Size of Sorrow

My sister and I have noticed some changes in our father.
Whenever we talk to him about ‘old times’ (instead of just sitting there staring vacantly out the window) his eyes fill with tears. He’s not totally crying but something is definitely going on.
We wonder what’s really going through his mind?
It was this thought and some help from the band “Tears for Fears” that are responsible for the inspiration behind this post.
I didn’t plan on posting tonight but sometimes you just have to let some of your writing go.


the Size of Sorrow

Carbon-copy days
Stain my mimeographed life
Wondering if today is some strange and future tomorrow

Time meanders away
some perpetual 36-hour day
But what is the size of sorrow?

a Fool on the hill
a sad silhouette of your absence
what remains breaks the heart of the borrow

Tomorrow is near
like an invisible tear
I’m wondering what is the size of your sorrow?

~m

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Walking Distance

When I was 9 years old I had a favorite paperback book called “Stories from the Twilight Zone”, a book of short stories based on the skin and bones for sketches produced on the TV program of the same name.
I had a favorite called “Walking Distance”, the story of a tired middle aged business man that leaves the big city one weekend and simply drives in an effort to get away from his job and the Rat Race in general.
His car breaks down and he gets towed to a local garage for repairs when he sees a road sign for the town he grew up in years ago.
He asks how far it is to the town and is told, “It’s walking distance.”
He enters the Twilight Zone and walks into his hometown of 40 years ago where his mother and father are still alive.

It’s funny that I was falling for these kinds of tender stories when I was ten.
Yeah, I was a weird kid, huh?
Much of my writing loosely falls into the same sentimental category. Go figure.
I started thinking about the last good day I had with my mother and father, sadly the memory has vanished deep into the recesses of my own scattered mind.
The ‘moment’ did happen though when I came to a realization that I could never get those moments back; accepting the idea was painfully difficult but I knew it had to be done.
It occurred to me that I began saying goodbye to the individual pieces of both of them, various facets of their personalities, phrases they often used and the stories they loved to tell.

I remember fruitlessly trying to pull my mother back into my world with my “remember when” queries that all too quickly lost their magical powers.
If I’ve learned anything at all from their tragic situation it’s that life is about seizing moments, grabbing them by whatever means possible and never ever letting them go.
I only wish I’d realized that fifteen years ago, wish I’d accepted their fates sooner, if that makes sense.
But I’m only human and I desperately wanted to believe otherwise.
If I could have several more hours with both of them it would be spent on the back deck of the Goodbye House’.
It would be a warm but comfortable summer night with nothing but a cricket soundtrack and a deep, orange creamsicle sunset off to the West.
My father would be standing by the grill wearing his signature wrinkled Bermuda shorts (or were they seersucker? God forbid), sans shirt with his pot belly exposed to the world with a can of Busch beer in his hand as he flipped burgers and hot dogs.
My mother would be flitting around the kitchen like some culinary Tasmanian devil putting the finishing touches on one of her ‘signature’ desserts.
We wouldn’t be talking about anything in particular; it would just be like it once was.
But it would be different to me because I would mentally file away and lock every smile, every laugh, and every taste and smell living inside that one bittersweet summer evening.
And I would remember all of it again, if I had one more chance.
Maybe the truth of the matter is that those memories are never very far away; in fact they’re easily accessible because wherever I am, ‘home’ is always close by.
Actually, it’s walking distance . . .

~m

Clinker

Most of the time I’m able to let the daily bullshit and banter sift through the cranial grates inside my cue ball noggin but on occasion I get a difficult clinker that won’t pass through.
I have to take it out and look at it and figure out why I can’t mentally digest it.
Case in point: the other night I was surfing the net for the latest in the way of books on Alzheimer’s disease; a simple and innocent task, right?
Imagine my surprise (and horror) to find a book titled “Alzheimer’s for Dummies”.
Needless to say, my searching was over for the night.
I’d found a seriously incongruous clinker that fueled my rage against the literary machine.
I was livid.
This was a subject much too close to home for me and to see it reduced to a ‘manual for dummies’ format personally devastated me.

“Dummies” manuals cover a range of topics: Chess, Poker, MSWord, Windows Vista and Grammar, to name but a few.
But Alzheimer’s disease?
Personally, it was unthinkable.

Why not “Breast Cancer for Dummies”?
How would that go over?
Believe me, I know.
I’ve lost too many friends to the disease and I would be outraged at the total lack of compassion and sensitivity used in publishing such a book.

Never mind.
What the hell is going on here?
I must be losing my mind.

I’ve checked out the contents of the AFD book and I’ve no doubt the author’s intentions were good.
But . . .
So this is what’s it’s come to?
Christ in a sidecar, I’m almost speechless here.
File this one under “roll up that manual and insert forcefully into your keester, sideways“.
But maybe there’s a “Dummies” guide for that as well.
Hey, if ICHC can get a book deal, why the hell not these buttmonkeys?
IMHO, those suffering from this disease deserve an apology from these inconsiderate ‘Dummie’ assholes.
Do I know what I’m talking about here?
Yes, I think I do.
All too well . . .

~m

A Beautiful Goodbye

It was in this post that I mentioned a moment of clarity that I’d experienced with my mother when she was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
I like to think that there are times in our lives when, for whatever the reason, we are deserving of a small gift of the soul; something that catches us off guard and lifts the spirit; an experience that simply says, ‘carry on’.
If you’ve visited Smoke and Mirrors before and have read any of my writing, you could conceivably finish this post for me.
I think.

Lately, I have been keeping close tabs on my father (my sister, as well) for reasons I have chosen to keep private.
That said, I visited him last Sunday around noontime to feed him lunch.
He tends to eat well whenever my sister and I feed him simply because we’re able to be patient. It’s a wonderful feeling to know he’ll nap the afternoon away with a belly full of food and that we had a small part in it.

He ate well for me on Sunday: pot roast, mashed potatoes w/gravy, vegetables and the softest dinner roll I’ve ever held in my hand.
I wasn’t sure if he would even finish his dessert but the bastard ate all the Banana Cream Pie and didn’t even ask if I wanted any.
(I tried it and yes, it was very good)

I cleaned him up and we sat by the window in his room.
A slice of winter sunshine found him and I think he enjoyed the warmth of it.
I spoke with a few of the nurses on the floor who told me that he’d had a very good night.

“Walter? Oh, no problems with him. Sweet man.”

With my questions answered and my father fed, I went back to his room and bent down so we were face-to-face, and kissed his forehead.

“I love you, Dad.”

He just stared at me.

“I know, I know,” I said, “You love me too, right?”

He lifted his tired hand, smiled and gently stroked my cheek.
No words were exchanged but no words were really necessary.
For a brief second, my father was really ‘there‘.

When moments like this happen you have to soak them in because they’re oh, so rare.
It’s the stuff of the soul.
Small gifts, my sister said.
Maybe they’re not quite as small as I’d originally thought.
I walked out of the nursing home and felt the winter sun on my face and I smiled because it felt a bit warmer than it usually does.
Maybe that was a gift as well . . .

~m

Not a chance . . .

“I think I may be beginning to disappear.” – Fiona (Away from Her)

Last night was a deeply emotional night for me.
For the longest time I’ve put off watching a movie called Away from Her
based on the Alice Munro short story called, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”, a tragic but uplifting tale of a husband and wife of 50 years coming to grips with Alzheimer’s Disease.
It was all too familiar territory for me and I knew instinctively why I hadn’t seen it in the theater.
Sometimes I hate when I’m right.

The internal walls I’d previously built for emotional protection were deteriorating rapidly, waiting patiently to be torn down.
New and stronger walls were waiting in the wings.
Seeing yourself in virtually every scene of a movie is a powerful (and devastating) experience and something has to give.
My already shaky walls began crumbling before my very eyes.
Seemingly insignificant scenes were like storms in the night, moments of illumination exposing moments of denial, the mind’s premeditated closing of the eyes.
I was watching my mother and father on the screen as years of pent up heartbreak gently poured out of me.
And truth be told, it felt like prayer, a long forgotten Hail Mary . . .
I’ve written much about my mother’s many moments of clarity, the small gifts I believe are given to us from up above.
The last minute of the movie contains such a moment, an incredibly beautiful moment.
I could only sit and watch the credits roll by,
letting this “thing” happen, if that makes any sense.
I apologized to my wife for being so weepy.
She hugged me as I knew she would and said, “I understand. It’s okay.”
All the ancient walls inside me came crashing down and as of this morning I’ve already begun new construction, my Extreme Internal Makeover, if you will.
This post isn’t so much about my tears or my outward showing of intense emotion.
It’s about the willingness to ultimately set some of my shadows free.
And so far, it’s all good.
You’ll have to watch the movie to understand the significance of the post title.
I’m not giving anything away . . .
~m

Shamrock

the whisper of a song…

In the summer of ’98, we moved my mother to an assisted living facility called Hearthstone.
At the time, it was getting downright dangerous for her to stay at home for a number of reasons: she was driving my father up a wall with questions, she was becoming increasingly paranoid and she would leave the house on a whim and disappear in a wisp of smoke.

The facility we placed her in was secured and specifically designed for people with progressing dementia.
This was to be my first foray into the deeply fragmented world of Alzheimer’s.
So many things happened while she was out there.
From the clinging and uncomfortable goodbyes to the sad moments of epiphany when I realized I was becoming a total stranger to her.
I liked to think I took it all in stride, showing the world my brave face and big shoulders when in reality, many a visit found me in my car afterwards weeping bitterly while forsaking the heavens above.

The God I thought I knew was turning His back on my mother with a deep negligence and offering me little to no discernible shred of mercy.
I was the only one that saw the situation for the tragedy that it truly was.
I felt He “owed” me.
These days I’m beginning to believe that maybe
He was there after all.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I believe there were many small “miracles” that happened way back then.
I was just too angry to realize it.
This story is about one of them…

It was St. Patrick’s Day in ’99 that I went to see my mother.
It was a routine visit at best.
I sat with her in the common room at Hearthstone and talked using my one-way conversation that had become a learned ritual.
Usually, when I ran out of things to talk about it was time to leave.
I went into the kitchen and poured a cup of juice for her and went to leave.
For some reason, I decided I would check her room to make sure everything was clean and in order. (Another story in and of itself)

Everything was fine and after talking briefly with one of the aides that took care of my mother, I went downstairs to leave.
There’s a long corridor that takes you past the common room before turning left to the thick oak door that led to the free world outside.

My memory of that walk down the hall goes into slow-mo right about here.

I had a gazillion things buzzing through my mind at the time.
As I approached the doorway leading to the common room I began to hear music—Irish Music—Danny Boy, to be specific, one of my mother’s favorite songs simply because her father sang it to her when she was a child.
As I walked towards the door leading outside, I stopped.
Someone was singing the song.
I turned and walked back towards the doorway recognizing the voice of my mother. I looked into the room and saw that all the residents had their heads bent down, prayer like.
There in the middle of the room was my mother, head back; eyes closed, singing every familiar word I’d known since I was a child.
Ten minutes ago she couldn’t say or remember my name and here she was going solo.
I began to mouth the words sotto voce along with her.
It was about as close as I could get to her in that one solitary moment in time. And it felt wonderful.
It was really her once again.
I’d been given mercy.

~m