a May flower

This spring has been slower to warm than usual. Most years, we have lilies of the valley by Mother’s Day or by Nana’s birthday on May 16th at the latest. Lilies of the valley are the birth flower for May and we always picked bud vases for her while they were flowering.

Years ago, B and I transplanted a few pips from our childhood yards in New England to our home in New York. Lilies of the valley “spread aggressively” as horticulturists say and we now have a patch at least 25 square feet (2.3 square meters).

I’ve written previously about some of the hidden blessings of not having to deal with the complications of 2020 last year as we spent our final months with Nana. We were able to bring her beautiful, fragrant bouquets of lilies of the valley for her last birthday, which would not have been possible with the later spring blossoming this year and the restrictions on visiting skilled nursing facilities.

Lily of the valley, with Paco’s card to Nana and birthday card made by artist-friend Jim

Nana’s ashes are in an indoor niche at a memorial park in our town where fresh flowers are not allowed. I’m hoping someday to find some beautiful artificial lilies of the valley to leave there for her, so there will always be a bit of spring and her favorite May flower nearby.

Good-bye, Bob!

Over the weekend, I was serendipitiously at Paco’s senior living community on an errand when a special event happened.

Residents – in masks and safely spaced – were lining the lane and parking lot with signs, flags, and noisemakers, awaiting a drive-by farewell to a long-time resident.

Like my parents, Bob and his wife were early residents, moving into an independent living apartment shortly after the community opened ten years ago. Sadly, both Bob and Paco are now widowers.

Bob’s daughter, who lives locally and who I met years ago through church, and her husband are re-locating to Tennessee and Bob decided to go with them. In preparation for the move, his things were moved out of the apartment and now the new house is finished and it is time to go.

In pre-COVID times, there would have been a going-away party, but instead Bob was chauffeured through the streets in a vehicle decorated with signs and balloons. With the windows rolled down, he could shout out thank yous and receive well wishes from his friends and neighbors. A second decorated vehicle held his family, who, like mine, were frequent visitors over the years.

We’re happy that Bob will be with his family, but sad to see him go. There are getting to be fewer and fewer residents who moved into the community in the first year.

Another reminder that time marches – or drives – on.

a year ago today

Today is the first anniversary of my mom’s death. She was known as Nana here at TJCM and she appears in many posts from the past years.

Her death followed a long period of decline from congestive heart failure. In some ways, it seems that I lost her much longer ago because, as her illness progressed, she was not the same mom, the confidante with whom I spoke nearly every day of my life. She also wasn’t able to keep up her active social life in the senior community where she and Paco had lived since its opening ten years ago. She had a special gift for conversation, for listening attentively, and remembering each person’s stories. She also kept up with current events, so our conversations were often wide-ranging.

With so much changed in the world these last few months, I’ve often felt thankful that it was last year rather than this that we were dealing with Nana’s final months. Nana spent her last months in the skilled nursing unit of their senior community. Paco and I were able to visit as often as we wanted and my sisters came into town frequently for a few days at a time. Because our adult daughters E and T and our granddaughter ABC were in residence with us, they were able to visit often, too. This is one of my favorite four generations photos – Nana, me, E, and ABC at Thanksgiving in November, 2018.

Thanksgiving four generations

This spring, though, the skilled unit has been in full lockdown for weeks due to COVID-19. Visitors are only allowed when there is imminent danger of death. As difficult as the last few months of Nana’s life were, it would have been so much more difficult if we had not been able to be there to talk when she was awake, help with her meals, put in calls for staff when needed, and just be present. My heart goes out to all those who are residents of long-term care facilities and to their families as they continue to contend with being separated at this critical time.

I’m also grateful that Nana did not have to experience the permanent move of E and ABC to the UK. Being able to see her only great-grandchild regularly was a joy and it would have been so hard for her to lose that in-person connection. Nana was also spared the worry when the London contingent of the family were ill with probable COVID-19.

It’s hard to say if a year is a long time or a short time in these circumstances. Mourning follows its own path and this year has submerged us in a sea of societal grief and loss, as well. I only hope that I am able to be a testament to Nana’s love and care for her family and friends in these troubled times.

pandemic shopping

During our stay-at-home order period, shopping for food and other necessities has been one of the few opportunities to be away from the house, unless one is an essential worker. Most households have one designated shopper and it is suggested that shopping occur only once every 1-2 weeks.

At our house, I am the designated shopper. I also shop for my dad, who lives in a nearby senior community. He gets some meals through their dining service, but prepares breakfast and most lunches on his own.

Ideally, I would do one, very large shopping trip every two weeks, but this has proved impossible. Our area still has supply problems that cause stores to be out of stock of certain items, for example, flour, yeast, peanut butter, meat, toilet paper, canned beans, rice, frozen vegetables. It’s not that you can’t find your favorite brand. It’s that these products can be totally missing. There are also often limits to the number of containers you can buy of a product, as well. Staples like bread, milk, pasta, and canned beans are most likely to have that kind of restriction.

Because of this, I usually shop weekly, but need to go to two or three stores to find what we need. I am also making sure to keep a two-week supply of food on hand in case we need to quarantine, so I need to have food for immediate consumption and to keep the pantry stocked without compromising our emergency provisions.

We are also trying to give business to our local restaurants that are open for curbside pick-up. We are afraid that some of the local businesses that closed may never re-open, although we were happy that our favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant, though closed for a few weeks, has now re-opened for carryout.

We have also been enjoying trips to our favorite ice cream stand, Sugar Lips, which makes their own hard ice cream and usually about ten vegan flavors. This is a special place for the lactose-intolerant people in my family. Sugar Lips usually attracts a lot of customers from the university, so we are hoping that the local folks can give them enough business to stay open until the students are able to return to campus.

Today, thanks to our region meeting the criteria for phase one re-opening, I was able to support one of my favorite shops in a nearby town to our west. They specialize in locally made products. I usually buy handmade soaps from them and I’m pleased that I was able to put in an order online. Bonus: they had some multipurpose headband/face masks for sale. Pickup from the store is by appointment. Maybe the next time, they will be able to be open for in-person browsing. I think that might be phase four, with facemasks and social distancing, of course.

Are you having shopping adventures in your area? Please share in the comments.

bad timing

The United States government authorized direct cash payments to adults in order to help people face the challenges of the pandemic economic impacts.

The implementation has been dicey, though.

Most of the payments were based on 2018 or 2019 income tax returns and were made by direct deposit, if banking information was on file with the Internal Revenue Service, or by check.

Unfortunately, the IRS didn’t cross-reference with the Social Security system, which meant that some payments were issued to people who were deceased. That is what happened with my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, who received a payment by direct deposit last month, even though Nana’s date of death was on file at Social Security.

Many others were similarly affected and, at first, it seemed that surviving spouses would be allowed to keep the full payment as had happened in a similar economic stimulus program a number of years ago.

However, a few days ago, the government issued instructions that required people to mail them a check for any payment sent on behalf of someone who had died.

I am not arguing against the principle of payments to only those who are living, but I wish that the program had been implemented with accuracy. It’s been painful dealing with the hassles and uncertainty of the situation.

I couldn’t make myself write the check and required note to the IRS on Mother’s Day, my first without my mom. I did put it in the mail today. Later this week will be Nana’s birthday and the following week the first anniversary of her death. I didn’t need another reminder of her absence from the government in the midst of it.

I feel badly for those whose loss is more recent, who may need the money to help pay funeral bills or to support surviving family. I would hope in those instances that the government would not demand that the money be returned, but I doubt that the current administration will act with compassion and competence.

It’s sad.

a very different Mother’s Day

Today in the United States, we are observing Mother’s Day, which was originally begun as a call by women for peace, but that is another story.

I have been dreading Mother’s Day this year because it is the first since my mom’s death last May.  She was under hospice care in the nursing home, but we were still able to be with her and bring cards and flowers and treats. I keep thinking about how different it would have been this year with pandemic protections in place. No visiting is allowed. I know that is necessary to keep the virus away from such vulnerable people, but it must be so difficult today for all those moms, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers to be separated from their loved ones.

I am grateful to have daughter T here with us. We got to videochat with daughter E and granddaughter ABC. ABC showed me a special drawing that she and her dad had made for me for Mother’s Day. They were able to scan it and B printed it for me, so now it is on the mantel. It was fun to see ABC dancing about the living room, to hear her sing and “play” the piano, and hear her ever-expanding vocabulary. She will turn three next month. This is also the first Mother’s Day since they moved to London after E’s spousal visa finally came through. Though I wished E a happy Mother’s Day, the UK celebrated weeks ago.

It has also been unseasonably cold here. We have had snow this weekend, which is late in the spring for us. No outdoor flowers for Mother’s Day gifts this year!

Because of my mood and the pandemic restrictions, our celebration here will be low-key. B made Chelsea buns for breakfast, which were amazingly delicious and hot-from-the-oven. For supper, he is making lasagna, using the recipe that my mom always did. It is definitely the comfort food that I need today.

It was also comforting to watch mass recorded from television. The one I chose was my mother’s favorite when she was homebound for so many months. Of course, they mentioned Mother’s Day and included prayers for mothers. It was another way to remember my mom on this special but difficult day.

JC’s Confessions #11

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

I find it easier to deal with suffering that isn’t right in front of me.

There is still concern and worry, but it is much less likely to reach a paralyzing level.

With the pandemic, I know there are many people suffering in many places around the world. There is a certain level of continuing worry and heartache.

Still, it is not as painful for me as being with someone who is suffering.

Some of the most difficult things I have had to deal with in my adult life have been medical issues with my family. Some of these have been difficult to diagnosis conditions with my children which have resulted in being home with them continually and not having effective treatment available. It was so stressful to see someone need to hold onto things to be able to navigate, to know that there was only enough strength to make one trip a day up and down the stairs to the bedroom, to not be able to relieve constant pain.

And it is always there in front of you and, despite different doctors and their opinions and hours on the phone with the insurance company and trying everything the doctors recommend, you are helpless.

Somehow, though, when suffering is at a distance, I can imagine that, perhaps, things are not as dire, that things are bearable or treatable or maybe even okay. Sometimes, I can even banish worry for a little while.

I don’t know if other people find it more painful to witness suffering of a loved one firsthand or to be seperated from them. It’s not something that people tend to discuss.

I only know that it is much more painful for me to watch a loved one suffer, especially when everything I can do seems so small in the face of the problem.