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

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

the memory of Him

I realized something unsettling and bit surprising after the last visit with my father.

I’m having some difficulty in loving what’s left of him.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold his worn and trembling hands, maybe rub his back if the situation allows but inside I feel almost nothing. And it bothers me, and hurts the soul.

Everything I loved about my father was on the inside – I understand that, but in some ways, I feel hypocritical and shallow for going through motions that seemingly resemble love. But for now, I love the “memory” of him.
I used to love the way he signed his name: Walter Murphy – clear, precise, orderly; bold black hand-written lines that typified his organizational mind, his once brilliant mind.
Even when my mother would guilt him into making a tossed salad for a camp cook-out, you could tell by the way it was put together that my father had made it.
I love the fact that he was a man that loved his family passionately, though we were only shown glimpses of that paternal love.
He used to laugh so hard sometimes that tears would trickle down his cheeks, affecting my mother in such a way that she would usually pee her pants from watching him laugh. They were made for each other, I think.
Living inside a disease like Alzheimer’s has as many advantages as disadvantages; life goes on and you subconsciously forget about the pain.
But like the snow in the winter and the falling leaves of autumn, time doesn’t forget.
It taps you on the shoulder in subtle ways, maybe to help us remember what once was.
I visited Moonbeam’s blog last night and was incredibly moved by this post.
I understood its content and felt its bittersweet sorrow.

Unlike Moonbeam’s post, this one wasn’t difficult to write because it was written many years ago.
I think I’ve edited the damn thing ad nauseum. On the inside . . .
Sometimes it just takes a tap on the shoulder to put it down on paper.
Thanks for the tap, Moonbeam.
And Dad?
Maybe I’ll see you in my dreams tonight . . .

~michael

Recipes of the heart

It was a cold, brisk November night several weeks ago that Pamela and I went out to dinner (a rare occasion), not an expensive “date” by any means; a burger and a shared salad along with a few Shipyard Pumpkin Ales which were quite good, one or two and you’ve had your fill of this delicately spiced brew.
Maybe it was the up and coming holidays that turned on the “memory” faucet for me but for some reason I began thinking about my mother. (big surprise, huh?)
When I think about her, I really miss talking to her.
I wonder if that feeling will ever stop?
The two just go together, I guess.

It was no surprise that I found myself on Sunday afternoon making a big pot of Beef Stew, a recipe that I adopted from her.
The simple act of cooking something she used to make brings her back to me, in a quiet and introspective kind of way.
She’s almost standing next to me in the kitchen and to be honest, I love it.
Strange, huh? Not really.
After Thanksgiving dinner, I found a great seat on our “way too comfortable” living room couch and joined my daughters while they watched “Ratatouille”, the Disney flick (and a real good one at that).
I’m not giving anything away regarding the movie but now and then souls and memories intersect for reasons unknown.
This simple children’s movie spoke to me deeply.
Sheesh. It’s Dizzney.
Go figure. (one scene in particular)
Should you ever care to watch it, maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from, maybe not.
I’ll just say that special dishes are such a beautiful and lasting thing in terms of our deepest fields of memory.
Our minds literally refuse to forget the special foods we ate and loved as children.
They bring us back.
Way back.

It was no surprise to me that the beef stew came out as good as it did.
The simple act of re-creating a recipe my mom once made me feel so good.
Maybe she had more to do with the end result of the beef stew than I did.
I like to think of it that way, anyway . . .

~m

ps.
My mom’s beef stew recipe is up for grabs for anyone that wants it.
If there’s enough interest, I’ll post it here at S&M.

8-ball

When I was a little boy and needed an answer to the multitude of questions life threw in my path, I would ask my mother.
She was an all-knowing, mystical 8-ball in human form, I didn’t have to pick her up and shake her for a reply.
And I didn’t get “Signs point to yes,” or “Ask again later,” or “Outlook good,” as a response. I got advice on the inner machinations of the female mind, sticky social situations, manners, clothing – it didn’t really matter; my mother had an answer for virtually everything and I could never quite figure out how she got so damn smart.
But she was.
It’s evident now that she didn’t have some predictable icosahedron spinning around in that head of hers like the ubiquitous manufactured 8-ball.

It’s frightening how many questions have pig-piled their way into my brain since she got sick. They never stop coming in, a veritable hailstorm of unanswerable queries.
I get to a point these days where they get mentally filed for future processing.
There’s no other way, right now.

Last Sunday morning (the last day of my week off), Pamela and I took a ride to my mother’s grave.
It was a beautiful, crisp-as-a-new-fallen Macintosh fall day with abundant sunshine and a slight breeze, the aroma of burning leaves from someplace nearby oddly reminded me of frankincense.
We sat on the rose granite bench bearing my mother and father’s names and retreated to our own respective ‘quiet places’, both of us pondering some considerable ‘life thoughts’.
I’m thinking about the approaching winter and how I’m going to get the coal we need to stay warm. And I’m thinking about the fast approaching Christmas holiday and how we’re going to stand up to all its financial and emotional stresses.
I know Pamela is thinking the exact same thing; Christmas? . . . not again?!?
Something’s gotta give, and soon.
Pamela spotted a new gravestone off in the distance and got up to go and see it and I followed her.
It was a fairly elaborate jet black headstone with two smaller stones on each side.
This was the resting place of a 10 year-old little girl named, Victoria.

She died on December 21, 2005.

We stood there staring at the stone, both of us shedding tears for a little girl we didn’t even know, silently wondering how in God’s name her mother and father got through the holiday season and we began saying prayers . . . for all of them.
And here we were thinking we had it rough with our three beautiful, intelligent and loving daughters that we could go and hug anytime we wanted.
Damn, we were so incredibly fortunate.
We walked back to my mother’s bench and sat down taking in the endless miles of cerulean fall sky.
I couldn’t help but feel that my mother had found yet another way to give me an answer to a question I’d yet to ask.
We drove home in a very different mood. And our life was good.
We just needed to open our eyes to see it.
Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to remember to cherish all that I have . . .

~m

Not enough love in the world

I found a crumpled piece of paper on the train the other day and could see there was some writing on it. Being the perpetually inquisitive one, I picked it up and flattened it out.

It read:
I watched you sleeping
you’re beautiful

A simple, eloquent and somewhat heartbreaking note rolled into one (kind of disturbing, as well).
I wondered about its recipient as well as its author and how long this obsession had been going on. You just don’t see someone one day and write a note like this. This has been quietly simmering for sometime.

I’ve watched people sleeping on the train and more often than not, it ain’t pretty.

This must have been a very different scenario. Admiring someone from afar but never getting close enough to touch must be a terrible kind of living hell.

Maybe these two people knew one another but one of them couldn’t seem to bridge the impossible chasm between them for reasons unknown.
Six words rich in meaning written on a carelessly dropped (and crumpled) piece of paper. To me, it smacks of a significant sense of loss and incompleteness for both parties involved. The note isn’t the issue here as much as the story hidden deep within the text.

I told my wife about it and she wondered if the note was even delivered or if its author crumpled and dropped it, a thought that hadn’t even occurred to me.
Words like this have a weight and possibility to them and I can’t imagine not letting them reach home.

I think back to the number of times I gazed at Pamela from a distance, afraid to approach her for fear of rejection and embarrassment.
I know I fell in love with her face long before I knew her soul. Needless to say, we run deeper than the oceans.

And though the waters are much rougher these days than we’d both like, I consider myself a lucky one; my message in a bottle was ultimately delivered and read and I thank God my words found the still waters of acceptance.
I’ll never know any more about that crumpled note, but I wanted to give it some light hoping in some small way that it too, might someday find its way home.

~m

The alchemy of tears

They were the best of friends during the best of times and it was the same for the worst times.
Wally, Ginny, Ray and Joanie were so close I always thought of them as “The Inseparables”; and how inseparable they were.

Ray and Joanie were our neighbors across the street from where my sister and I grew up as children; they were a second mother and father we never realized we had until several years ago.
And they really were the best friends my mother and father ever had.
Right up until the very end . . . thick and thin.

But Ray and Joanie are moving next month to the Midwest to be closer to family and my sister and I couldn’t let them leave without saying a very special goodbye.

This story is about their love, their patience, the passage of time and all the little things we as human beings hold so dear.

This story is for Mr. & Mrs. P . . .

Last Sunday night, we had two longtime friends over the house for supper.
It was a happy gathering overall while on another more subconscious level it smacked of something sad, albeit bittersweet because we were ultimately gathered to say our goodbyes.
Ray and Joanie lived across the street from us for what seems like forever and I feel we’ve known them our entire life.

I always considered them to be something of a second mother and father to my sister and me even though they had two daughters of their own who are now married and off raising their own families.

At every significant event in our lives they’ve both been there.
They were also the very best friends to my mother and father refusing to let Alzheimer’s come between them regardless of how difficult their visits to them would someday become.

Believe me; I understand the difficulty and frustration involved in sitting with a person that no longer knows you.
There would come a day when it seemed that no one really cared about my mom and dad and the bewildering fog they were both passing through.

But Ray and Joanie did; day by day, week by week, month by month, year by painful year with their seemingly endless reserve of love and compassion.

Yes, these two were special. And still are.

My sister and I decided we needed to get together and give them something unique and deeply personal not only to remember my mother and father but us as well. After a brilliant suggestion from my wife, I think we had the bases covered.

We ate Chicken Shish-kabob from the grill, Caesar Salad and Rice Pilaf and sat reminiscing on the deck and laughing about the many better days long since past.

With the evening winding down, I gathered everyone on the deck and presented Joanie with a pretty decorated box.
I looked at my sister and could already see the storms brewing in her eyes.
Funny thing was this felt good and so right.

Joanie opened the box and reached in, pulling out something small and wrapped in emerald green tissue paper.

That’s for you, Joanie, I said, from my mother.

Inside the tissue paper were two of my mother’s Hummel’s, a young girl holding a butterfly and another of a little boy smoking a cigar.
Judging from her expression, she knew these two figurines well.
(*as we hoped she would)

She reached back into the box and pulled out something wrapped in royal blue tissue the size of a roll of paper towels.

That’s for Ray
, I said.

Here, Ramie, this is for
you, she said.

Ray tore the royal blue paper off to reveal a German beer stein, something from my father’s collection that I know Ray had seen gracing their hutch for years.
When you lift it to drink, it plays music; kind of cool and totally Ray.

All of us (9) were a bit teary at this point but it seemed so utterly natural.

The tears we cried were the alchemy of many wondrous things: sweetness and sentimentality, happiness and sorrow, loss and regret for the people, places and things of our countless yesterdays past; but most of all they were tears of hope for ourselves, our families and the future of our precious lives and possibly of a world we seldom understood.

Maybe crying was what we were supposed to do at a time like this.
Granted, it was a tender, almost “Walton Family-like” moment but it was sweet nonetheless.
And my God, it was real; real people, real tears.

We said goodbye that night accepting of the fact that for as much as we feel rooted in the mundane routine of our daily lives, we must move on to new journeys and adventures. . . like the one Ray and Joanie are currently undertaking.
I wish them both peace, health, laughter, good times and endless games and conversations with their grandkids.
That’s the very least I can do.

~m

Paradox Found

Ten years ago, the world as I’d previously known it began crumbling before my very eyes. With Alzheimer’s disease slowly sinking its insidious teeth into the flesh of two of the most important people in my life, I could barely hang on.

My interpretation of the world surrounding me was one of suffocation and predicated horror as I watched two innocent lives wither away; their “golden” years sucked into an invisible vortex of utter blackness.
There would be no vacations for them; no candlelight dinners, anniversaries, holidays, spontaneous I-love-you’s and oddly enough no tears for what ultimately should have been.

The blackboards of their lives had been virtually erased, their accumulated memories falling away like the New England autumn leaves my mother so loved.

Back then, I was filled with bitterness like I’d never known.

I was mad at everyone: God, the mailman, the guy that pumped my gas, the moon and the stars, my girls, my wife and a life that was spiraling out of control.
I was mad at the incomprehensibility and odds of the total clusterfuck I was in.
Close friends knew I was not doing well.
Advice was offered and thrown away, unused and scattered like junk mail.

One day, someone close to me said, “He’s trying to teach you something. Maybe you should listen.”
They were pointing upwards towards the heavens when they said it.

After a particularly heart-shattering day I found myself once again mentally “on the ropes”. I recall having a pen in my hand. I looked at it, scratched my head and began writing. There was no planning on my part, it just kind of happened.

Thousands of words and feelings later I looked up.
Over two hours of my soul were permanently on paper and I felt good.
The inner voices were gone and the world was quiet.
I was given a way out of this thing.

I think of all the people I’ve been blessed to know because of my writing; Annie, Moe, Kel, Fuzz, Evyl, Matty, Lolly, Bella, Spaz, Carnealian, Snot, Lass, Deb, Kelsey, Kim, Melanie, and Red . . .
{I love everyone on my blogroll, I really do}

But, how do you spell “sacred moment”?

Maybe He was trying to teach me something after all; I just had to discover it on my own.

Through my writing I was doing something that my mom and dad could no longer do; I was learning how to remember them.
Paradox is occasionally a bittersweet thing.
At least I like to think of it in that way.

~m

Softy

I brought a journal on vacation and didn’t write a damn thing in it but I did read a few dated entries. They were written in 2001 when ironically, we were on vacation.
I wrote mostly about my girls and the mounting sense of personal disappointment in my ability (or lack thereof) to understand them and their changing lives.

Things have changed dramatically in six short years as this journal entry
from today shows . . .

 

My wife and I went out to dinner last Wednesday night.
It had been a crappy day weather-wise on the Cape and the girls wanted to stay in for the night. They ordered some cheesy Chinese and picked up a few DVD’s to watch with their orders of Boneless Ribs, Crab Rangoons, LoMein, Chicken Fingers and buckets of Duck Sauce.

Pamela and I hardly ever go out these days so quite happily off we went.
Vacations can be unusual in some ways because you rarely spend that kind of time together during a normal week.
It’s agetting to know you {again} kind of scenario; not painful in any way, just different.
We talked about drinks, appetizers and entrées, the place we were staying in, our tentative plans for the next day and numerous ‘remember when’ type memories.
Pamela ordered baked scallops and I had to smile when she tried them and made a face.

What’s the matter?

Your scallops are so much better than these. Why is that?

 

I shrugged my shoulders in my best ‘I don’t know’ fashion.
But I knew. I make them much better and always have.
We finished dinner and decided to take a walk when we noticed the day’s rain had stopped.
I had a cigar and she, her thoughts.
We walked past a Mini-Golf place that had soft-serve. (don’t they all?)

 

You wanna get an ice cream?

 

Sure, she said.

 

A kid-sized twist for the blonde and a regular sized for me, the old guy.
We retreated to our own thoughts as we usually do when we eat ice cream when we saw an older couple drive into the parking lot.
I nodded towards the car and said,

 

That’ll be us in like 20 years.

 

You think so?

 

Sure, I said.

 

I don’t know if I want to come back here without the kids; too many memories.

 

But that’s what this place is all about for us . . . memories . . . and some real good ones too.

 

I don’t know, she said. It makes me sad . . .

The Cape has been a very special place for us over the years.
We’ve watched our daughters grow from diapers and playpens to young and beautiful women that can now drive and pick up their own Chinese food (which they did).

Our lives are changing and that’s a difficult pill to swallow sometimes, especially for a mother that loves her girls as much as I know she does.

I tried to convince her that the girls will never really leave the Cape.
They’ll be at every ice cream stand from Hyannis to P-Town that we visit, every beach that offers up a sunset like the one we all saw years ago in West Dennis; they’re everywhere we could ever need them to be.
Somehow, I got the feeling she didn’t quite believe me.

I will say I now have a deeper understanding of a women’s love for ice cream.

We walked back to the hotel holding hands while the earth continued to spin and the stars continued to blink on.

~m