Golden Moments: the silver lining of aging.

Reflections on the day Mom died.

Three sets of feet resting on an ottoman.
One of many recent golden moments with my parents.

On Friday, September 27, my eighty-seven-year-old dad, who often has trouble sleeping, got up at 3 AM. In the independent-living apartment he shared with my mom, he took a few steps from the bedroom to the tiny kitchenette to get a bite to eat. He grabbed a pita bread, then took a few more steps to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a scotch.

As he sat on the living room couch enjoying his snack and his “middle-of-the-night-cap,” my mom, eight-six, appeared with her walker at the bedroom doorway.

“Do I hear the tinkling of ice-cubes?” she asked.

“Yes!” Dad answered.

His “yes” would have been enthusiastic and drawn out, both arms and one scotch raised in celebration, his eyebrows raised like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Does that mean you’d like a shot of bourbon?” he added.

It meant exactly that. So Mom shuffled to the couch while Dad fixed her drink. They sat for about fifteen minutes, holding hands, until Dad broke the silence.

“Whoever said these were the golden years could not have been a day over fifty,” Dad said. “There’s not much golden about getting old.”

There’s not much golden about the “golden years.”

Mom agreed. She would know

Two years ago, she had heart surgery from which she never completely recovered. At times, she seemed to be on the mend, then a UTI or stomach bug or new medication would spiral her back down and we’d wonder if we were going to lose her.

In the past month, though, she gained strength and spirit and seemed to be on a solid rebound. She had asked my sister and I to plan a joint visit for a “girls weekend,” which we hadn’t done in years. I had booked my flight for tomorrow.

Sitting on the couch with his wife of sixty-three years, Dad found the silver lining of another color.

“But, truly,” he said, “this is a Golden Moment.”

Golden Moments are the silver lining of aging.

I’ve enjoyed Golden Moments with my parents, too.

After I graduated from college in 1980, I never returned home to Pittsburgh. Between my relocation to Troy, NY–my husband’s hometown–and my parents’ moves later in life, I’ve lived anywhere from 500 to 3,000 miles away from them.

When I came in town to visit, I usually didn’t make plans to catch up with friends or to sight-see or take side trips. I preferred to spend my precious little time with my long-distance family.

Once, my sister-in-law asked me, “So what are you going to do while you’re out here?” I was dumbfounded. I wanted to say, “Nothing,” because that was the truth. But it seemed so boring. It seemed small compared to the jet-setting lifestyles of some of my siblings. I can’t remember how I answered.

I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or a wrong way to spend time while visiting family. I wish I had been better about keeping in touch with friends. But I have no regrets about the Golden Moments with my parents. Especially now.

My golden moments give me no regrets.

In their living room at the independent living facility, Mom and Dad sat and held hands for another fifteen minutes, enjoying the silence before going back to bed.

Dad would have followed Mom into the bedroom. He would have put her neck pillow in place and raised or lowered the head of the bed to the perfect angle. He’d have arranged another pillow under her ankles so her painful heels didn’t bear any weight. Then he would have tucked Mom’s favorite pink blanket under her chin and she’d be asleep before Dad made it to his side of the bed.

That evening, after an uneventful day, Mom and Dad again sat on the couch, watching the PBS News Hour. Around 7 PM, Mom stood up, pitched forward, and was probably dead before she hit the floor.

My heart aches that Dad witnessed that scene. I grieve for his loss. I grieve for my family and many friends who loved Mom. I grieve for myself and the loss of my best girlfriend.

I lost my best girlfriend.

Tomorrow, I’ll fly down to visit Dad. Instead of a girls weekend, it will be a father-daughter week. Dad and I will sit on the couch, holding hands, sharing a drink, enjoying our Golden Moments. Mom will join us and I’ll feel her hand in mine. I feel it every day. It’s golden.

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Blessings on my memoir.

I don’t even know where to start when I’ve not written in so long.

My husband Michael and I were in California visiting my parents. While we were there, I coordinated an 85th birthday celebration for my mom. It was a production—a live digital video virtual party (is that even the right way to say it?)—so my five siblings from all over the US could participate. This is not my forte, in case you don’t know—neither the organizing nor the “digital-izing.”

A few times, when I woke up at the crack of dawn, as I tend to do, I worked on an essay about D-day—the day my son Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I plan to submit the piece to a literary magazine, but every time I looked at it, it seemed more and more flawed and I was close to trashing it.

Writing-wise, the week was a bust.

Except.

Except that I asked my parents to read part of my memoir manuscript–the story about how ill-prepared I was as a person and a mom for a rumble with a brain tumor.

I asked them for two reasons. First, I want them to know the full story—the parts that they could not have known being 500 miles away at the time; the parts of my pain that I never shared. My own husband, who lived our drama with me, didn’t know about some of that pain until I asked him to read it last fall.

The other reason I asked my parents to read my manuscript is that I want their blessing on it. Not on my story, but on their story within it—who they are and how they raised me, which made me the parent I was and the person I am.

There’s nothing really unflattering about them in it; my Mom and Dad are the nicest people you ever could meet, and I was raised to be nice. But when you’re faced with a serious life challenge, “nice” doesn’t cut it. And I didn’t know how not to be nice because I had no role models for it. It was on-the-job-training for me.

It’s very possible the book will be published after my parents have died, which is why I asked  for their blessing on it now. And I got it. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

So I haven’t done much new writing. I didn’t finish that essay. I didn’t submit to any magazines.

But I crossed a threshold and I’m energized to get back on track. I have a memoir to finish.

 

Can’t do it this week. Sorry.

Well, flock, I’m blogging to tell you I’m not going to blog this week.  I just don’t have it in me.  There haven’t been enough functional hours of the day lately for me to be able to write.  Big chunks of time are eaten up by my “not serious” health issues.

Plus, I’m heading out of town this week to visit my parents.  They can’t wait to heap an overdose of TLC on me, and I can’t wait to be heaped upon.  By the time most of you read this, I’ll be basking in their love.  How lucky am I?

I’ll answer that question for you by explaining the picture.  I’m sure you’re wondering.

When we talk on the phone, my Dad often says how much he wishes he could give me a hug in person, especially since I’ve been sick.  Earlier this year, he got on this kick about sending Python hugs.  So he asked my Mom to sew a stuffed Python to his exacting specifications, including crooked, wacky eyes and a wiggly forked tongue.  He named it Loopy, and mailed him (her?) to me so it can give me hugs- like a stunt double.

That’s how lucky I am.   Could not be luckier.

Still it’s kinda not right that my 80-something parents will be fussing over me.   I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.  Sadly, someday I will gladly return the favor.

With the holidays almost upon us,  I wouldn’t hold your breath for my regular Friday blog, but as soon as Mom and Dad and Southern California whip me back into shape, I promise I’ll be back at it.  Because I really do love blogging.

As I write this, I have a huge sense of relief.  Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Y’know – I do believe I’ve written a blog after all.