The death of a parent is difficult, to say the least. The death of a second parent is even more difficult; compounding the loss of the first parent, and now unable to share memories and thoughts and life with the other remaining parent, a void, larger than the first loss, sits central and visceral in my body. I am edgy, restless, don’t know what to do with myself. Unable to sit still, I have cleaned each room in the large house, for the second time. I first cleaned the rooms as dad was dying and I, thousands of miles away, had nothing to do with myself, not able to be with family or dad, except on FaceTime. And thankful for technology, it filled much of my days, and still does. The week of traditional shiva has been one of aloneness in a weird covid19 world. But it has also been one of tremendous connection and togetherness where we have had daily zooms, 2 hours at a time. The silver-lining of Covid has been that we are all isolated and so all needing the time to connect with each other- from South Africa, to Sweden, to Israel, Australia, Canada and the USA, we have managed to find a time that is early morning for some, late evening or night for others. And yet, we all attend. I love this time recounting stories and memories of dad with each other and offering up so many fun tales and memories to his grandchildren and hopefully they will share with their children. Dad has not died. He has continued to live on, through our memories and our talking about him…and so we will continue to do so now and in the future. And Mom lives on too, through dad’s stories and our memories both of Mom and Dad their lives so intertwined. They live on in us.
I have made a point to one day put together all the many many tapes and video footage that I have recorded of Dad and Mom over the years. As a tribute and a loving living memory of a terrific story teller himself, of a man who loved to adventure, who loved life and all the people he called and included as family in his life. I hope that I can fulfill this, in his honour.
What do I do as dad lies dying 2,500 miles away from where I am…his 91 year old mind as sharp and alert as any 20 year old, but his body just not able to keep up with his mind. And me having just returned to California after spending almost 6 months in Toronto, still in my 2weeks of quarantine after traveling at the peak of the 2nd or 3rd wave of the pandemic.
For the past 9 months, since the dreaded coronavirus first touched these shores, we, as a family, have kept dad safe from this terrifying infection. We have also kept dad company through months and months of isolation and ‘lockdown’ as the retirement home where he lives has had first one wave of an outbreak, and now, the second, more rapidly spreading, outbreak. With the first outbreak in March, as the retirement home restricted visitors, and then even family members from visiting, serving food to each resident in their apartments on paper plates and drinks in disposable plastic or paper cups, my family worked tirelessly for 8, then 10 then 12 hours a day to keep dad company, assist him with his meals, and keep his spirits up and life energy souring as only he knew.
March rolled into April and then May. Spring in Toronto is the most beautiful of months where suddenly growth appears from a once ice-covered ground, little shoots of green sprout their tender foils reaching upward to the light and the sun. With Spring comes blooms of color and quantity, daffodils as bright as the sun itself emerge first, then the irises as the warmer longer days of summer emerge and the lilacs and lavenders of myrtle mingle their purple hues into dappled darkening plums and violets. Hydrangeas start to appear and summer comes all abloom with rapidity, knowing full well the shortness of it’s life, it flowers furiously for all it’s worth.
July, and finally we could travel to Canada from California- allowed to enter the country as ‘essential caregivers’ for dad. We complied reams of material stipulating where we would quarantine for 2 weeks on arrival in Toronto, who would meet us at the airport (Davida and family), provide food (Davida and family) and necessary provisions (Davida and family) while we isolated strictly according to Canadian public health regulations in a 900 sq foot condominium. That all proved to be easier than we thought. Chuck and I, both, enjoyed the time quarantining together knowing that this 2 weeks would leave us free to then be with dad, see him, even though we were restricted with visits to outdoors and only 2 at a time, and indoor ‘caregiving’ restrictions too. We had to get covid tested every 2 weeks to be able to be cleared to enter dad’s apartment at the retirement home. It was a minor irritation to have a large swab stuck high up in our nostrils for 20 seconds, nothing really, and easily done as Chuck and I spent weeks alternating and working out schedules with each other and my 2 sisters and 2 brothers, to make this time as bearable for dad as possible. And we did. All of us! My 4 siblings in Canada, myself and my wonderful husband.
Prior to this 2 of my university-going nieces, Erin and Geena, offered up their time to be caregivers for dad..to assist him with his meals as his Parkinson’s caused some problems with his dexterity, they took him for walks up and down the hallway of the 6th floor where he lived now alone after Mom passed away 4 years earlier, they washed and wiped and changed him as needed. 20 year old young women did this without flinching, for their beloved grandfather, their Zaida. Geena for a month and Erin for 6 weeks, they gave tirelessly and without reservation. A gift that dad relished, both beautiful young women; dad always had an eye for beauty.
I started writing this blog on Sunday January 3rd. Then put it away as dad’s end came ever closer……
Dad passed away on Tuesday, January 5th, 2021.
I look at my hands, long thin fingers, hands that have held the hands of those I love so dearly; fingers entwined. I wear mom’s rig on my second finger on my right hand. It’s a gold ring, badly bent out of shape. Too many pots and cleaning, is my reasoning. She worked so hard, my mom. Every Friday night she prepared a sabbath meal for 12, no, more than we could count, extras,and more…and always enough food. No one ever went hungry. I remember the pots and the pans that Mom spent hours scrubbing clean way after everyone went to bed. She never left a single dish in the sink, making sure that everything was cleaned and packed away for the morning.
I wrote this paragraph a couple of years ago, and never finished it to publish on my blog. Today, January 3rd 2021, I have decided to come back to my blog and write…after a long time of being away, today I start again to write, ramble and recount so much of life, love, family, and death…..read on….for the thoughts that are swathed in warmth and love and loss.
A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt.
He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart.
One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.”
The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?”
The grandfather answered: “The one I feed.”
~ Native American Story ~
I wrote this post but never ‘posted’ it, when we were in Scotland at the Killiehuntly Farmhouse. Pictures to follow……
We arrived early today at the Killiehuntly Farmhouse for a three night sojourn at the farmhouse as the ‘lord and lady’ of the manor house. We are ‘guests’, finally, being catered to and cared for with the finest of Scottish hospitality. There are 4 bedrooms in the farmhouse, each rented out for a night at a time, with only the one bedroom, ours,- en-suite. This makes us officially the Lord and Lady of the manor house, though in all respects it’s actually a farmhouse and not a manor house at all, and even though some may call me a “Princepessa” I feel that Lady is far more suited to my person. Meals are all served at a long table family-style adjoining the open plan kitchen. We are served wine pairings with each course and before dinner all the guests assemble together in the lounge area, where a wood fire is ablaze, yes, it’s still pretty cold here, and the honor system drinks and cocktails are accompanied by snacks of olives, chips, cheeses and delightful conversation. Tonight I will have a negroni as a cocktail – looks so tasty with it’s very fruity red and orange tinge. We are the only Americans here, the other guests are from England, The Netherlands, and Australia. We try not to talk politics, but it’s inevitable that we end up discussing the foibles of Trump and the Brexit issues, alongside what we all do or have done for a living. We have an orthopedic surgeon, a lawyer, an optometrist, a cook and cook book author, an investment banker and Chuck and myself seated around the table. The conversation goes in all directions, much like the food, which is delicious, fresh and abundant. The wines are too. It’s a good thing we don’t have to drive home, as we stumble up the old farmhouse steps and fall onto the plush linens of the four poster bed. I like this life, the farmhouse family-style life in the Scottish Highlands. I do think I could get used to this. Life on the farm for those of us who are privileged enough to be served, is what I call call ideal, luxury, and countryside rolled into one. Ahhhh….and to sleep, counting sheep…..
A list of things to bring with you to Scotland
• Rain jacket
• Rain pants
• Appropriate footwear
• Favorite midge spray
The list wasn’t a long one and it seemed easy enough to pack for a month in the northern highlands and Isle of Skye. With one exception, of course- the midge spray. And our favourite one at that! A little research into the midge might have prepared me, but my pre-trip concerns ventured more toward clothing, appropriate and otherwise, to fit into 3 carry-on size suitcases and a small day pack, for a week in England, 4 weeks in Scotland and 2 weeks in Israel. The midge did not hit my radar. Not until I met the mighty midge head-on! And when I did, they attacked me like B52 dive bombers, coming in under the radar again and again for a hit!
The second evening at Kyle House in the upper-most region of the Scottish mainland, the sun made an appearance, after a day mostly of clouds and rain. Chuck was taking a nap upstairs and I, excited by the break in the weather, and the very late-setting sun, grabbed my laptop and journal to sit outside, inspired by the exquisite scenery. The sun felt so good on my exposed neck, after all the rain, I just had to bare more flesh to the wild highland sea and sky, removing my long sleeved top, boots and socks. The most scenic place to sit was on the rustic wood tree trunks placed as stools around the huge ready-to-go bonfire, where the clearest view of the spectacular Kyle of Tongue could be viewed as the tide slowly waded to and fro. I lit the fire, proud of myself for managing to get the wood logs burning after all the rain. Inspired by the nature and magnificence of the wildness around me, not to mention the inspiration coming from the chilled bubbly Italian Prosecco I was sipping , I began to wax lyrical on my word document, in between sighs of joy at having discovered such a magnificent place to stay. Heaven couldn’t beat this.
“Hello.” A large man appeared out of the heather and thistle, shocking me out of my heavenly state. My mouth agape at the huge apparition before me, I knocked over my glass of Prosecco as I jumped up from the wooden log stool. “Sorry to startle you.” I think was what he said, or something like that. It’s difficult to understand Scottish, particularly when you are least suspecting of anyone talking to you, especially in a brogue. . “I’m Ian.” He thrust his hand out at me. “The games keeper.” I shook his hand, mostly to make sure that he was real, and not an apparition. His hands were rough, and his large hand covered mine like a mitten as he shook my hand firmly. He was dressed in tartan from head to feet; tammy, waistcoat, knickerbockers and knee-high socks ,all in the same tan and brown patterned tweed. He looked like he had stepped out of a screen shot from ‘Braveheart’.
“Umm…can I offer you something to drink,” I was at a loss for any other words. He looked over at my tilted wine glass and frowned. “ I have whiskey. Um, my husband has whiskey. He’s asleep upstairs. I’ll go and get him. Whiskey?”
“I never turn down a wee dram.” He nodded.
“Chuck, wake up. There’s a man here who says he’s the games keeper or something like that. I’m getting him a whiskey. Which one should I pour? Langevullen, Maccallum, Dalwhinnie, Auchentochen?” I know to check before I just pour, some being more revered by Chuck than others. Chuck joined us outside at the bonfire which was now hugely ablaze.
“You poured a stiff one.” Ian downed the mega large dram of Maccallum in one gulp, then said, with a look of fear in his eyes, “I will stop by tomorrow.” He handed me his empty whiskey glass. “The midgies.” And with that he was gone, like a fast moving deer through the heather and thistle, as if they were ferns brushing up against his woolen tweed., rather than prickly thistle.
“Wonder what his rush was?” I asked Chuck, as I held my hands out towards the bonfire. Chuck had followed suit of the games keeper and was already inside.
“Why did you rush inside?” I asked Chuck as I ventured in an hour later.
“No reason. I just didn’t want to be outside.” Chuck was seated in the large blue velvet couch, whiskey in hand.
“That games keeper rushed off in such a hurry. Wonder why?”
That night, I knew. I woke up at 3:30am with the sun just rising, my body, covered in huge inflamed bites, from head to toe. And if only I knew……trust me, to know thine enemy, the mighty midgie. I’ve been paying every since that evening with welts, scratching my way through Scotland.
‘Midges are tiny flying insects with a wingspan of only 2-3mm. There are over 35 different species of biting midge in Scotland, but it is Culicoides impunctatus, otherwise known as the Highland Midge that earns its place as Scotland’s most ferocious foe.’