it’s like a mantra, i’m not good enough

This morning I told myself no matter what, I was going to hang out with my kids. Forget housework, “getting things done”, errands, my own me-time. I’m just going to focus on the wee ones. Nels and I are up early and at first I’m there, cuddling him, thinking, what do you want to do today, boy?, then pretty soon I’m doing yoga and he’s alternatively climbing on me and running downstairs and outside to get fresh strawberries.

The problem is, we don’t often like doing the same things. The kids want to run around, wrestle and make bathroom jokes, produce prolific art projects, and scrabble in the dirt and garden outside (they can spend hours in our yard, doing what I have no idea). I’d rather help organize and clean-up after than actually sit down and draw with them. I can pick up a toy to play make-believe and within seconds my mind is elsewhere; counting fabric yardage in my sewing room, an inventory of the groceries I need to get for dinner. My kids know this about me – or at least Sophie does, who with more acuity and asperity these days identifies me as a mom who doesn’t play. Nels this morning said he wanted to have a lunch date with with Daddy, not me; Daddy was so much fun. I’m thinking of last week as I sat and finished a dress for Sophie in the kitchen (something awesome in the oven) and Ralph was out with the children, all of them barefoot and he showing them the absolute limits the plastic bow and arrow could shoot (as it turns out, much farther than I’d imagined). Well hey, I do give myself credit for breeding with someone playful and awesome in this way!

Because it’s true, I’m not that fun. I am affectionate, intelligent, compassionate, and loving, but it’s rare that I play on the same level my children do. I am more likely to work around the house, making beds and cleaning rooms, cooking up food and bandaging knees, helping the kids with their projects. They can pull me into cuddling or carrying them or cleaning them up proper or tending to their (many!) scrapes during the day. I enjoy these things and do well at them. Yet in the back of my mind there’s always this thought that I should do more of this or that, as if my personal sense of play and relaxation needed to be honed to perfection or risk stunting theirs (which seems innate and is daily lived out).

My father was home more than my mom. I don’t remember him “doing stuff” with us either; he was doing his own thing, and I was free, welcome even, to come and go, participate or do my own thing. It feels disconcerting, but it makes sense, that I would parent similarly. Sometimes I compare myself to the mother who spends the day doing creative, perfectly-designed art projects with the kids then hunkers down on all fours building forts (in my mind she’s in a cocktail dress and heels, having somehow also put the roast in the oven to be finished just in time for her husband’s arrival). Then I tell myself, this is bullshit, mothers and daddies and everyone else raises children, and they raise them as best they can, and we are all lacking in some ways.

Sophie wakes just after 10 AM and comes up the stairs. Twining her arms around me her eyes are like predatory stripes, and she says, “I smelled something yummy when I woke up!” The scones I’d baked to towering perfection, steaming on top of the oven now.

Well, that’s a good enough series of memories there, I’d hope.

Off to put on sunscreen and retrieve peas from the greenhouse.

Awesome: I… Biked That!

I ended up determined to bike from Vance Creek Park to the Satsop nuclear power plant today – the latter abandoned and now serving as some kind of odd industrial / half-assed business park, but infinitely more recognizable to those heading to the beaches as semi-iconic twin towers (my friend’s grandmother used to call them “ladies’ girdles”). My father had told me about this bike ride; Ralph and I had attempted it about a year or two ago (with kids in bike trailer) but after what seemed like a long slog we thought we’d gone off the track, so we cut it short.

I don’t know why I made this trip the point of our day. I know I wanted to find and finish the route my father had told me about. I wanted to get some fresh air and exercise. I wanted to be close enough to these giant towers – I’d never seen them in the flesh before – to touch them. I didn’t want to bike; I wanted a goal destination.

So here I set off with plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and my two children, the eldest installed on her own bike. I had no idea of my route or the distance required or if we’d turn around after only a couple miles. I remember my father saying something about “13 miles” – but I didn’t know if he meant round trip, or one-way. I’d also heard him mention an ascent for the last part of the journey – and this worried me. For my father to even mention a hill meant the hill was likely ass-kicking.

Sophie didn’t enjoy the first leg of the trip, an admittedly mildly-unpleasant run accompanied by the sounds of highway car travel. In just a mile however all signs of highway traffic had disappeared and we were in a lush farmland. The children exclaimed in joy – tree farms, cows, verdant meadows, the river, a huge group of pheasants gibbering and running about. Very few feral dogs, thank goodness. I kept saying, “See those towers? That’s where we’re going.” Sophie asked if we could turn around. I said, “No, I think we can do it.” After a while we both believed it.

The trip went on. And on and on. And then: up and up and up. I began to doubt my worth as a parent to drag my girl up this hill in the scorching heat. After a while I was saying, “We’re almost there,” because I could not imagine climbing more than we were climbing. Food trucks passed; Schwans, Fiesta. OK, so, wherever we ended up, there were other people there. The road was not busy but when people did speed past their faces were smiling or their mouths in an “o” shape – I swear my Xtracycle looks like a jalopy, loaded with tow-headed gap-toothed kids and a big grass basket and my body all muscle and fat rolls getting us up the hill.

At the last steep ascent, as we walked it in blistering sun, Sophie said, “When we get to that sign…” and I thought she’d say we were turning around, but instead she said, “I’m getting back on.” We rounded the corner and there it was – close enough to touch the tower, a monster, and a triumphant sail down and up the last dip, as fast as we could both do it. The kids loved how the tower burst out of the greenery; I had tears in my eyes. No photograph (and there are many online) can encompass the feeling of being dwarfed by these massive towers, or my elation that myself and my two wee children had made the trip on our own, the seven-year old on her own steam.

There wasn’t much else to look at, a few employees, a few forklifts. The view was incredible; we’d been biking steadily uphill for the last third of the ride and were surrounded by the mountains and the greenscape that make the area so lovely.

Just as we’re coasting triumphantly along the summit of the hill, about to settle at a picnic table for lunch, the unimaginable (or the shockingly predictable) occurs: Sophie’s back tire shreds. Which is funny, because my LBS practically gave me this bike and those tires were balder than a newborn baby’s ass, and I remember thinking, really? regarding the tires, but I trusted they’d be OK. Of course Sophie puts miles on her bike like no seven year old I’ve met.

As the kids ate (fresh fruit salad, black forest ham on french rolls, Doritos, water and more water, chocolate covered raisins) I pondered my options. I could find someone in the business park and phone Ralph, whom I could count on to find a way to rescue us; who would have bought us a new bike to return on had I asked. Better, though, to make it back on our own. Sophie obligingly got on the ruined bike tire to see if it could go – she said it “wasn’t much different”, but of course, it was not rideable. So it was down to me. Well, I could do it. Or have a really shitty time trying.

As the kids finished eating I put the front tire of her bike in my pannier and bungeed the stem to my V-rack. Sunscreen, extra clothes, water, basket – all loaded up – even more Joad-like than before, with a third wheel and extra kid clinging on. Then we were off. I painfully rememberd two large hills on the return trip; I couldn’t let them slow me down too much or I’d feel defeated. We went down the dips before the uphills fast; I put the bike into gear and cranked it, making a surprising amount of momentum for the uphill. Then when we’d be on the upswing my kids (unasked) would hop off and walk the few feet to the summit as I granny-geared it, then just when it was prudent for them to be on they would jump back on. I never had to stop. Sophie turned herself backwards to position herself for any oncoming cars (while on this trip the kids came up with a code – cars coming from behind us: “Incoming!”; cars travelling towards us: “We’ve got company!”). I may have done all the pedalling for the return trip but it was a team effort. It felt wonderful.

At about 4:45 we rolled back to the park to my mom’s old pickup. The best part of the trip is that the kids and I were still laughing as we finished. No trail of tears here; we’d made it.

All in all, we biked over 15 miles. My dad would have been proud.

last Christmas, i gave you my heart / the very next day, Hogabooms moved away

It’s hard to believe that in just a few nights this home won’t be mine anymore; I will be sleeping in and cooking in and traveling from a new one. We transfer only a mile and a half away, but still – it is going to feel odd to say goodbye to a house, a neighborhood, and neighbors that we have thoroughly enjoyed. In a few days I’ll be cooking in a kitchen painted with bright colors and drawing a bath in my long-pined for clawfoot tub (or at least scrubbing a clawfoot tub like a maniac); getting used to the sound of highway traffic and sewing while overlooking a wild and lovely back yard.

One of the best things about my life is my children; in this case, how ready and excited they are for adventure. It occurs to me that this Christmas is going to be a wonderful memory for them; not just for the gifts and the snow (both of these in stronger measure than in years past) but for the exodus to 2323 Sumner Avenue. The children have helped us pack, move furniture on to new homes, bake and sew and make ready for all we’ve had to do. They have not been impediments but wee partners in our enterprises.

As for me, I miss my father terribly. A day does not go past I don’t think of him and feel deeply sad. Last year for Christmas we went through this whole Sumatran coffee fiasco – I don’t have the heart right now to tell the story although I do love to recount it, and we continue to purchase Sumatran coffee half in jest over the episode. It hurts me badly that he is someone who has been baldly, abruptly scratched off my gift list. Along with missing my father I’ve also had to experience the changes in my mother, a new widow – many changes, and some of them rather surprising. I count myself as an adult friend to her, someone who can accompany her on this journey in good faith and with love.

I am reminded we used to call my father the Ghost of Christmas Bastard; it was a name Ralph made up. My dad was a long distance runner and this time of year would don a santa hat. He’d be out there busting ass (he was very fast), his thin, gaunt frame carring this silly-ass hat my mom made. He was also, of course, a bastard, a curmudgeon; at turns both elegant, witty and urbane, and the next thing you know he’d be on a semi-profane rant with his mouth open and food in it.

I miss him, just terribly.

(s)he doesn’t understand

I got a bit mixed up today. First, while at my mom’s (letting Sophie do some chores while I stole a few quarters) I unexpectedly came upon the receptacle of my father’s remains. It was a simple, solid, handsome and surprisingly heavy object – and something I think he would have liked. When I think of cremated remains I remember the small series of hilarious scenes from The Big Lebowski; one of our family’s favorite films and vignettes my father himself laughed at.

There were photographs floating about the house, too, ones I hadn’t seen in years, if ever. Unfair. Sad. I miss him. The “missing” has not changed one ounce; if anything it is more painful in it’s perpetual truth: “Hi, still here! Hey, you still don’t get to see him anymore, ever. Finis.” Today I was realizing as I drove along Riverside that the arguments I used to have with him, well, those were gone too. No one was going to challenge me about the stuff he challenged me about. My occasional exasperations with him now seemed petty and I find it an irony that I would wish for them again. Hey, I’m still glad I lived them out, thought of him as a pain in the ass at times, and often – and this is my own legacy in my family – sought to “agree to disagree.”*

Tonight I forgot if my father’s death preceded my anniversary this year and had to double-check. I have been thinking about seven years of marriage and almost as many of family and feeling very proud of myself and my husband. My kids are great. They are healthy, smart, social, relaxed, enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom, and are a constant source of joy. My husband is a hero and my friend. He has my respect but, unfortunately, weathers many of my bad habits. My life has been transformed through difficulties and good fortune both. I am happy with what I have learned and energized to do the work I do every day. I have proven myself in areas I had no idea I had strengths. I have failed in areas that have instructed me, painfully, of my limitations. I feel strong enough that it might be OK to fail again, to make mistakes, which is something I wasn’t strong enough for say, three years ago.

* My friends know I actually got this doctrine from the film Anchorman.

a celebration; a summation

The activity and event dominating my last week (and my mother’s last couple of weeks) has come and gone: my father’s memorial service. I saved my mother some trouble by managing the menu and food delivery. I saved her more trouble by not arguing with her over anything; by making food for company the night before. By giving her the space to have a hard time if she needed to.

The morning of Saturday was hard. I’d given myself too much to get done. My friends Abi, Cynthia, and Amore stepped in and helped quite a bit. We had a friend on coffee detail (three carafes full) and we had music flowing through the house. Music I grew up with; music my father loved that I’d set aside.

My childhood home filled up with people: from my life as a child, family stretching back before my birth; friends from then, friends from Port Townsend, friends from now. Neighbors, coworkers. At one point on the sunny front porch I looked up and saw three of my girlhood friends – I’ve known since I was eight years old – running up the stairs looking for me. They looked curiously like three distinct kinds of flower. They were beautiful and I was glad to see them. They came back downstairs and we shared childhood stories, stories of high school and college and marriage and children we had and children to come. We laughed and laughed and laughed and told brash stories.

At about 2:30 on my mother’s request we gathered to speak a few words about my father. My mother was nervous and antsy. She tried to speak normally, but it came off to me as a sermon. Some things she said flowed well. I felt her real presence when she said, “we had two wonderful kids… and they each have some of David’s nature.” My sister spoke then and watching her, I felt myself break down a bit. People gradually offered up their thoughts and every word meant something to me.

I started speaking. I said I’d been here for his life fighting cancer. I’d been here for his last week, days, hours, been here more and more. I was with him when he died. I don’t remember what all I said. I do know I spoke my thoughts – wondering if, when he was dying, he knew what a hole he’d leave in our lives. I tried to say something of the blow it had felt like in the days after he left. At some point I realized the laughter in the room had turned to sobs – some open, some muffled in throats. I had more to say but I felt breathless. I had only wanted to say a few words but more wanted to spill out.

I did my best but I felt far from eloquent.

Others spoke and shared. Lots of laughter and a few tears. My mother’s coworker Lillian spoke of life in a way that so clearly communicated her dignity in the face of loss; her words were wisdom to me. Childhood friends Missy and Tony spoke words of my father that meant a great deal to hear. My friend Cynthia spoke of knowing my father through me, and how unique my father walked in the world. The room laughed and thought – not thought about only my father, but their own lives, their own loves. Do they think of them, care for them every day?

The ensuing silence was broken by my daughter, flashing in with ruffled skirt and holding my mother’s hands in urgency. Sophie tries to whisper, “Grandma, we need a jar – we caught a garden snake!” her pigtail braids electric with excitement. Laughter breaks like crystal and the sun settles on those in the room, moving on, moving up for more food and coffee and conversation.

Long after the party was over I came home and was gifted with an hour to myself. I ran the bath and laid on the couch and listened to the music I’d set aside for earlier. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Willlie Nelson, Cat Stevens. Something about the song I’d heard so much as a child: “this is the peace train,” the voices break out with harmony, and I was suddenly flooded with memories of my childhood, the warmth, the music, the safety. Then overcoming me were some of those things I hadn’t loved. And then those things I’d loved again and I cried again. I felt my life telescoped, and how much my father had been a part of all of it.

I miss you so very, very much, dad. I always knew I would, and it’s still true every day.

a case of overwhelm

Today I worked at the eatery I was first employed at over seventeen years ago. It was a welcome break – very hard work, though. My children were coincidentally on a zoo trip with friends so I was almost a single gal for a few hours. This evening I got home (two and a half hours later than I’d originally thought I would) and unzipped my boots and stripped down to my slip and ran a bath – like a regular waitress.

While waiting tables today three men I knew from town unexpectedly consoled me regarding my father’s loss. I wonder if my mom relates to my feeling of faking it, of floating through life looking “normal”, feeling like a half-ghost. On one hand I am able to graciously accept their condolences and hear their remembrances – and in this case, record their food orders without pad and pen – and on the other hand I’m a broken person who isn’t about to talk about how I really feel – not to strangers and yeah, sometimes I don’t really feel like talking about it to friends or family, either.

Tonight when I got home a friend – herself recently widowed – brought us some home-cooked food. I told her thank you, for so many reasons but one being that it feels like the rest of the world will move on and I will somehow never do so. My friend said, “It never gets better,” and – herself a very reserved person – began to cry. She waved and smiled and left as fast as she could. We’re at my mother’s house now reheating the delicious food and waiting to share it with a friend. The kindness of this food is appreciated, as is

when I got home tonight I also found out that a friend (who wished to remain anonymous) paid off the remaining balance on Sophie’s bike at the bike shop. I found this out because my sister also bought me a bike-related gift the same day.

All in all, an overwhelming (bad and good) last twelve hours.

hey guess what, nothing really makes me feel better

My Father's Obituary
(Click on the image to find a larger size)

My text was complimented expressly by the mortician yesterday. My mom, aunt, and uncle all reviewed it and only made small edits. I’m proud of this because it’s hard to sum up a life in 300-some words.

Oh and, “the family requests donations be sent to the ACS” – that’s my mom, not me. I don’t request that. I am not a big cancer-hater. I request flowers, or just saying something, or thinking of us. Especially in a couple weeks where everyone else has moved on and we haven’t.

it can be one thing, but also another

A friend takes my children for a few hours this afternoon while I go to my parents’ unencumbered by their rascally selves. This is a good thing because my mother is very underslept and there’s nothing for it, really. After some medication my father falls into a deep but brief sleep and I serve my mother some soup I made up; we sit in her kitchen and talk.

It is a good talk. We discuss friends, betrayals, a memorial service. She tells me she’s worried for me because there’s so much of me I get from him. Our flexibility and abilities in living our lives, our “intellectual…” she trails off (what did she mean?). She cites us both as intuitive about “people’s bullshit”. I have always thought this as true about my father to an extreme degree. I have often trusted his intuition. I haven’t thought much about mine. It is interesting hearing her compare us and I wish I’d have really marked down all she said. But I was thinking about helping her through this conversation. How sad she has to see her own children hurt, to worry for us even now.

For all the help and ease the hospice group is supposed to provide, my mother is still on the phone a lot coordinating things. I watch her try to concentrate (mispronouncing “albuterol” worse and worse with each repetition on the phone). I watch my dad breathe. He looks like he’s climbing a mountain! So does she! He is so thin his ribcage protrudes and rounds out his body, his flesh fallen away. His pantlegs are rolled up to expose his calves (I realize something I too do to my pajamas when sleeping) and the skin on his calves is smooth and pale and unflawed.

A few minutes after our lunch he stirs and awakens. He never gets more than a couple hours stretch at a time. He sees me and his eyes open wide, his arms pop up and out for a hug. I immediately hug him as naturally as if this was something we did all the time (we didn’t). “I love you daughter,” he says. I tell him I love him too. I hug him too. I feel some of my self-consciousness evaporate, because I’d been hugging him more, mostly unsure if it was appreciated.

We get a delivery for another machine that will help give him better air. He can’t talk for very long without pausing for breath. The technician is showing us tubes and switches and his voice hushes a bit in deference, probably thinking my mom and I are about to cry, or very sad. But I’m not thinking about the machine or the air or even feeling terrible. What is stuck in my mind, and what lends me to flush with tears, is how very, very much my father looked like an infant, in the way he held up his arms and asked me near.

I am so honored I get to see him this way, I get to see his “baby” self, his true self. He’s dying but he’s also crystallizing in my mind. Never have I been more sure of who he is in my life, and where he dwells. Never have I seen him so clearly; in some way he is not diminished but augmented. I see him even in this form as more beautiful, more pure, more himself. My time with him renders his physical changes as less shocking, and not horrible, but simply amazing. It is hard to watch him suffer, yes. Very hard. But it is also amazing to see a person stripped further, yet still so very much a person.

When he’s awake and feeling better I enjoy his humor, his conversation. He eats a plum, the first and only thing he’s eaten so far today. He eats the dripping fruit with relish but clumsily, beset by an inability to finish the job – yes, like a first plum tasted by an infant. He prefers fresh water and says it tastes “horrible” after an hour. I am so pleased to fill his water glass, to provide him compazine for his nausea. I hope, hope so much, that until the last I can give him something, some assistance.

Life is messy, and funny. Standing in the kitchen doorway the dog quickly turns about on the carpet and shits on the floor before I can intervene. I laugh and clean the mess; disgusting. My dad says, “It’s Thursday – just put it in the trash and it will be taken tomorrow.” His mind is still remarkably clear even with medicine and naps; he recites his physician’s phone number to assist in a pharmacy phone call. “You’re going to miss my memory banks,” he tells my mother, with an almost smug knowledge that yes, we’ve always known his memory so much better than the rest of ours; a gift really.

I leave to pick up my children, and a prescription. I will return to stay the night and give my mother a full night’s rest – or that is the hope anyway, for what our plans these days are worth.

swimming in those waters

This morning while brushing my teeth I discovered a small, irate monster dwelling in my breast: guilt. I’d heard of so-called “survivor’s guilt” but until that moment didn’t realize I’d been mired in it.

It’s useless to try to describe, even though I love to write, I love to come to a point or make a point and feel well-expressed. It’s simple: I feel guilt. I feel guilt no matter how hard I work, how correctly I conduct myself, and especially when I’m not over-working, when I know I could be doing more or better. I feel guilt sometimes (but not always) when I’m going about my business – when I’m telling my mother I’m taking an embroidery class next Monday. What right do I have to make plans, to rub the point in further that I have a life to move on to while my father does not?

I visit my parents this afternoon after the girls I babysat have been picked up by their mother. My mom tentatively feels me out for coming back over at 3:30 to sit with my father while she gets her hair done. I support my mom having time away so much that I’d probably do just about anything to help her acquire it.

So this means instead of coming home and letting my kids play with the new toy I bought them (yay pizza!) while I lie down or take a bath or even sew a little, instead I will come home and take care of my children’s needs quickly then bike back over there and sit with my father and watch him struggle to breathe. This is a decidedly less pleasant affair than watching someone struggle to breathe who is going to recover. This is watching someone over a period of days slowly be strangled, but there’s a lot of free time to say stupid things like, “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” but mostly just sit and feel so completely ineffectual and feel like it’s your fault. True story.

When you are supporting people who are experiencing a loss people will tell you “it must mean so much to them” and “they know you are there and it gives them peace”, but I have no particular knowledge that in any way my presence, my hugs, my deliveries of food or juice or water, my talk, my silence, my prayers do any good at all. I know they comfort my mother; she tells me this. I know in no way if I help my father, at all.

If I wasn’t pressed for time I’d write more: that the idea of “help” is selfish (there is very little I can do), the idea of “guilt” is selfish (it’s all about me!). The concept of being present, while your loved one suffers and dies, is all I can do, and sometimes it’s hard to do even that.

Break time is over. Time to get going back.

i don’t know, it kind of seems like a party in some ways

Are we dying, or are we really living?

Last night we had a very small gathering which was only in part about my mother’s birthday. I made a cake; or rather, I made the best frosting ever, and fucked up the cake on eighteen levels, and Ralph saved the day with his amazing cake re-animator skills, and it turned out an *awesome* cake. We dressed the kids up nice and packed up the birthday gift and homemade card and headed to meet family.

My father’s brother and sister had arrived in town to stay at my parents’ house hours after the piano has been moved and minutes after an adjustable bed (complete with oscillating air mattress to forestall bedsores), wheelchair, and oxygen tank had been installed. My mother hadn’t been happy at first when it dawned on her my dad wasn’t well enough to go out to dinner (the original plan). So after a talk with me on the phone she decided to pick up dinner. Now I’m in the living room talking to my aunt and uncle, the kids crawling on everyone, Ralph fixing my aunt and I a cocktail, and my mother nervously chopping up a salad. She’s feeling glad for my family’s help yet somehow “responsible” for everyone’s food, good time, and happiness. P.S. her influence is something I struggle with daily – being a hostess, but not taking on The Weight Of The World by doing so, either.

My dad sits quietly. Sometimes his head is in his hands. Sometimes he smiles. He joins in the conversation then sinks away. We ask if he needs more medicine. After he has a coughing fit that lasts a while, Nels approaches his knee gravely and tells him to drink his water.

After dinner the kids are absolutely obsessed with the electric bed that’s not in the living room. I tell them after dinner, wash hands, let us make it up, then you can get in. In tucking in sheets and sorting out pillows I realize I am making up my own father’s deathbed. Sometimes I get these dramatic sentences, they pop in my head. But it doesn’t need to feel bad. Why not a deathbed? I remember us making up my bed for my son’s delivery, at home. This was an occasion too of worries, of expectation, of the unknown. The more time I spend at my parents’ home the more similar and deep the experiences of birth and death seem to me. It’s not even as simple as one event is joyous and the other sad, although I know so many see it that way.

The kids are in the bed, giggling. Nels says he’s “dying”, sticks his tongue out, dramatically falls back in bed. Sophie manifests a convincing consumptive cough. Ralph ministers to them by pouring out “medicine” (Diet Coke!) in a teaspoon. They love this. They cuddle-wrestle. My mother moves the bed into different positions. Nels snaps to this concept and when my mother leaves he immediately finds and operates the bed control. She returns, scolds him. He is banished from the bed for the evening.

This morning my mom arrives on the bike to deliver some leftover baked sweets that came into her life. People bring food to her home and it is appreciated, so very much, although I think people (including myself) may be bringing a few too many sweets – at least in the days when it’s just my mom and dad in the house. But food doesn’t go to waste around here. For instance, I made her a pie last week from fresh-picked berries (actually I made three, gave them to various and sundry) and she was able to take it to church and share it, something I knew gave her satisfaction.

I don’t mean to go on about food. My mother’s mood this morning is almost elated, girlish. She has somehow escaped hostess duties for a little bit of exercise, a drop-in visit bearing gifts. She hugs the children and cuddles the youngest chick before revealing what’s probably really got her happy: “David slept really well tonight,” she tells me (they had both slept poorly the night before). “He only woke up coughing once and I gave him some oxygen. I think that bed really helped.”

Life (death) will get difficult again. But last night our family gathering – interrupted with a welcome and sweet visit from two friends bringing, yes, pies and singing two-part “Happy Birthday” – wasn’t co-opted by maudlin experiences of sickness and dying, even as we were in the presence of such and indeed had gathered because of it.