jose and it’s in my father’s refrigerator. 

After a month in San Jose, I find that things are pretty much the same here in South Beach–except for the lawns and berry vines being out of control–but they look different to me. I’m noticing so many things that I never noticed before. Were there always so many trees? Was my bathtub always so pink? How come I let so much junk pile up in my garage? Did they always help me take out my groceries at the J.C. Market?

I feel as if I have come from another planet. In many ways, I have. I spent most of September and the beginning of October taking care of my father, who broke his hip in late August. We were together constantly. I spent my days cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, buying groceries, answering phone calls, keeping track of visiting nurses and physical therapists, tying and untying shoes, and listening to Dad’s stories. In a way, I was living my mother’s life. At night, I lay awake in the room I occupied for the first 22 years of my life, ready to jump up at every noise I heard from down the hall. At first I was afraid to leave my father for even a few minutes. He seemed so fragile and helpless. But Dad is a cat with more than nine lives. By the time I left on Friday, he was elbowing me out of the way to do his own dishes. The doctor had cleared him to bend  and to drive his car. He still needs to lean on his walker, but he’s ready to return to solo living, with occasional visiting helpers.

So here I am back in Oregon, trying to catch up. I have thousands of emails to deal with, bills and mail piled high, stories to write, music to practice, and lawns to mow. My dog Annie is thrilled that I’m back, and I’m glad to be with her again, but she has developed a new pre-dawn barking habit in my absence. I’m happy that the weather is pleasantly cool after San Jose’s incessant heat. But I find myself just sitting still, trying to grasp where I’ve been and where I am. I’m not as worried about my father now, but I miss him. Both of us widowed, I think we both enjoyed having someone to hang out with. But we each have our own lives. He is very old, and I have no doubt there will be another crisis. Someday he will be gone. Meanwhile, I am here, unleashed in Oregon again.

Torn between Oregon and California

The thing with living distant from your family, whether it be in another state or another country, is that, if you have a loving relationship, you will always be traveling back and forth. Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings and funerals all draw me south, back to California. in the last 17 years, I have made at least 40 trips.

The airport is so far it’s not worth the trouble to fly, and it’s not an easy drive. Hot in summer, snow, rain and wind in winter, traffic year-round in the Bay Area. Last Thanksgiving, I drove through intense rain and wind that left trees, signs and roofs scattered all over western Oregon while I struggled to keep my car on the road. When I thought the hard part was over, I ran over a bicycle in the middle of the 680 freeway, shredding my tire. When I arrived at Dad’s house, I declared “never again.”

Not only was the drive horrendous, but I was missing work, had to leave Annie at the kennel and generally turned my life upside down. But as long as I live in Oregon, and my family lives in California, I will do it again and again. I love my family, and most of them are not free to come to Oregon.

When my mother was dying, I wore out the I-5 freeway driving back and forth. Now my father is ill. I always knew that someday I’d need to rush down to help Dad. That time has come. I’m into my third week in the house where I grew up. I’m cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, taking out the garbage, buying the groceries and driving Dad back and forth to Kaiser hospital. He’s 91 and facing open heart surgery. We talk for hours and he keeps showing me things I’ll need to know if the worst happens. He keeps saying things like “when I conk out . . .” But we have spent magical hours going over old photos and sharing memories. We have laughed together. This time is a gift in many ways.

It’s not all fun. I miss my work, my dog, my WiFi, but none of that really matters right now. My father may die soon. Every time he falls asleep in front of the TV, I check to make sure he’s still breathing. He was sick in bed all day yesterday while I tiptoed around and prayed a lot. He’s a strong man, but nobody lives forever.

Meanwhile, I’m loving the California sunshine and easy access to the rest of the family. Between crises, I’m sleeping soundly in my old bedroom. This house is warm and cozy, not dependent on woodstoves to heat it. As I sit in my mother’s chair by the living room window writing in the glow of a pink and blue sunrise while my father sleeps, for the first time in years I don’t feel divided between two states. But I can’t stay here. I live in Oregon now.

I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring. We hope for a successful surgery and strong recovery that will allow Dad to live on his own again. Whether or not that happens, when my father doesn’t need me anymore, Oregon waits for me like a patient lover who will never give up on me, even though I leave it again and again.