Thursday, January 31, 2013

Handmade Gifts

For the last six months-plus, I have been busy crafting. A whole swath of co-workers and friends had babies this year so I attended several baby showers, I made most of the Christmas gifts I gave, and I learned to knit. All productive activities for my hands. I come to life when I have a creative project.

Many happy evenings spent here (glorious mess!)...

...and here.
 These are some of the finished products.
Throw pillow for Mom-in-law; a tree for each member of the family.

Patchwork pillow for Grandma

Tacky ornament kits turned out to be fun gag gifts.

It's a pillow case. For the shark-lover in my life.

Christmas lap quilt for Sister-in-law

(it was a hit)

Window valance (Matryoshka dolls, not South Park characters)
Kitchen curtains - completed!
My first knitted washcloth!

"I heart NW WA" for baby Ruby

Baby hat - Robin Hood style
Baby hat - Rose bud style
Nursery decor

Pot holders

Whale pillow for baby Clive
Quilt for Sister

It's been a good year for making things. The gifts are a tangible way I can express love to the people in my life. Aren't I lucky to be surrounded by so many friends?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Happy 60th Mom

My siblings and I visited Mom over the weekend. It wasn't really a birthday party per se, but it was a celebration nonetheless.

So grateful to see her smiling.

I love the balloon my dad bought her.

Mom was very chatty (though we couldn't understand the majority of what she said). There were lots of sound effects and gestures, and lots of laughing. She regaled us with stories about something she found very funny.

Before we left, I took a quick peek in her room. It's the best decorated, if you ask me.

My sister whispered in Mom's ear, "I think you have the nicest room."

I'm so happy the nurses saved Mom's name tag from Clive's baby shower last summer.

Mom, my wish for you on your 60th birthday is that you will experience peace and know how loved you are. You have not been forgotten or abandoned. The stale halls of your Special Care Unit aren't big enough to contain our appreciation for you. I would never have guessed that a facility for Alzheimer's patients could be a context for grace or beauty. But even here our love for you grows, like a weed in cracked pavement.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Not all visits with Mom are pleasant.

I spent an hour with her on New Year's Day. After such a good visit before Christmas, I was looking forward to brightening her day and being cheered by seeing her. It's easy to write about the high points of our time together and focus my grief on what has been lost. The retrospective fondness is sweet. I've described it here (most recently during our sing-along, or last Mother's Day).

But the new reality, the current state of things, is hard to put into words.

As soon as I walked into the Special Care Unit, I heard a loud TV. In one of the activity rooms, several residents including Mom were watching Hook at full volume. An ironic viewing choice if you ask me: Robin Williams trying to remember how to be Peter Pan, elderly Granny Wendy, aging Tootles complaining he "lost his marbles." Mom's wheelchair was only a few feet away from the screen and her hands were clasped in front of her, making her look impatient.

As I walked into the room to greet her, a white-haired women sitting nearby grabbed my arm like a spring-loaded skeleton in a haunted house. I smiled at her but she didn't smile back.

Mom looked up at me with a forlorn expression. If she recognized me, I couldn't tell. She didn't say anything. The nurse on duty helped me wheel Mom into the room across the hall. I was glad to close the door behind us and muffle the sound of Captain Hook.

I gave Mom a hug and a kiss, told her it was good to see her, and asked how she was doing. I only understood 1% of her response. She started crying. She tried and tried to explain something. It was horrible to see her in such anguish and not understand what she was saying. She repeated sounds and stammered. Her facial expressions and body language were vivid. But I couldn't piece any of the verbal gibberish together. I didn't know if she had been having hallucinations again, afraid that someone was trying to hurt her. I didn't know if she was having a moment of clarity and was upset by her surroundings. Both perfectly good reasons to cry inconsolably.

It was a helpless feeling. It was the first time I couldn't distract her by singing, or being silly, or telling stories, or praying, or smiling. I just rubbed her back and stroked her hair. I wiped the tears that ran down her face and blotted her runny nose. I did the only things I knew how to do (things she taught me); comforting gestures for someone who is sad.

I told her I was sorry.

I told her no one deserved to live like this, especially her.

I told her she was the best mother in the world.

She looked at me scornfully.

On one hand, I held her emotions loosely, unattached from me, entirely apart from our 31 year history as mother and daughter. I reminded myself that her understanding and rationality and perspective are limited, at best. I pictured her in heaven, years from now, looking back on that very moment of miscommunication. She was laughing good-naturedly at herself for stumbling over her words, over the absurdity of how intensely I wanted to help and how powerless I was. In my mind's eye she chuckled at what a child-like state she had been in. She reassured me I had done my best, and thanked me for being there.

But on the other hand, I took it all personally and felt like the biggest failure on earth. I couldn't make it better for her. She was inches from me, trying to tell me what was so troubling, and I couldn't do a thing. I felt as if I was standing next to someone with their hand caught in a closed car door. Instead of opening the door and releasing the injured limb, I just cooed unhelpfully, "I love you. I'm here for you. I wish I could help." It's terrible to see someone you love suffer, especially if you can't do anything about it.

I started singing. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You'll never know dear......" but she stopped me.

She said, "No" and shook her head and cried fresh tears.

I bowed my head and prayed out loud, "Please give Mom peace. Please surround her with angels." It sounded absurd. She kept crying so I stopped. It felt exactly like the prayer I couldn't finish when I was twelve years old, the night Mom tucked me in at bedtime and I confessed to her I didn't believe that God could hear me. It was the same words-ricocheting-off-the-ceiling feeling. And very lonely.

My heart has been heavy since that visit. I don't know how to reconcile this mentally. The woman I cherish so dearly, who I've aimed to please and make proud my whole life, is out of reach. I can't ease her pain, whether it's real or imagined (and what difference does it make? If it's real to her, I want to make it stop).

I want my Mom back.

I want to go to garage sales with her on Saturday morning.

I want to take her to a capella singing performances.

I want to watch Downtown Abbey with her (she would LOVE it).

I want a hug, not because I'm comforting her, but because she's comforting me.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nephew: 4 months old

I love this boy so much. Isn't he a pensive young man? I am a proud and happy Auntie.

Photo and onesie art courtesy of my talented sister.