Isolation leads to trip down memory lane

What did you do for Easter? Bet you didn’t go far from home. Me either. The highlight of my day? I cleaned out the cabinet in the hall bathroom, something I may not have done for, oh, a decade or longer. It was like opening a time capsule.

It’s a deep cabinet, not the one just under the sink but beside it, two shelves down low so you have to half lie on the floor to get the stuff out, which explains why I hadn’t cleaned it out in a long time. I can GET DOWN, but I don’t want to get down on the bathroom floor. It was time. Things were falling out when I opened the doors, and I had no idea what in there. Tired of staring at my computer screen, I had just enough sunshine, caffeine and Easter chocolate in me to tackle the job.

Out tumbled years of memories, stuff I don’t know why I kept, and things I didn’t know I had. For example:

  • A steamer! I had totally forgotten I had it. I first used steamers during college when I worked at the uniform shop at the old Valley Fair shopping center. We sold uniforms for nurses, waitresses, and other professionals. Remember when nurses all wore white dresses? One of my jobs was to steam out the creases in the newly arrived uniforms. The steamer worked so well I bought myself one to use on the gowns I wore to sing with the Valley Chorale for 14 years back in San Jose. Gowns, crystal earrings, jeweled sandals, makeup . . . I felt so gorgeous in those days.
  • Three boxes of hair ornaments from when I had long flowing dark-brown hair. I found barrettes, clips, and scrunchies, pretty things that make me want to grow my hair long again, even though I think it looks better short. Maybe it will happen. With all the beauty salons closed, my hair is already growing out of shape. I could go through the awkward phase while we’re in isolation. Maybe I’ll even give myself a home perm. Looks bad? Who’s going to see it?
  • Nail kits of various sorts, including free ones from a charity for the blind and the worn leather case of tools that Mom used on us when we were kids. I brought it home after Dad died last summer. I remember sitting on the side of the bed while she cut my tiny nails. She often cut them too close, and it hurt, but a lifetime later, I learned while cutting my husband’s nails at the nursing home that it isn’t easy cutting someone else’s nails short but not too short.
  • Suntan lotion galore. I confess I rarely remember to use it until my skin turns pink.
  • Two wrist braces from my various sprains and strains. I had wondered what happened to them. Annie, age 12, and her brother Chico (no longer with us) were headstrong adolescent dogs when they knocked me over on the concrete out back and I landed on my right hand. I had planned to take Chico to the Blessing of the Animals at church. I went to the ER instead. I have learned that if a dog is coming at you like a speeding freight train, get out of the way.
  • A full bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a can of Off! bug spray, and a can of Wizard air freshener, gardenia scent.
  • Several wrapped toothbrushes, a half dozen travel-size tubes of Crest toothpaste too hard to squeeze, and several dozen of those floss-on-a-stick things that Fred liked to use. Stocking stuffers?
  • Enough disposable razors to keep me smooth till I die at 105 and some blades that go with razors that disappeared long ago.
  • Two zipper bags with eye drops and “fit-over” sunglasses from my two cataract surgeries in 2010 and 2011. One eye was done before Fred died April 23, 2011, the other after.
  • An expired night light. When my late husband Fred was ill with Alzheimer’s, he got lost at night looking for the bathroom. Nightlights helped. I also have more recent memories of my father’s house, which was lit up like a football stadium at night. The light didn’t bother him, and during those last awful nights at his house when I was up and down giving him pain pills and answering his calls for help, they were useful. But I tossed this one in the trash. It’s just me now, and I like it dark.
  • A big basket of gauze, tape, bandages, and ointments left over from various injuries. Dad kept a similar basket of first aid gear on the dresser. Because he was taking blood thinners and his skin was like tissue paper, the slightest cut bled like crazy and required serious bandaging. His arms were covered with half-healed cuts. So far, I have been lucky and haven’t needed these things, but you never know.
  • Blow dryer, curling iron, a dozen attachments I have no idea how to use.
  • Hotel soaps from trips all the way back to our visit to Portugal 30 years ago.
  • A Styrofoam pipe cover with chew marks from when my puppies got hold of it at least a decade ago.
  • A face mask, probably purchased to help with my allergies to pollen, dust, fur, feathers, various fabrics, and oh, just about everything. I already have a beautiful cloth mask a friend made for me, but now I have options.

I filled a garbage bag with the throwaways, moved some items to more appropriate locations, and slid the rest back in with room to spare. We’ll see what’s there in 2030.

Meanwhile, Jesus is risen, and I’m off the floor. Hallelujah.

How did you spend your Easter Sunday in this strange, strange year?

I’m moving back to where I started

img_20161017_094617032_hdr1Got your attention, didn’t I? Especially those church people who just panicked for fear I won’t be there to play the piano. No worries. I’m just moving down the hall.

You see, when my late husband’s Alzheimer’s got bad, I couldn’t sleep with him anymore. My insomnia and his hallucinations were a bad match. So, in November 2007, after nine years sharing the master bedroom, I moved into the guest room. I moved my furniture in there, bought new linens, and decorated the room in bright oranges, reds and yellows, anchored in brown. Warm colors. My colors. I hung my crucifix over the bed, something I had not done before because Fred was not Catholic. I filled the closet and drawers with my stuff. After Fred moved to the nursing home, I stayed in the guest room and filled his closet with suitcases, memories and empty hangers. It was cold in there, farthest from the pellet stove. Some of his shoes and ties had mildewed. I threw them away.

After Fred died, I hung his photo  from the funeral above his nightstand. I set up a little shrine with my Lady of Fatima statue, a prayer book, a candle and our matching wedding rings.

I only entered that room to pack for trips and to get to the bathtub in the master bathroom. I tried sleeping there a couple times, but the memories made me weep. That was OUR bed, OUR room. Fred slept beside me with our old dog Sadie at the foot of the bed. I couldn’t do it.

My bedroom, the former guest room, was a busy place. I not only slept and dressed there–wary of the neighbors who might see me through the street-facing window–but watched TV, paid bills, read, wrote, sewed and played music. Something loud was always on–TV, radio, cell phone with its games, music, texts and occasional calls. It simply got too loud in there. I couldn’t sleep.

My bed, purchased cheap, had sunk down on the side where I slept. I flipped it over and wore another trough into the other side. With my restless legs, I rubbed holes in all my fitted sheets, so I turned them upside down, too. Eventually I bought another set.

Light was a problem in the guest room. The street lamp pushed through the blinds and lace curtains. The moon, when it was full, shone in like a spotlight. Adding to the light show were the red numbers on my clock radio and the yellow and green lights on the Wi-Fi box.

In contrast, the master bedroom started calling out to me as a quiet oasis in cool whites and pastels. No electronics. No phone. Firm queen-sized bed. Because it was at the back of the house, no lights intruded, just the darkness of the woods.

Over the nine years that have passed since I moved out of the guest room, I have offered the master bedroom and bathroom to my dad who always declined, to guests who chose hotels, and to other guests who never come. I have considered renting out the room, but I want my bathtub and my privacy. I have never liked to share. I’m also afraid of who I’d get.

Now I think the room was waiting for me to come back. The memories are still there, but they are often sweet. I remember snuggling in that bed after making love. I remember times when Fred and I shut ourselves in there away from guests, feeling safe and happy together.

It’s time. No one else is taking that room, so I’m taking it back, making it my room, moving as few of my things as possible. I want to keep the volume down. No more red numbers screaming the time. No more reaching to turn on NPR news in the middle of the night or checking my phone the second I wake up. Just sleep. If I can’t sleep, I’ll take a bubble bath or read a book.

I’m still transferring stuff. The stacked-up boxes in the picture all hold quilt fabric, which I plan to use now that my sewing machine has been relocated to the former guest room.  Annie discovered my new hangout last night. Frightened by thunder and lightning, she decided she had to sleep with me. It was nice. New dog, new start.

 

Halloween photo sparks memories

Halloween at TimberwoodA few days ago, Facebook showed me a photo from 2010 of me and my late husband Fred at a Halloween party at the Timberwood Court memory care facility where he lived most of the last two years of his life. He looks disoriented. I look weary, and my glasses are askew. I wore an orange hoodie, the same one I wore this Halloween, and I can see orange and black decorations in the background. I remember bowls of candy,  somebody’s kids in costumes, and “The Monster Mash” playing in the background. The merriment was forced. Most of the residents had no clue what was happening.

After we said goodbye, I drove home through Corvallis. The trees were so brilliant with fall colors that I had to stop and take pictures. I walked the promenade along the Willamette River among kids in costume, couples strolling, and bicyclists speeding by. Mostly I stared at the river. It was always difficult to come out into the world after a visit to Fred, especially on holidays, which he used to enjoy so much. I didn’t know this would be his last Halloween, but I did know Halloweens were not the same anymore.

My mind goes back to 1997. Halloween occurred just a few days after Fred’s father died suddenly of a stroke. Perhaps it was unseemly, but we decided to go ahead with Halloween at Fred’s mother’s house in Newport. Fred’s brother and his wife were there, and we brought our dog Sadie. Mom Lick had a cold and stayed in the back room while we “kids” took turns handing out candy. In that neighborhood behind the Fred Meyer store, folks block off the streets every year and hundreds of trick-or-treaters come seeking candy. That year, they came in such a steady stream that we never really got to close the door. One of us had to hold the dog to keep her from bolting outside while the other tossed mini tootsie rolls in their bags or plastic pumpkins. It was cold and windy, but it was fun. Fred talked to all the kids, praising their costumes. Friends who knew my father-in-law had just died seemed surprised to find us doing the Halloween thing, but Mom insisted. She hung up her spooky stuffed monkeys in the window, set out her pumpkins, and we did Halloween as usual. We continued the tradition for another four years, until she too passed away.

It was a nice change from Halloween here in the woods where it’s so dark and spooky nobody ever comes trick-or-treating. I hang up orange lights, light a candle in a pumpkin and buy candy just in case, but always wind up eating it myself. I just finished last year’s bag of little Hershey bars. Now I have Tootsie Pops. You know what? They still taste great, especially when you get to the chocolate in the middle.

Our weather usually changes to winter in October. This Halloween, just before dark, it started raining like a hurricane, coming down so hard it looked like the ocean was coming to get us. I imagined the scene at many homes where the kids were set on going out and the parents were just as set on staying dry. Downtown was set up for the usual Deco District festivities where merchants hand out candy, but I didn’t see a single kid there. In Mom’s old neighborhood, over a hundred souls braved the storm. You’ve got to be tough growing up on the Oregon coast.

Growing up in San Jose, my brother and I did the typical Halloween thing. I remember smelly plastic masks, scratchy store-bought costumes and embarrassing homemade ones. I remember going door to door with our Halloween bags while Mom or Dad watched from the sidewalk, making sure we said “thank you” at every stop. As we collected Three Musketeers bars, Life-Savers, suckers, candy corn and other wonders, we never worried about the weather or had to cover our costumes with raincoats, gloves and hats. We also never worried about running into bears or cougars in the dark. Different worlds.

This Halloween, I sang at the 5:30 Mass, ate a late dinner and watched three episodes of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD. In the glow of my orange Halloween lights, Annie snored in the big chair and I contentedly sucked on a chocolate Tootsie Pop.

I hope your Halloween was good. Now it’s time to brace ourselves. It’s standard time, and winter is here. Will it be a trick or a treat? Wait and see.

The Dead Husband Thing

“My husband passed away.” That’s all I have to say to turn a conversation upside down. Women say, “I’m so sorry.” Men of a certain age take another look at me and say, “Really?”

To be honest, I hate to bring it up. The pity makes me squirm. I find myself gravitating toward older women who take widowhood in stride. You’re eighty-something? Of course your husband is dead. Besides, it has been almost four years now. Fred died the day before Easter in 2011. How long am I supposed to be pitiful? He wouldn’t want that.

Most women my age have living husbands. The husbands are getting gray, bald and jowly and they have various health problems. Maybe their sex life has fizzled. But they’re still alive. Then the wives look at me and think, “Whoa, what if my husband died?” I’m too much of a reminder that it could happen, that it does happen. God knows, if I were 15 years older, most of my friends would be widows.

Alzheimer’s took my husband out with a nine-year descent from beginning to end. Maybe he had it before that. He was always forgetful. By the time someone dies of dementia, you have spent years grieving already. The man you loved is mostly gone. After he dies, you miss him, but it’s a relief to have it finally over with.

Losing a husband is a two-sided loss. You not only lost this person you loved, but you lost your position in the world as a wife. Now you’re this new thing called a widow.

It’s surprising how people react. If I said I was divorced, they would just say, “Oh” and move on. I know; I was divorced for five years before I met Fred. But “widowed” draws a knee-jerk “I’m so sorry,” followed by an awkward moment when nobody knows what to say. Dear friends, It’s perfectly okay to talk about it.

Hey, I’m alive. Having a dead husband sucks, but not every minute of every day. Do I miss having Fred to talk to? Yes. Do I wish he were around when the car breaks down? Definitely. Do I feel bad when I’m the only single person in a room full of couples? So bad. Do I miss snuggling, kissing, and sex? Absolutely. Do I cry sometimes? Do I want to kick things? Do I tell God I would trade anything to have Fred back? You bet.

But then I realize that since he was always a lot older than me, he’d be 77 now and I’d have to go through his dying all over again. Been there, done that, wearing his T-shirts. And his socks and his jackets and his hats.

Here’s the thing. We go on. We eat, sleep, shop, walk the dog, go to church, and watch TV just like we always did, but now we don’t have to worry about doing it on anybody else’s schedule or catering to anybody else’s tastes.

Don’t get me wrong. We had a good marriage, one of the best. But we finished it. We loved each other to the end, we never cheated on each other, never fought about anything that mattered, and did everything we said we were going to do. Till death did us part. Amen. He went to wherever dead people go, and I have gone on to my next chapter.

Will that next chapter include another man? Maybe. I stopped wearing my wedding ring after six months mostly because I was starting to look at guys and wanting them to know I was available. Do I want to become a wife again? I don’t know. The financial fallout from getting married again could be disastrous, and do I really want to deal with another man’s family, including his kids, this late in life? Do I want to become a caregiver again if/when he gets sick? But what if I’m the one who gets sick? Who will take care of me? Sigh.

I love my freedom. I lost 20 pounds after Fred died. Not having to cook elaborate meals to please him meant I could actually stay on a diet for once. So now I feel younger and sexier. I flirt. I get horny. I enjoy dressing up and going out. I also enjoy working when I’m in the mood without the need to quit because somebody’s hungry or bored.

Would I give it all up in a heartbeat if I could have Fred back? I would. But that’s not going to happen, and I may live another 20 or 30 years, so I’m looking ahead, making plans, and thinking about projects I want to do, vacations I want to take, and movies I want to see. I have a bucket list that has nothing to do with Fred. Crass? I don’t think so. He died, but I’m still alive.

Thank you for reading this. May your Easter be filled with blessings.