Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

The human challenges of health care decisions

March 14, 2015

People say that physicians can play God. The same might be said of a health care proxy who must make decisions on behalf of someone who is no longer able to do this for him or herself. As I have watched my husband assume the role of health care proxy for his father, I am profoundly struck by just how intensely human a role this is.

We agreed that it made sense for my mother in law, who has been married to my father in law for not yet three years, to switch this job to my husband. She stated that she knows herself well enough to realize that this delicate position would be too difficult to manage when the time came to invoke it.

My father in law, a once dynamic, charismatic man who commanded a room with his booming voice, colorful language and keen intellect, has slowly left us as his kidneys no longer clean his blood effectively, leaving his thinking and memory more foggy. He started dialysis too late for it to really maintain his health, thus it has put a brake on his decline, but at this point the slide is more rapid, gaining ground every day on his once decisive and knife edged clarity. At times he retreats to meetings from his position with the United Nations in various countries, and further back to his stint in the Navy where he made powerful connections with people who remain loyal to him still.

Although he has been time traveling, (and recently added a son to his actual two) he had been able to answer questions about what he wants with greater coherence, and even at the time when he fell and broke his neck was deemed legally competent much to our dismay as he was insisting he was fine to go home. It took a gentle, direct conversation with my husband to convince him that he was too ill, and his love for his wife was too great to put them both at risk at home.

It has been this disconnect between his actual state of health and how he perceives it that has been the most challenging to manage. His physical decline although so sad, would be simpler if he were able to recognize it and plan accordingly. Although very sweet and sometimes touching that he still suggests we go out to dinner when we visit him at his facility, he eats almost nothing and can barely stand. It is painful because he doesn’t understand our quiet, persistent refusal.

After three professionals from three separate facilities suggested we consider ceasing dialysis and setting up hospice, we had to seriously consider it. This would mean a gentle slide into unconsciousness and a pain free death, the type of end that many people would prefer. It has become a matter of interpretation of his former wish to not be kept alive by extraordinary measures and his more recent proclamations that he is not ready to die. He had stated that he did not want his last days to be like that of his father who had suffered strokes and was alive for two years following that. Would there be a point he would articulate a readiness to die? At what point will dialysis feel like an extraordinary measure? Without an an explicit conversation about this, my husband has elected to continue dialysis for now. As my father in law’s pain from various injuries continues to cause him discomfort, his weight loss leaves him more vulnerable, and his connection with reality more tenuous, there may be a point at which dialysis seems like an extra burden, or cruelty.

For now, we struggle with the extraordinarily human challenge of trying to honor the wishes of a man we love, without clear direction from him. We can only hope that we are doing right by him, and trust that he will be able to give us a signal, if nonverbal, of his readiness to say his final farewells. We must remember to have these conversations with each other, and document them, so that we might provide guidance when our time comes to make this most important and inevitable transition.

Not Standing on Ceremony

September 29, 2014

Weddings are always a reflection of the people starring in the ritual- large or small, formal or casual, with varying emphasis on music, food and presence of a religious tone. The wedding we attended on Saturday at the Crane Estate in Ipswich was no exception. What did take me completely by surprise, however, was the way in which the ceremony was conducted.

The bride and groom were the daughter of the Vice President and the son of the President of the company where my husband has worked for 22 years. They’re both close to 30, and everything about the wedding was driven by their preferences, their choices.

“Uncle” (at 80, actually the groom’s great uncle) became licensed to preside, and anyone connected with the company knew how this translated. For the many (among 400 guests) who were not so well acquainted with Uncle’s charms, what unfolded was nothing short of mind blowing.

Uncle’s demeanor was that of someone hosting perhaps a family reunion cruise ship talent show; he was informal, familiar, telling stories about the couple’s families, the company, letting us know when he was tired and would like to sit. In the middle of one story it occurred to him that he should sing a song. Impromptu, in a lovely baritone, he began, but after a few lines, could not remember the words. He asked for assistance when he lost his place in the program, and was happy to receive help about the timing of inviting the two people to do readings to take the mic. They each spoke for a minute or two, and the couple exchanged vows that they had written. In the middle of the marital pronouncement, he interrupted himself to announce that he remembered the words to the song. Our eyes popped imagining a digression at this point, but he refrained from singing a refrain.

We laughed, we looked uncomfortable, we dropped our jaws in disbelief at what we were witnessing. The two families, though, were clearly loving it, comfortable, welcoming. As my husband pointed out repeatedly, he is a known raconteur, and this was a conscious and deliberate choice.

The couple had invited a level of personalness and humor to what, judging by the storybook cover, had appeared to be a formal occasion. I had read too much into the grandeur of the Great House set atop 2,000 acres that rolled down to the sea.

They knew that they were getting 45 minutes of stand-up, delivered with love from someone they hold dear. They were confident that no matter where the service wandered, it was based in the heart, and would end with a legal and delighted pronouncement of their status as husband and wife. The rest of us were honored to be extras in the movie of their creation.

Meg Stafford can be reached at megstaf@aim.com

Launching of students and parents..

September 14, 2014

I had thought that the last two years would protect me from the feelings that arise when your youngest child heads off to college. She had spent half of the first year following high school living at home, working two jobs in order to pay her way to a South African volunteer position in an elementary school. After those four months, she travelled through Europe for several weeks with a friend she had met while volunteering.

There were long stretches when we did not hear from her, and I could see the fabric of her independence taking shape, along with a thirst to explore the world, get to know people of different cultures. I trained myself to understand silences as time when she was taking a jaunt outside the city, or within. I learned that the sweep of parental concern is not bound by time zones or country borders. Her return from this trip produced a desire to attend college in “a more central location,” which to her, in an English speaking place, meant Scotland. We had laughed. Central? Central how? But having friends now scattered around Europe, and having experienced the bus-like ease of air travel in Europe, Scotland now felt like an appealing base from which to study.

This meant reapplication to University and a cashing in of her already deferred acceptance to Connecticut College. It also meant a second year off because Scottish universities demand SAT subject tests which Conn had not. Working half the year on Martha’s Vineyard to fund her travels in the spring to New Zealand determined that being a couple of hours away on an island off the coast of Cape Cod felt close by, and being across the world and eighteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time was another lesson in establishing trust that she could both support and take care of herself.

Given all this training, university in Scotland seemed like it should feel nearby —almost like being in California, but the other direction, right?

We created a family vacation just before the start of Freshers week, with our older daughter flying up from Colombia to meet us. Together we delighted in the the Edinburgh Castle, the dramatic Scottish highlands and historic St. Andrews before move-in day, when we all trooped up the four flights of stairs to Kate’s new flat. We busied ourselves with procuring necessities while she unpacked: pillow, laundry basket, a few plates and cups, and met her friend, now a senior at Edinburgh, for dinner. More walking and then it was time for us to get back to our bed and breakfast across town.

Tears leaked from my eyes as we hugged first one daughter and then the other. Gale was returning for several more months in Columbia, at least, and Kate was beginning four years in Scotland. It is not fear; it is not worry. They have established their capability and delight in being where they are and proven how resourceful they can be in challenging times. We can connect by phone, take advantage of Skype and What’s App when the opportunities arise, and service exists. Email and Facebook are available points of connection.

It is the being together, the laughs that come from speaking at the same time, the connections from looking at the same piece of art, tasting the same new foods that I will miss. We will always have visits, and I will love them wherever and whenever they happen. I am so proud of the women they are and continue to evolve into, but two years of having our daughters in far away places did not inoculate me from the wistfulness of knowing that we are now fully a home base for our girls, but that they now have homes in places we can only take planes to visit.

The More Things Change….

June 8, 2014

I’m someone who likes change. I enjoy variety in my food, in my work outs, in the music I listen to, the roads I take to different places, in my wardrobe, where I vacation, even what I choose to write about. Why then, was it such a blow to receive the news that the pet store that has been in town for 20 years (exactly as long as I have!) is closing its doors at the end of the month?

 

It is not just that I like to support small family run businesses, although that, too, is true. It is not simply that they carry the type of dog and cat food that our animals consume, or that they have the best greeting cards around. Certainly, it is not the $10 I save when I fill my punch card, and clearly I will be able to find pet products elsewhere.

 

But will I find the same friendliness, the willingness to listen to my latest lament about our most recent contact with the emergency vet, or the triumph of coming through what appeared to be the demise but turned into the recovery of our feline super pet? Will the next place offer to carry the 50 pounds of Black Oil birdseed, but be willing to let me carry 40 pounds of dog food if I state that it is my preference? I suppose they will be willing to dispense advice about cat litter, thunder shirts, and the difference between having hamsters or gerbils as pets.

 

What I have come to realize is that as important a role as variety plays in my everyday life, when it comes to people, it is the continuity and the relationships that I value. I love going to MY bank, MY salon and MY supermarket. To be fair, I do sometimes mix it up in the banking and shopping departments, but still there is home base.

 

I understand the reasoning, although that, too, makes me unhappy. That larger chains are pushing out the smaller, more personal stores makes me most displeased. Price and efficiency do not hold a candle to personal relationship.

 

Even the characters who everyone knew about town, walking the streets in all weather, even those people held a place in my heart. Though I had no direct interaction with them, I mourned their passing, because they were our neighbors, our fellow travelers on the block, a part of daily living.

 

It is a combination of needing the ongoing thread and connection with people that I find so grounding and joy giving that supports my fascination with difference and variety in so many other facets of my life. That, and the fact that (surprise!) I like to choose the changes, not have them happen to me willy nilly. We are unbothered by loud banging noises if we are the ones making the noise, but are incredibly irked by someone else making loud (and unpredictable) sounds. So, too, it is with change. If I choose the change, I’m all good. If it is someone else’s idea, I do not necessarily endorse it.

 

I suppose if there is nothing I can do to stem the flow of others’ choices, I must accept that this part of my world will shift at others’ behest. I can only hope to see the people from the pet store about town, or support their next venture, which with any luck, will become part of the evolving fabric of MY town.

 

A Rare Friend Indeed

April 6, 2014

“I will need to take you to every house in the village!” my daughter Gale had declared when we arrived at her small vereda in Colombia, a two hour sweaty hike from the nearest sister enclave. That had sounded like a reasonable but undoable request even before we arrived. I didn’t know how many people this would involve, but I did know that it was not going to be like an end of soccer game moving line of hard slapping “good game, good game, good game.” Each meeting was personal. With only two days and lots of other important things to do, (like removing papayas from their post 15 feet in the air) it could not really even be a reasonable goal to aim for.

 

The second day we headed up the hill in the three rows of small dwelling that comprise La Union. In the farthest upper left hand corner was a small farm with some donkeys in the yard. Gale peered through the small window into the dimly lit interior. “Allo?” she called out. We headed around to the side where the donkeys were. Jesusa greeted us, and welcomed us inside the gate. She was grinding corn in a large waist high pestle to feed the donkey. “He is not eating,” Gale translated as Jesusa pointed to the donkey. “See how swollen he is here?” She delivered a firm punch to the animal’s lower left neck.”This is not good.” She was clearly worried. “Come inside.” We walked through the densely grown yard filled with low bushes, flowers, parts of equipment and into a small kitchen area with a very low ceiling. It was illuminated by the side we entered from, which was largely open.

 

In the back was a wood burning stove. She shooed two tiny cats off an upturned log that made a bench and offered us seats and then she retrieved some wood to stoke the fire. The hard packed dirt floor was swept clean, and Jesusa pointed to a small side table with an attached shelf underneath. “See the duck and the chicken asleep there?” I had not even noticed them, so quiet were they in their slumber.

 

She took some eggs and was busy by the stove as we chatted. How did I like it here? Where is my husband? How is my time here? I labored through my responses, coaxing my high school Spanish into the present. Gale allowed me to wade through, interrupting only when I came out with French, which I frustratingly and consistently retrieved more easily, as I had lived there for six months in college. It had taken root more firmly than the Spanish I was now summoning.

 

As if by magic she turned around holding two bowls of soup made with what looked like oversize kidney beans, chunks of banana, with a cooked egg on top. I should not have been caught off guard, but I was not expecting a meal. “Aye, muchas, muchas gracias!” I could utter before I tucked into it. We chatted a bit more. Gale’s housemate had arrived as well and was also given soup.

 

Jesusa turned to face me and look me directly in the eye. Her manner and tone conveyed absolute conviction as she stated, “You do us great honor by visiting us here.” The tears that sprang up instantly hindered my ability to form words. “Oh, Jesusa, no. The honor is mine. Thank you so much. You are so generous.” I am stammering, searching for the right words, which would not have been easy in any language. I am so appreciative of her welcoming me into her home, of welcoming my daughter who is living there for a year, of dropping what she is doing and making us a meal.

 

As I stutter she hands us chunks of bread. This serves to stymy my attempts at formulating more coherent thoughts and “Oh gracias, ortra vez gracias” (once again, thank you) is as eloquent as I can manage. It is the depth of her sincerity that so moves me, and our connection is unmistakeable. Not only was there a great deal unspoken, but we both know that we have young adult daughters. Without words, she has told me that she appreciates the work my daughter is doing in the village, which ensures the safety of the people there, she appreciates that I have come to visit her, and visit them. She is able to feel my respect for her, for what she is doing.

 

Even though I know I am taking some license in my assumption, it is perhaps because I cannot understand all the words that the feeling is conveyed even more strongly. In that instant she has greeted me in her world, welcomed me in a way I have not often experienced.

 

 

As we get ready to leave she asks when I am going to return. Before coming I had not even entertained the notion of a return trip. With my visit, I am now wondering the same thing. She is not asking out of politeness. She really wants to know. I can only tell her that I have no plans at the moment, but I know that if and when I come back, I have a friend to welcome me.

 

Insistence on Peace

March 12, 2014

These people are heroes. It is not what they set out to be, or how they strive to be recognized. It is the challenge of their everyday existence, which they live with simple grace, that highlights their bravery and determination to live life on their own terms, with harm to no one.

 

Set in the Abibe Mountains, a two hour hike from the nearest town, the people who live in La Union in northwestern Colombia are farmers. The land is lush, verdant, and produces multiple crops with the watchful guidance of the people who live close to this land.

 

The cluster of roughly three rows of one story abodes comprises the physical living space, which includes a school, and also a child care/preschool. The men rise early to head out to the farms, stopping on the way at the home of Maria Jesus who bakes breads (arepas), and lunches for them to take with them, which they stop and purchase. Because of the close proximity to the equator, there is little variation in the time the sun rises or sets, thus the routine continues year round, as does the production of crops.

 

There are a number of communities such as this one, who need to not only hike an hour and half to a store, but must also take an open air jeep to get to the city of Apartado to find supermarkets, clothing stores, or a reliable internet cafe.

 

What sets this village apart is its declaration of peace. Living in the country with the most displaced people in the world, they have come together to lay claim to their desire to farm their land, and live their lives while supporting neither the military, paramilitary nor the guerrillas. While this sounds simple and straight forward, it is not so. Each of these groups can perceive this stance as a threat, and react accordingly, which sometimes means occupying people’s land, eating their crops, and in some cases, rounding up leaders and shooting them. Such was the devastation experienced by the community in 2000, four years after its formation. Likely it had been the hope that by violently and graphically removing these leaders, that the community itself might perish.

 

There had previously been no recourse for these actions. Rather than responding with violence, after intense grieving and regrouping, the community decided to engage the help of an organization called Fellowship of Reconciliation/Peace Presence. This organization, almost 100 years old, although in Colombia only thirteen years, sent people to live in the village. They are accompaniers and witnesses, providing no counsel, but only a presence and connection to headquarters in Bogota, as well as a link to much more global organizations like the United Nations. The village is no longer invisible, but has transformed into a beacon of hope for what can be.

 

The community must accept that if they are going to travel to one of the other ten sister communities that populate the mountain, that the FORistas will literally walk with them in their bright blue tee shirts, whether it is a hike of an hour or six hours.

 

For its part, FOR/Peace Presence, too, seeks to maintain neutrality. While they are clearly there as a form of protection, they are not bodyguards, nor are they attempting to control or sway the community’s decisions in any way. (think Star Trek’s Prime Directive of non-interference as much as possible, in some ways). At the same time, they inevitably develop relationships with these friendly people while still maintaining their own role as witness and accompaniers. They cannot be too friendly, or favoring particular community members, but it is only natural that closer bonds will form with some rather than others.

 

They get to know each other, come to trust one another, and this is important in any community, but particularly one of a couple hundred people total. The community accepts Peace Presence while I can imagine it must sometimes feel challenging to consider that it is too risky to simply go count cattle on their own, or take a trip into town. Thus the more they can be considered as a part of the community, the less it might feel like being watched or watched over, both of which necessitate some distance in the relationship. They are clear that without these additional people in their village, they remain at risk. Though one might wonder whether there may at times be some resentment, this does not appear to be the prevailing reaction.

 

Thus, these people who are making history with their insistence on being Switzerland in a world that tries to demand otherwise, who are devoted to the land they love and the life that surrounds and supports it, are heroes. It is their unassuming and openhearted willingness to persevere that inspires a profound hope for what is possible. With the cooperation between FOR/Peace Presence and La Union they have created a model from which we can all flourish.

Got My Bag, I Got My Reservation

February 5, 2014

My husband remembers that the boots are to prevent snake bites. I recall that the boots are for mud. We ask my daughter who confirms that we are both right. How convenient of me to forget that little detail about the snakes. If you screen out the risks and the scary bits, what you are left with is adventure. It’s a tricky business sometimes, maintaining this perspective, but most of the time that’s just the way it is.

 

As I make preparations for my trip, my daughter informs me that there is a pair of boots for me. They might be a little big, but that shouldn’t matter too much. I am bringing extra pairs of tall socks for her anyway, so I’ll be all set.

 

I call the credit card company to let them know the dates that I will be in Colombia. The customer service rep asks for various pieces of information, and makes conversation about the reason for my travel. I begin to explain that my daughter is living for a year in a community that is a 45 minute open air jeep ride and a two hour walk in the mud from the nearest town with a store. I can hear a shift in the rep’s voice as she responds. “Wow.” There is a moment of silence. I go on. “Yeah, it’s pretty far out there. They’re just used to it, though. They make that trip every week because they don’t have a refrigerator.” I hear her attentive silence, so I continue.

“She’s there with two other (essentially) volunteers (they do get a tiny stipend) living in the community and accompanying the people there to other communities or wherever they need to go to make sure they are safe. It’s just by their presence that they do this, not by any other means.”

 

“You’re blowing my mind,” say the rep. “I’m living in my comfy home and don’t think twice about running down the street to get food or anything for my one year old daughter. Wow. WOW,” she repeats.

 

I realize that I have begun to take this situation for granted. It is just the way it is. Even though internet contact is sporadic, or nil when she is away on accompaniments, we have recently invested in an international calling card, and when there is service, we can hear her perfectly well. In the few pictures that have been posted she looks delighted, at ease, radiant. In one, she is holding an enormous leaf over her head like an umbrella which is exactly what she used it for when a sudden rain cloud burst on their travels.

 

“She has called it paradise.” I inform the rep. “She says it’s lush lush lush with lots of delicious unidentifiable fruits and great food because she’s living amongst farmers.” In our companionable silence I sense we are both thinking about how relative each of our perspectives is. Just our conversation about this has shifted our transaction from one of routine business into something more meaningful that we will each continue to ponder. I imagine telling her colleagues, or perhaps her husband or friend about our conversation…”So I was working with this lady on the phone today and she’s going to visit her daughter who’s living in a Colombian village that’s three hours from the nearest store. Her daughter’s there for a year but these people live like that!” I also wonder if it makes her day dream about her relationship with her one year old, wondering where in the world she might be when she is 23.

 

I think about the level of inter dependence that must exist between the people there. With it not being possible to pop off for some eggs or flour they must regularly need to borrow food and supplies. My daughter has talked about how people drop by, and I am bringing markers for the kids when they come to draw in their tiny home. She describes her triumph last week in figuring out how to bake a chocolate cake using someone’s combination gas and wood stove.

 

I am eager to be there with her, to see the countryside, meet the people, the cow who hangs out in their yard, test out my rusty Spanish, and drink in a new part of the world.

 

Defining Colombia

December 4, 2013

We learned more about where, exactly, in Colombia our 23 year old daughter Gale is, and how she got there. What was first billed as a 12-16 hour bus ride is actually an 11 hour bus ride followed by a seven hour bus ride, followed by a 45 minute open air jeep ride followed by a two hour walk through the mud to get to the village where she is now living. I think that qualifies under the heading “remote.”

 

Along with two other people who work for Fellowship of Reconciliation (whose name will be changing to something like Pathways for Peace,) she will live in this intentionally peaceful community, and will act as the eyes and ears of the world. In this remote area where many people have been displaced, the people working for the almost 100 year old FOR stand as a reminder that although remote, they are connected to the outside world, and are there to note when there is not fair treatment of all. Sometimes they are asked to accompany Colombians to the hospital, or to another community. They must evaluate the request, and the safety at that time.

 

Gale’s first bus ride out of Bogota was overnight, and after the second ride she spent the night in the city of Apartado, having a meeting before going forward with the jeep and walk. If I think about it too much, it makes my head hurt a little (or is it my heart?) so I focus on the fact that she has emailed a few times since her arrival.

 

As fate would serve it up, her first day there was Thanksgiving, when she had originally expected to still be in Bogota, putting together a meal with the fixins with her colleagues there. Instead, she made arroz con leche (a rice pudding variant) and lit tiny birthday candles to acknowledge Hanukkah.

 

She called us via Google chat on Thanksgiving, and again as timing would set it up, my husband was getting the bird to the table as I pulled out tray after casserole of harvested earthly heaven from our oven. Torn, I ran back and forth between the office where I could listen in as she and Kate, our daughter at home for a few days, exchanged updates, and then back to the kitchen. As we corralled our group of 16 to the table, I abandoned hope of meaningful conversation with our Colombian landed daughter and consoled myself with the notion of a longer conversation later in the weekend.

 

Knowing that she called was at once a reassurance that we could be in touch that quickly, and also a reminder that she is not here at this moment, that she is not just a text away.

 

I try not to think of it too much; I cannot focus on the distance, but must instead consider the closeness with which I can connect to her tone, her words, her intent behind a few lines of text on the screen.

 

“This will be life changing,” our guests comment. I agree, although I cannot know how, or where it will lead her. I don’t want to know now. Part of the deliciousness, if I can stand it, is in watching it unfold. She is reassuring about the security measures that FOR is taking when they decide whether to honor a request for accompaniment. I still don’t know the details of how they obtain their information, and find myself once again at a crossroad, trying to highlight the reassurance of precaution rather than the fact that there is need for it.

 

I feel similarly about this as I do the fact that the hospitals are very reputable. Although I’m glad to hear that, and the organization jokes about how past volunteers have put that to the test with good result, I do not want to learn through experience that their perspective is valid. I’m quite willing to take their word, and have Gale’s visits there be informational only. I consider the travel there, and choose to feel good about my daughter’s good health and strength.

 

Gale has wondered how soon to get pictures out as part of her post and I realize I am hungry for them. If i can imagine her there, I am able to be with her in my mind’s eye. Even before knowing who is welcoming, who is shy, what she means when she emphasizes that it is HUMID, although not unpleasantly hot, if I can get a visual, I can start to fill in some of the blanks. of course, ti will remain to be seen whether I create a separate reality, or how close I can come to understanding her experience. Time to dust off my high school Spanish. I have learned that with one stop, I can get to Medallin in eight hours. Then it’s just the seven hour bus ride, open air jeep and a hop skip in my mud boots to see her new life.

 

A New York State of Mind

October 26, 2013

It is all about expectation, whether it is a medical procedure, a holiday dinner, or a family visit. As much as I know this to be true, I was still not prepared for the deluge of thoughts, memories and feelings that flash flooded on my last trip to New Paltz, New York to visit my mom.

 

My friend Jo, who had not been to the area, was coming with me, and my mom and I wanted to show her the spectacular Mohonk Mountain House and also the home outside of town which my parents had built and lived in for 25 years following my graduation from high school. I had only lived in this open, light filled haven in the woods for two summers, and it had been 15 years since my mom had lived there.

 

 

As we drove slowly down the bumpy uneven lane I recalled the Christmas Eve we slid down the last portion on foot because the snow had fallen so quickly during dinner with our friends that our small car could not make it up the hill in the driveway. As the 80 foot cliffs of the Shawangunks came into view I breathed deeply, aware of the tremendous calm that accompanied the sense of well being this place engendered.

 

There was the small pond directly beneath the dramatic cliffs. Each of our daughters had caught her first fish here and my mother swore that the snappers who inhabited the pond wouldn’t bite while in the water. Easy for her to state so confidently from the safety of the deck. We declined to try out her theory.

 

It was a crisp fall day with the temp in the mid 60’s, just as our wedding day had been, here, 26 years ago. The hawks had circled protectively overhead, and we pointed out the route my husband, his parents, each of our siblings and my parents and I had walked up to the porch where we took our vows. I recalled the rows of people sitting on what is actually the septic field before moving to the back where a large tent had been set up.

 

The couple who live there now showed us the interior. They had installed dark, almost black stained bamboo flooring which was a striking contrast against the white walls. Where my parents had covered the walls in artwork from around the world, they had created a more Zen like, minimalist beauty.

 

The tree we had planted over my dad’s ashes had been replaced by decorative grass which had grown to an astonishing eight feet in height. They had placed Adirondack chairs on an extension of the deck to enjoy the scene. It was bittersweet to be here, wishing this sanctuary were still a more regular part of our lives.

 

On to Mohonk Mountain House where we spent our wedding night. We had arrived in our wedding garb after first visiting the DIY car wash to rid my husband’s truck of the paint eating shaving cream which decorated it. They took us to our room, opened the door, and we were greeted by two lovely twin beds with a stunning carved nightstand in between. They looked at us, regarded the set up and declared that “this will not do” and promised to return with bedding for a king size bed which the twins became when turned sideways and put together.

 

Outdoors was the glacial lake with surrounding cliffs and color coded gardens and trails which make this the captivating destination that it is. As we walked around the lake I recalled spending time there as a child as well, swimming in the clear aquamarine water and running around the maze of walkways by the beach area. We had stayed in this hide-n-seek heaven when my dad played in musical performances in the evening.

The deep sense of home the area exudes was undeniable. The connection to my roots, my family, and my tie with nature were palpable, almost overwhelming. I wondered why we have not returned more frequently, apart from the expense of spending a night there. Perhaps it was the idea of bringing someone new to enjoy it with, to show off its special character that brought fresh appreciation. Having it be 70 degrees, sunny and dry didn’t hurt either.

 

Next time I will be in a better position to be ready for the onslaught this combination would render. It will make going home that much sweeter.

 

Conversations with Gravitas

September 20, 2013

The email came with a file attached and I was sure that it was a photo of her children, ages 6 and 9. We love my husband’s cousin, and enjoy any communication from her, whether it is about a visit, or the people in crazy colorful garb selling marionettes on the street.

 

It turned out that the photo was a bucolic scene: a field with some trees around..quite a lovely picnic spot. Except that it was actually a space for cemetery plots. (In New Jersey they would say, “You’ll plotz for our lots!”) Yes, my husband’s youngest cousin had scoped out some space in the cemetery in Falmouth, where her family has had a connection for years.  My brother-in-law owns a house by a Falmouth pond, and my father and mother-in-law also lived in North Falmouth for ten years. My husband’s grandmother used to come up for the summer, and we would go fishing or clamming with her. Our engagement party was on the lawn of Camp Wee Nappie.

 

But do we want to be buried here? I’m not sure. We don’t live near there, and we have not often visited the cemetery. My first mother-in-law died just ten months after we were married. My husband went once with our older daughter when she was 7 or 8 and wept while she put her little arm around him. She had never met her namesake.

 

In her email, Anne laid out prices and possibilities. Would we get a group rate? It is a two-for if both people are cremated. Her parents and sister were reserving spaces, as she was for her family. What I want to know is when they say the plot thickens, does that mean you can add a layer of cremains on top?

 

It surprises me that my husband and I have not talked about this. We have had a will for years and revised it once our younger daughter turned 18, but we have not discussed where we want to hang out once our bodies give way.

 

I have always imagined my ashes being scattered in beautiful Lake Minnewaska, in the Hudson Valley where I grew up. I loved swimming in the glacial turquoise waters, and hiking down to the bottom of the waterfall nearby. However, we haven’t been there for years, and only visited once with our daughters, so it no longer holds the same meaning. Falmouth had been a place we were all together but that is no longer the case, not since my father-in-law lost his second wife, and the family shifted.

 

We spent a week in Maine many summers in a row, and this is certainly a place to which we have some attachment, but is there one particular spot? My dad is buried on the property of the house they built outside of New Paltz, New York. My mom is now back in that area, but I don’t know what her wishes are around this. The house they built together has new owners who are lovely, but may not take kindly to memorials in their space.

 

It’s an interesting conundrum, one that will have an answer, and I want it to be intentional, not left for others to figure out. If we buy, would it be ok to sell our lots if we decide on something else? Is that poor etiquette, like reserving a house on the beach with the family and then subletting to someone else? I like the idea of being with the Stafford clan, but I’m not sure I want to be in a lot at all. I want to be returned to the earth, at least in part. A piece of the equation lies in what my kids want, and I’m not sure that they even know. Apart from my father-in-law’s second wife, they have not experienced a great deal of death during their lives. At their ages I had already lost three grandparents, plus several uncles, aunts and cousins.

 

Clearly the family would have an easier time getting together in the hereafter than we do in our day to day lives. But that still doesn’t answer the question of what is right for us. As far as cemeteries go, we couldn’t ask for more. It is really a question of whether that is what we want, and where we want. We will have to ponder it just a bit more. My husband’s cousin decided this week, but we are not quite ready with the answer. We will have to hope that if we do decide to be there, that we can still get space near them. If not, we’ll live…or not. But either way, as long as the people who want to commune with us have a space to do it in the way that they want to do it, we’re all good.

 

And dying to tell the tale.

 

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