Monday, May 05, 2008
Hello. My name is Rebecca
Thought I ought to introduce myself, since I am no doubt entirely forgotten about after a week away from this Newman memoir.
So, this is me. Nice to meet you.
The children and I returned from our week away last night and went promptly to bed. We were exhausted. And by that I mean, naturally, I was exhausted. It was I, after all, who had to drive the four hours with just my thoughts to keep my company~and the snores of the babies in the backseat.
It was a good trip, plain and simple. Very productive, as is evidence by the lack of photos taken of the week. In fact, I didn't even LOOK at my camera let alone bring it out, with the exception of our visit with Oma and Opa~those visits are so few and far between I became nearly manic as I snapped and visited. Snapped and visited. This was the highlight of the trip.
I was impressed with how graciously my friend opened up her home to me to help, I had had many doubts about how much I would be able to accomplish on her behalf. I am glad that I went and I am glad of the work, and exponentially glad for all the visiting that was squeaked into all the crevices.
It has been months (I don't even recall how many) since I was able to look at Oma and Opa in the face and in the course of those months, they have prioritized belongings, downsized, and moved from a three-level home to a one-level, much smaller (and more manageable) apartment house in a retirement village, Oma has pressed on with the never-ending cancer that torments her frail body, and Opa's Alzheimer's has progressed, stealing away his memories and recollections from himself, his love, and his family. Every visit is one more strand of love, wrapped about your heart, one more smile tucked away for posterity, and even more cherished than the last. I can't take these times for granted, I am reminded of that now more than ever.
Opa is acutely aware and slightly irritated by his lacking memory, but still is jovial and joy filled. Never before have I seen him smile SO much, coo to children and look with such shining eyes into now unfamiliar faces.
Opa has walked every day since he was a toddler, his feet matching temp with the stories flowing from his lips; his gait always strong, steady and his over-six-foot frame hard to keep up with! This is the memory I have of my Opa. These are the times shared with him, times that I can look back on and recollect. Times that he might NOT be able to ever revisit in his mind. We walked to the main building for lunch, myself grasping the little fingers of my children and my Opa grasping the thick black foam of a four-pronged cane handle. I slowed so that he could keep up and mentally abhorred that piece of foreign black metal that Opa needed for support.
As we walked, the wispy seeds of dandelions floated about in the air and Opa commented on how pretty the snow was, though he was without a coat, the grass was green, and I was in short-sleeves. I asked him if He enjoyed his new home and he affirmed that he did, "Though I've only been here two days", not recollecting that they had spent over a month there already.
And then, like a knife to my heart, He spoke about my Oma. "You'll understand what it is the be a wife someday, when you grow up and get married. You''ll know then, when you are a woman..." He said. I looked at his bright face, lit with a giant smile and put a smile on my lips while my heart burst into tears. I looked down at my hands, each wrapped about the dear fingers of my own children, I thought of my Bunkin, bits and pieces of Matt and I formed into flesh and blood, and I realized he had no idea who these children were. He thought of me as a little girl still. And far from his memory were the long discussions He and my Mattie had shared. It broke my heart into a thousand pieces, and for a moment I felt what my Oma must feel daily. I reminded him of Matt, the children and of Bunkin and with a surprised smile, He said "Oh! That IS good. You'll get a Christmas present this year then!" I will forever think of my Bunkin as my most precious Christmas present, from now on.
I hate, hate HATE that my Opa is losing the part of himself that he held most valuable. I HATE that He is slowly slipping into an incredibly lonely and isolated existence. And while I HATE, at the very same time, I laugh with joy at his silly antics, the constant smile playing about his lips, the words that still convey THOUGHT, and the person: flesh and blood that stands before the world. I realize that these too, will someday be gone. But he is HERE now. He is STILL with us, and whatever capabilities He still holds onto I will be most fervently thankful for. I will NOT take these things for granted. I will NOT take him for granted.
At the very same time, I have such deep respect and remorse for my Oma, who must obviously be having a very hard time with it. Certainly, the practical, every day reminding of things can get irritating-but much deeper than that, she is a front-row seat observer of the man she has spent a lifetime loving losing his mind. The memories they have shared are becoming vague and obsolete, and she too is becoming isolated and lonely. The other half of her heart, while still very much there, is at the very same time, NOT there. I have determined to write to her often. I think every week I will send her something, whether it be a letter or some pictures or some drawings the children have made. I want her to know that she is NOT alone. That she is LOVED. She is much stronger than I am. If I were in her shoes, I don't know what I would do but I know it would involve tears. Every. Single. Day.
I hate tears. I hate sadness and so I will work to remember the good, the sweet, and the wonderful of this weekend. The smiles. The ivory skin of Oma, still as soft as I remember as a child. The picture of them sitting together on the front pation as we pulled in. The new apartment, just as spic and span as Oma's housekeeping has always been. The conversations. It was a VERY good visit.
Another good and wonderful part of the visit simply must be written down. If it isn't, I know I will forget and to do so would be simply tragic.
When we went to the main building housing the dining area, common rooms, and home to those individuals who needed lots of care and assistance, we walked straightaway into a 'Great Room' where all the people could watch television and visit with one another. There were many wrinkled, frail bodies about. Some couldn't speak, some couldn't walk but oh-their FACES when they saw the children! They just BEAMED! Andrew started running from one person to another, leaning onto their laps and saying "Hi!" "Hi!" He visited with each one, he shook some hands, he played peekabo with them~and each one gushed. I was so proud to see that. I was a bit concerned the children might feel weirded out by all 'the old people'. I have seen many children react that way in nursing homes, becoming inverted, quiet and nervous. Not so with Panda.
There was a man in a wheelchair. He didn't say anything but he kept staring at our group. Andrew had already given him a hasty hello when I saw Corynn quietly go up to him. She gently took his hand and started stroking it. She didn't say anything at all, just went to him. I couldn't believe my eyes. After a moment, the man brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. It was the sweetest interlude I think I might ever have been witness to. And so you see why it would be tragic to forget.
Here are a few photos from Oma and Opa's new home and our visit there. They don't portray the spirit, the troubles, the strength, the joy, the faith, or the love that lies within the people. But maybe you will see how soft Oma's skin is, and how contagious my Opa's smiles are.
These are real people. Complex. Dimensional. My heritage. And I love them.