Same Song, Second Verse

I put my feet to the floor at just after five in the morning. Slowly I press down to stand up. It takes but a moment to be accurately aware; I am not twenty anymore.

“Ay…” I mutter as I attempt a few sun salutations to loosen up.

The stiffness in my lower back is more pronounced than usual after five hours in the car. Leaving yesterday evening with The Poodle in tow, we’re in a Marriott just outside of Pittsburgh.  Rocket-man still slumbers (um…and yes…I am still struggling to come up with a name change in lieu of events in the past months, if you get my drift!).

Suggestions are welcome by the way.

The Poodle does not stir from his place on the bed although he’s got one eye open…surveying…and quite ready to bolt off the bed should I make steps towards the door.  He is not oblivious to the fact that our routine has changed.

I make thoroughly unremarkable hotel-room coffee which is nothing more than a cup of translucent brown lukewarm water.  As I sip I’m thinking about the task before us in just about an hour from now.

Yet again we are faced with the task of aiding an aged parent.  It’s literally same song, second verse, this time it’s hubby’s mother.  We realized a little over two years ago that it was past time to start the process of getting her into a care facility.  Naturally this meant getting Rocket-man’s two other siblings involved.  Furthermore, it made sense to task the sibling that lived the closest to get the ball rolling; after all, said sibling, the youngest at 50-something, lived twenty minutes –for good measure…one more time…20 minutes — from her mother and who also held power of attorney.

Well, let’s just say we had to go to plan B as that sibling essentially jumped ship.  She’s got …enter air quotes here…”issues” with her mother, bless her little Ole heart.


Yep.  Some weeks ago Rocket-man finally had to take matters into his own hands.  He saw his mother into an assisted living facility in her home town. Thankfully oldest sibling was available for accompanying him on that difficult task.   At eighty-six, Mrs. C.’s long-term memory is pretty darn good but short-term memory ….not so much.  She doesn’t remember five minutes ago. While she gets around without the aid of a walker she shuffles when she walks which is another factor indicating vascular dementia.  The process of going into assisted living was a thousand-fold easier than with my mother. Mrs. C was pretty much calm as a kitten and happy too unlike my mother, who in spite of being wheelchair bound, fought to the bitter end, leaving this earth terribly unhappy with everyone in the world.  Mrs. C. appears so far to be doing just fine.  Thankfully, she seems to be happy to have three square meals a day, social interaction, and endless card games and other such activities.

Now the task of clearing her home has landed pretty much on our shoulders though oldest sibling–we sincerely hope– plans on helping at some point in the weeks to come.  My sister and her family offered their help and support as well, and in fact they are just several hotel rooms down from us, God bless them!.  But the daughter that lives in the same town couldn’t be bothered with taking care of her mother in her declining years much less helping clear the family home.  This is where I bite my tongue ’til it bleeds because it would be incredibly easy to unleash a venomous diatribe against the egregious behavior of said sister.  Suffice it to say that there seems to be one like her in every family.  Just as there was one in mine…a feckless sibling who cannot seem to boot pesky little demons regarding their parents (and I do mean little in this case) into a closet somewhere long enough to take care of their parent’s basic needs in their years of decline.


Forgive me when I say that I am buoyed by the fact that the universe will respond…and in fact, already has.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been particularly close to my mother-in-law. Let me be clear:  she is not a bad person. We have simply never connected.  Still, as I began the task of putting things into contractor-strength trash bags I’m barely able to contain my anger.  I am appalled at the mess before me and naturally so is Rocket-man.    Mrs. C. could never afford the luxury of a cleaning service but she was able to maintain a decently clean home, that is, until her husband passed away more than a decade ago.  There was not a broom to be found in the whole place let alone a toilet brush.  No one deserves to live in this kind of filth. The collection of years of dust and dirt on furniture crammed to the gills with fifty-plus years of stuff put there by depression-era parents made us cough and wheeze throughout the day.  My sis wore a face mask which helped but still, the condition of the bathrooms, kitchen and basement made us wretch on more than one occasion.

Just the tip of the iceberg….

Many times throughout the day we shook our heads, vacillating between sadness and anger.  “I get that your mom has been alone for years since your father’s passing and she just couldn’t keep things up…. but really….There is just no excuse for this…. with a daughter that lives in the same town!” I cried. 

“I know,” said Rocket-man.  Barely an hour into our work he’s dripping with sweat from moving heavy bags of junk and furniture out the door.  It was then I could tell from his body language that he was taking this mess all on the chin. 

The blame is mine; I should have done more for my mother….and sooner.

“This is not your mea culpa,” I said as I hugged him during a break from clearing out kitchen cabinets.  “I’ve known you for twenty years and there is not a week that goes by that you don’t call and talk to your mom.  It’s not your fault that your career path took you away from your home town.  And besides, as much as you travel, you’ve seen and done a hundred-fold more for your mom particularly in these past fifteen years than your sister has and she lives just minutes away.  And what about her five grandchildren!  They live in the same town too!    Where have they been?  Your mom may have been a busy-body grandmother but she was always available;  baby-sitting at the drop of a hat and endless sweets and treats for her grand-kids!

With a heavy sigh, Rocket-man nods his head in agreement.

“And besides,” I add “You’re not the who collected THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of newspaper and magazine recipes, cutting them out and stuffing them into a gazillion little photo albums!”  

“Yeah…what’s up with that; she really didn’t even cook,” said Rocket-man with the hint of a smile.

I’m not sure my words helped much but I noted a softness in his jaw and a twinkle in his eye as he turned to continued hauling stuff out the door.

At the end of the day two, between the five of us, we had filled the driveway’s car port and driveway to the gills with bags to haul away as well as two 400 cubic feet truckloads for the 1-800-GOT-JUNK folks.   Those guys were a Godsend; they did all the heavy lifting and with smiles too.  It soothed Rocket-man, and sis too, to learn that not everything would be thrown into the local landfill.  The 1-800-GOT-JUNK folks separate out items suitable for donation to local homeless shelters and other such centers. 

Now “back at the ranch” and with a day to recover I’m once again in pitching mode, Ala Marie Kondo.  I thought I’d done enough of that for a while when preparing for the move from middle-earth Alabama to Virginia just a year ago!  Now. I’m on a mission to keep things as simple as possible for my daughter, because It’s not a matter of IF…but WHEN.  My time WILL arrive.

I’ve already got four bags of stuff ready for donation and there is potential for more before the day is over.

Without doubt, there is bliss in De-cluttering. But more importantly, I’m beyond grateful for the love and support of my sister and her family.  Not only did they do a lot of heavy lifting, they helped keep things real which translates thusly: spontaneous eruptions of laughter in the midst of incredibly unfavorable conditions.


Stress Busters!

My sis is the greatest.  In the mail today I was surprised by a tiny little package.  I didn’t open it right away as I was knee deep in leaf raking.  My back yard was a mess of leaves.  Wet leaves, mixed with dry ones, I raked and bagged leaves for a solid two and a half hours.  I had my earbuds in listening to native American Indian music on Spotify as I worked.  The music selection seemed to fit the quiet of the afternoon.  The rain had pretty much stopped.  The sun was straining to make an appearance after a couple of days of gloomy weather and there was just a whisper of a breeze in the autumn air.  I’ll admit that I’m a tad sore from the effort though It could be a heck of a lot worse if I didn’t work out on a regular basis.  I figure an extra glass of wine is in the cards tonight for the fruits of my labor.

After a luxuriously long hot shower I sat down with my glass of wine and opened the package.  Inside was a little squishy toy.  A skull….specifically a”Los Muertos” stress skull.   

 A huge smile erupted on my face, followed by a joyful laugh.  The Poodle was at my side in an instant to see what was going on.  He jumped up to inspect what he thought was a toy for him.  

No, my four-legged fluffy love!  This one is mine!  And, how perfect it is!  I can squeeze it this way and that as I pace back and forth while I talk to Rocket-man about the pressing issues with his mother.

My Sis gets me (and, I’d like to think I get her!).  For all the deep breathing, punching a heavy bag, and my still sporadic meditation practice, she knows that managing stress can sometimes be a challenge for me (and for her as well I’m sure she’d admit!).  

So my stress du jour is dealing with Rocket-man’s mother.  Or rather….sitting helplessly on the sidelines and watching what is unfolding.  Dementia is draining the personality right out of her.  For weeks now she has been calling many times a day demanding  her car which we have taken away, for obvious reasons.  Her calls have escalated in frequency (sometimes four or five calls over the course of an hour), and her voice has reached a new crescendo.  She is angry. Very, very angry.  Her diatribes at every call are virtually identical, down to the last sentence.  It is not a rehersed script; she truly does not remember five minutes ago. On the one hand my heart breaks.  This behavior is not her fault.  Her mind is  disintegrating.  Her life and her mind are out of her hands now.  Still, it is extremely difficult to be on the other end of the phone listening to the diatribe. The latest call I took while I was trying to find an item at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I stood in the middle of the aisle next to the coffee makers listening to her red-hot anger.  Thank goodness my next stop would be to my favorite fitness studio. There I would be able to forget for an hour at least.  Naturally,this heart-wrenching decline is causing Rocket-man a great deal of angst. Together, we are trying to be patient because the woman that was is simply (and sadly) no longer.   I am more mindful than ever….but for the grace of God, there go I.  This could be me …or Rocket-man in just a few short years!  This glaring potentiality is just another in a long list that keeps me awake at night.   

Rocket-man is trying to handle the situation with his mother from afar as best as he can as he works long hours and travels near and far.  His sister is the one that lives minutes away from their mother and SHOULD be tackling the immediate stuff (powers of attorney, financial assessments, researching care options, etc.) and communicating …without drama…to her siblings who are at the ready to help.  So many steps need to be taken to get Rocket-man’s mother in a better place and nothing…nothing …is happening!  It is making my head explode.  

I take a deep, deep breath.  

This is not my mother.  There is no use in turning into a purple minion over this.  I have to let it go.    


Having gone through hell last year  dealing with my mother, I can only whack my other stress buster, my “Dammit Doll” in frustration…and then let it go.  Let me assure you, I can do this!  

I think of all that happened last year.   My sis and I–with the loving support of our husbands–had things in place and on the road to manageable within a month after our step-father passed. It took a little over four months,  but we had our mother moved and settled into a wonderful care facility.  We could rest a little easier knowing that she was being cared for in such a beautiful place.   I literally want to smack Rocket-man’s sister to China and back over what must be done and hasn’t been done!   Months have ticked by!   There is no excuse for her inability (and, to some extent, refusal) to dig in and get things done in a timely manner for her mother.  It’s sad. Extremely sad.  We’ve barely recovered from the ordeals of last year –emotionally and financially–and here we go again.  God is giving us more. Aren’t we special


But, in all honesty, as I sip my glass of wine and ruminate on all that is happening in my world and the world around me, I realize that more than ever, I need to give thanks to every. little . thing in life that lifts my heart and brings me even the slightest joy.   If  I don’t, I’ll find myself down the darkest rabbit hole without the hope of any way out. 

So, this silly little stress buster arrived at just the right time!  Every time I look at my little stress buster sitting on the kithcen counter a smile erases that moment of sadness or  frustration bubbling beneath my complicated surface.  When I think of the pain associated with my mother…or the ravages of dementia….or the loss of friendships over the past year….or a host of worries big and small….all I need to do is squeeze my silly little stress skull, or whack my Dammit Doll against the granite counter to get a sweet little release that, surprisingly, brings both clarity and levity to the moment.

There is bliss in that.  

The Cure for Opal Fever?

Walking The Poodle this morning I was deep in thought over the events of the last couple of weeks.  Last year we were dealing with issues pertaining to my mother.  And, for inquiring minds, the drama continues, just escalating yet to new levels.  Impossible to comprehend, I know!  But, that’s my mother, God (and family) love her!   Now, it seems we will be tackling issues with Rocket-man’s mother and it isn’t good. Unlike with my mother,  her body is just fine.  It’s her mind that is going.  She is sliding slowly into dementia.

When we went to see her last week to assess the situation we walked into a totally unexpected mess.   She has been living under deplorable conditions.  With a daughter (Rocket-man’s younger sister) living in the same town, not even twenty minutes away,  both Rocket-man and I were outraged, not to mention overwhelmed over what we found.  It seems that his sister has mother “baggage” issues and decided to “check-out” in the help department.  News flash: Who doesn’t have childhood baggage?!   “There is no excuse for your sister’s behavior!”  I cried…literally, as I surveyed the mess before me.  My heart broke for the old woman seated quietly on the sofa, watching Bonanza re-runs on TVLand.  She was happy as a clam…in her own universe.  There was not an angry bone in her body.  I thought of how lucky my mother was to live in her beautiful new place…and I quietly seethed with anger as I cleaned; my mother isn’t grateful for where she is now, nor all the hoops we went through to make it happen for her.  Sigh.

Without hesitation, for two days we were knee-deep in cleaning and hauling what junk we could away, trying to make order out of the chaos in our short amount of time there.  Luckily, we had the help of Rocket-man’s older sister who, like us, doesn’t live in the same state.  There will be a great amount of work ahead, sorting everything out for his mother, and all the related responsibilities of finding the right care for her, not to mention the emotional heaviness of it all.  It begins anew, with barely time to exhale from the trauma–emotional and otherwise–of last year.  And of course, with it all comes another potential financial exhaustion of funds.  We just cannot seem to catch a break!

The only silver lining in this new catastrophe is that Rocket-man’s mother is fairly docile in the face of her crumbling world.  While I was filling garbage bag after garbage bag with years-old receipts, stacks of old catalogs, well- expired food, and (inexplicably) empty plastic milk cartons piled high in many places, she simply smiled and joked as if we were relaxing at a family picnic on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It was a blessing after what I experienced last year with my combative mother.

So….In an effort to get my mind off of pressing issues as I walked my dog in the quiet of this fog-laced morning I had to think of something enjoyable…like our recent trip to Australia.

Yes.  It seems hard to believe that just three weeks ago I was giggling like a school girl over my first business class flying experience.  Just weeks ago I was petting a Koala one moment, then later excitedly pointing to a Kangaroo on the side of the road.  I’m sure the taxi driver was rolling his eyes while thinking “Another silly American tourist.” What a sight I must have been to him as I was literally jumping up and down in my seat with joy over a kangaroo sighting.

“Roos here are like your deers on the road; we often think of them as a nuisance,” said the very friendly taxi driver with a twinkle in his eye.  Glad you’re enjoying our roos though.”    I still marveled that everyone I had met during my ten-day Aussie adventure was a nice as can be.  I hadn’t met a rude Aussie yet.

And, our two days in Sydney weren’t nearly enough.   It had been cut hours shorter as our flight from Canberra was delayed due to dense fog.   We had to cram as much as possible in the short amount of time we had there before returning home (and we did!).

High on the list of my priorities as soon as our flight landed was a trip to the National Opal Collection on Pitt Street.  I had no idea it would be steps from our hotel (really…wink, wink).  Rocket-man however, had another agenda.  He wanted to tour Sydney’s iconic Opera House first.  But I was a woman on a mission and steadfastly holding my ground I said, “No….not just yet.”

“The opera house isn’t going anywhere,” I said breathlessly as we hurried through our hotel check-in.   “This afternoon is the only opportunity we have to look for an opal. The store is closed tomorrow since its Sunday.”

Between you and me, I’m positive Rocket-man was hoping that I’d forgotten about opal shopping.  I’m sure he thought that once I set eyes on the Opera House I’d beat feet there first.  He was mistaken. I’ve had opal fever for years–as far back to our dating days seventeen years ago—and he knows this.  The cure for this sort of fever is to shop for one I reasoned.  So, being the wonderful kind of guy that he is, he simply said; “Yes… my queen.  Your wish is my desire too!”  We dumped suitcases in our hotel room, freshend-up and within five minutes we were out on the street for the three minute walk to my opal destination.

Once I entered the small, rather non-nondescript store I made straight to one long display case.


It was definitely sensory overload as I looked over the sea of opals…large, small and tiny even.   A spectrum of colors literally took my breath away–from milky white with glittery pastel tones, to intense greens swimming in fiery reds mixed with mesmerizing blues.  I learned quickly that I was terribly naive about my birthstone.

The opal expert sales associate was an Asian man who appeared to be in his fifties.  He stood quietly while I looked at the opals in the display case.  “I’m only interested in a black opal,”  I told him.  “It’s my birthstone.  The one I select will be for a ring and (throwing my former boss under the bus) my friend Jeff said I must look for one from the Lightning Ridge mine.”  Somehow in the busysiness of our days I had neglected to tell Rocket-man this.  I could tell he was getting nervous.  As I chatted away my eyes locked onto one beautiful stone.

“That one….there,” I said to Rocket-man, pointing with steadfast confidence to a black opal beauty.  “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

“Ahh…excellent choice,” said the sales associate as he opened the display case.  “You have a very good eye.”  He took the opal, which was the size of a quarter and placed it in my hands.

“Oh my.  This is stunning,” I breathed.  “How much is this stone?” I asked as I turned it around in my hand, admiring the changing array of blues and greens dancing before me.


My heart sank. Literally.  Rocket-man turned a dismal shade of ash.

“Well…um…. that’s just a wee bit outside of my price range,” was all I managed to squeak out.

“If it makes you feel any better, this one is well over $15,000,” said the associate pointing to magnificent black opal, nearly the same size but just a bit larger.

I was ready to abandon the mission entirely.  In fact,  I almost walked out of the store then.  I had not foreseen that an loose opal would be so expensive.  Strange as it was to me, Rocket-man was very patient and suggested we keep looking.  Really?   So, together we looked at a number of much smaller stones for a half hour, trying to find one that wouldn’t break the bank.  Finally I settled on one that was smaller than my pinkie fingernail and sincerely, the vibrancy of its colors made my heart sing.

“So, how about this be your birthday and Christmas gift?” said Rocket-man.

Really?”  Oh God yes!”  I replied, planting kisses on both of his cheeks.

My Lightning Ridge black opal. It looks big but it's smaller than my pinkie fingernail. I love it!

My Lightning Ridge black opal. It looks big but it’s smaller than my pinkie fingernail. I love it!

The fever has gone…for now!  And, like me, my little opal gem must remain patient before it can be set into a unique piece.  For now, we mustl navigate through the maze of another aging parent’s storm.   It’s not going to be pretty; hearts are going to be strained to the limit and patience will be tested over and over again.   Once all the financial dust settles  (which could mean another year, perhaps  longer) I’ll need to find a good jewelry designer.  But for now I’m content to gaze at my little gem in its box and when I do, I am instantly transported to the land down under and that beautifully crisp, clear, sunny day in Sydney where I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking hand-in-hand with my Rocket-man, enjoying the sights of downtown Sydney, the glistening waters around Bennelong Point, and the magnificent Sydney Opera House too.

A view of Sydney Opera House

A view of Sydney Opera House