sad news and shopping

We are nearing the end of our holiday visit to London. Today is our last full day with granddaughter ABC who will go back to school to begin the new term tomorrow. As a treat, ABC stayed over at our Airbnb with us last night. B made a yummy coffee cake for our breakfast. We had plans to meet up with our daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter JG for a morning shopping excursion and lunch.

I checked my email and found the sad news that one of the long-time members of the spirituality book study group at our neighborhood church that I facilitate had passed away. We had not seen each other since our group was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic, although we spoke by phone periodically. I had sent her a Christmas card not long before we left for the UK. I tried to bring up her obituary through our online subscription to our local newspaper, but, for some reason, it doesn’t work outside the US. I wish I could be there to attend the funeral but I’m afraid it will be held before I get back to the States. We had hoped to resume class in the spring, but it will be missing a certain spark without Christine.

We were able to meet up in Stratford for shopping, quite close to the site of the Olympic Park. I went by car with L so JG and ABC could be in their car seats, while B, T, and E took the bus. Had the weather been less chilly and rainy, they might have walked. We did a bit of shopping for ABC who needed some new skirts and black shoes as part of her school uniform. I was shocked to find a pair of boots for myself; I have short but narrow feet so tend to be hard to fit. We had lunch at a pasta shop in the mall, followed by gelato and sorbetto at another shop. We navigated our way back to the house and our nearby Airbnb and are now having naptime for the children (and some adults) before meeting up later for supper together.

We have been being careful about being out in public. This was our biggest encounter in public since our arrival days, but we wore our masks on the busses and in the shopping center, except while eating. The shops open onto a covered space that is open to the outdoors, so air circulation was good where we were walking and eating. We were also able to keep a good distance between groups of people. It helps to give peace of mind that B, T, E, and I are all boosted. L is just recently recovered from omicron but will be eligible to be boosted soon. We all need to protect ABC and JG, as well as keep ourselves negative so we can fly back to the US on Saturday.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/04/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-4th-2022/

what I’ve been writing

Although you can’t tell from the count of my recent blog posts, I have been carving out some writing time.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell that from my poetry output either, although I do have one recently written and accepted piece that I will share when it is published. I have had to compose a fair number of cover letters as I have done quite a few chapbook and full-length submissions, as well as some individual poems. I’ve gotten a number of rejections, but currently have the chapbook manuscript under consideration in four places and the collection in nine. I can hear my fellow poets saying that’s not enough, but I’m hoping to get a few more in later this week.

I spent a major amount of time thinking about, writing, and editing comments for a listening session with our bishop in preparation for a diocesan synod and the World Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to discern the future path of the church. The official title in English is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. In keeping with this, individuals were asked to share our hopes, dreams, and experiences with the church and our visions for the future. I chose to focus on the voices that have been marginalized in the church, concentrating on the voices of women. I prepared written remarks and then a shorter version that I could read aloud at the session within our three minute time limit. I do not like speaking in public but, inspired by others, especially some teens and young adults, I managed to do it. There was a lot of “speaking truth to power” at our session, one of at least twenty planned for our diocese, which is doing a credible job in reaching out to the people. Some diocese around the world are not doing much outreach, which could limit the effectiveness of the process when the bishops convene in 2023.

I have also been doing some holiday-related writing. My first priority was to write a letter to people on my parents’ Christmas card list who may not have heard about Paco’s death in September or even Nana’s in May 2019. It was difficult to write but I’m glad that I made myself do it because I heard back from several people who expressed their sympathies and shared memories with me. I also had the opportunity to do some reflective writing about this in conjunction with a support group I have been attending on preparing for the holidays after the loss of loved ones.

After sending out the letter to my parents’ friends, I tackled my own list, which was a bit more complicated. I did a family newsletter, still a difficult thing when having to report a death, that went in some cards, while others got a handwritten note or just a signed brief greeting, depending on how regularly I have been in contact with the recipient. All the addressing, stuffing, and stamping of envelopes adds to the time involved but most of them are in the mail now. A few are set aside for other members of the family to complete.

Now, there is, finally, this blog post. I’d like to say that I will post regularly from now on but I know that would be more wishful thinking than promise. B, T, and I are preparing for an extended holiday trip, which could create more leisure time for writing or be a total whirlwind with too little sleep to be cogent.

Which will it be? Stay tuned…

holiday mail – part one

One of my most important priorities for the year-end holiday season has been sending greetings to a wide range of people from all the different eras of my life. For some of the people on my list, it was the only time of year we would be in touch. The task of preparing the cards was quite elaborate, choosing the right card for the each recipient, deciding on a brief handwritten note or a longer printed letter, even matching the postage stamp and Christmas seal to align with the religious beliefs of the person.

My accustomed process has been abandoned over these last few stressful years, with other family members helping and sometimes with me abandoning cards altogether and just sending letters, no longer personalized as I had been wont to do back in the day.

This year is one of the difficult ones.

It’s hard for me to send cards with a note telling about a death, which I need to do again this year because of Paco. We are being advised to mail extra early this year because the US mail is slower than it used to be. Also, we hope to travel over the holidays and I need to get everything done before we leave.

Despite all that, I haven’t started on my list yet.

Part of it is that it is difficult to muster energy to do things, especially emotional things like writing. It’s a common aspect with grief but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.

The other block I was having was knowing that I needed to write to some of the people on my parents’ Christmas card list to let them know what has happened. I knew there were some people who probably didn’t even know about Nana’s death, let alone Paco’s, as the last time some on the list would have heard from them was four years ago when I helped put together a letter to send out.

I had promised myself not to start on my own cards until I had taken care of Nana and Paco’s friends but it was difficult to get going on that. I wound up drafting the letter in the middle of the night-before-last when I couldn’t sleep. Today, I printed and addressed envelopes and brought them to the mailbox. I’m hoping that all of them will get delivered, as I don’t know if any of the recipients may have moved.

Theoretically, I could be working on my own cards and letters right now, but, instead, I’m writing this post. I’m not sure if it is procrastination or if I have used up my energy for the day.

We’ll see.

If not later today, maybe tomorrow?

One-Liner Wednesday: Paco tribute

Because I announced my father’s death in this One-Liner Wednesday post, I’m linking the promised tribute to him with thanks to him and to all my friends and readers who have been sending out prayers and good thoughts on our behalf over the years.

Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/10/13/one-liner-wednesday-aaaand/

tribute to Paco

My 96-year-old father, known here as Paco, died in mid-September, but I have been struggling to write about him. A good share of that is that the writing/analytical/organizational part of my brain has been too busy with all the phone calling and notes and paperwork that follow a death, which are by turns taxing and emotional and fraught. I’ve also been trying to find peace after so many months of complex medical and care situations which I found both exhausting and traumatic. I’ve also taken a week to attend a reunion residency with the Boiler House Poets Collective at MASS MoCA, which has been helpful both in reconnecting with family history as we are from the North Adams MA area and reconnecting with myself as a poet after so many months of sneaking in poetry time only intermittently.

But in this post, I will try to tell you more about Paco and our family.

People have asked me how my Irish-American father came to be known as Paco, which sounds more Spanish. My firstborn daughter E was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. As she was learning to talk, she couldn’t manage to say “Grandpa” and – after a few instances of calling him “Bucco” – settled on Paco as his name. This became his name with all the other grandchildren and often for other family members. It was natural for me to use it here on the blog.

It was a revelation for me seeing Paco interact with his grandchildren. Because my younger sister and I are only two years apart, I didn’t remember my father as a dad to young children. Unlike so many men of his generation, he reveled in playing with very young children and singing to them. One of the great blessings of our family life is that Nana and Paco retired near us when E was three and before T was born. Having them be so close by all those years was wonderful with walks and outings and school events and concerts, theater, and dance recitals, games and carousel rides and countless volleys of ping pong in the basement. Nana and Paco gave us so much love, care, and support for so many years; it was natural that we would provide the same to them as they grew older and developed health problems.

Paco had served in the US Navy as a SeaBee in World War II and Korea. The SeaBees were the Construction Battalion – CBs, get it? – and Paco was drafted before he could finish high school. Most of the SeaBees were older men, already established in various trades, who took Paco under their wing and taught him what they knew. The skills he developed there in electrical work set the stage for his career. Paco didn’t talk much about his service when we were growing up but, in his later years, he got some SeaBee caps which he would wear out in public. I was always amazed at how many people would comment, thank him for his service, and share their own stories of service by themselves or family members. Those tributes continued into his last days. One of the first things Hospice did after admitting him was to bring a certificate and a memorial quilt square to him. We are also applying for a service medallion to be added to his memorial in the mausoleum.

Paco worked for 43 years for New England Power Company, the last 23 as Superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River in southern Vermont/western Massachusetts. I wrote the poem “Hydro Superintendent” about him for his 90th birthday. We lived in a house that was owned by the company and often visited the powerplants and reservoirs. One of his biggest accomplishments as superintendent was overseeing the construction of Bear Swamp, a pumped storage plant built inside a mountain. Paco knew every detail of that project, which brought in contractors from as far away as Japan and Switzerland. It was so much fun walking through a giant tunnel to get to the huge powerhouse with its two turbines that could generate electricity and then reverse to pump water back to the upper reservoir. I started my interest in renewable electricity and energy storage technology young, thanks to Paco.

One of the things I admired about Paco was his work ethic. He always worked hard to get the job done right but he was also part of the team, even when he was the leader. He would help the crews do emergency work rather than just ordering them to come in. He hired the first Black and the first woman into his stations which had previously been staffed entirely by white males. (Point of information: Rural New England was not very racially diverse at the time. Some areas still are not diverse now, decades later.) He was always compassionate and understanding when employees encountered personal or family difficulties. He was also not one to “toot his own horn.” I found out how well-regarded he was by his staff through others, not from him.

We admired Paco even more when we discovered he had accomplished so much with undiagnosed dyslexia. When his youngest granddaughter S was diagnosed with an inherited form of dyslexia, Paco discovered at age 80 why he had always secretly struggled with reading and writing. S and her family launched the Paco Project to raise funds for Learning Ally to help others with print or visual disabilities access the world of books. We are proud to direct donations to Learning Ally in memory of Paco.

Paco was also proud to finally become a high school graduate. I applied for his diploma through Operation Recognition, a program which awards diplomas to veterans who left school before completing their course of study. In 2008, the same year that eldest granddaughter E graduated from high school, Paco received his diploma from Drury High School in North Adams, Massachusetts, the school that he and Nana, as well as I and my sisters, had attended.

Paco’s ancestors came to the United States from Ireland but he had never visited. Nana was too claustrophobic to consider flying, but after her death in spring 2019, my two sisters took Paco to Ireland to visit.

Paco and an Irish rainbow

We were blest that all four of his grandchildren got to see Paco over the summer. We were especially grateful that granddaughter E with spouse L and great-granddaughters ABC and JG were able to visit from London UK. Because of the pandemic, we had not been able to see each other, but in August, just before the final and more precipitous portion of Paco’s decline, they were able to make the trip.

four generations with Paco, Joanne, granddaughter E, and great-grands JG and ABC

There were a few days during Paco’s last week where he was very agitated but we were fortunate to have some calmer moments. T was the only one of the grandchildren nearby enough for one final visit, which wound up being the day before he died. It was one of the most heartbreakingly tender encounters I have ever seen. T sang Irish songs to Paco and held his hands, which were still a bit restless from a medication side effect. She talked to him and I know that he could hear her because he was able to respond a bit. I admit that I couldn’t help but cry and that I am crying now as I try – and fail – to find the words to convey how special that last hour between them was.

It also happened that all three of Paco’s daughters got to spend time with him, both alone and in various pairings, on the day of his death. It was not clear that this would be his final day, so it was not that it had been planned, but I’m grateful that it turned out that way. I’m also grateful that in his last few days, I was finally able to sing to my father, something that my sisters had been doing but that I struggled to do. I sang both verses of “Over the River and through the Woods” to get to Paco’s favorite lines, “Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!” (Paco loved all kinds of pie.) I sang the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” because it is comforting to me and several beautiful Irish hymn tunes. Occasionally, I would get too choked up to continue singing but I usually managed to get through. On that last day, Paco could not respond but Hospice told us that the sense of hearing tends to remain and can even sharpen as the other senses are shutting down. My younger sister was alone with Paco when he died but I arrived soon after for my very last good-bye.

I have been so moved by the many people who have reached out to me during Paco’s decline and since his death. There have been so many kind words, both written and spoken – remembrances, prayers, thoughts, stories, expressions of gratitude for a long life well-lived. I was very touched when a friend that I made through Facebook but whom I have never met in person added my father to her Kaddish prayer on Yom Kippur. It has been the love I first learned from my parents but now experience through so many family and friends that has kept me going through all of this, even during the most difficult times. I thank all of you.

Last week, I went to the hair salon for a haircut with Diane, who has been my stylist since 1983. I told her about Paco’s death and she gave me a hug and told me that she had something to show me. It was her new puppy, who was sweetly asleep in his crate. She told me his name was Leo.

Leo was my father’s name.

SoCS: Paco and puzzles

After having announced Paco’s death on One-Liner Wednesday this week, I had thought I wouldn’t post again until I had time and mental space to put together a proper tribute post or, perhaps, a post about last days and good-byes.

Then, the SoCS prompt arrived and it was puzzle and I knew I needed to post for it.

Until these last few months when he was too ill, Paco worked puzzles as part of the routine of his day. He still got the daily newspaper in print and did their wordsearch, which had the added twist that the remaining letters could be unscrambled to solve a question that was posted with the puzzle. Paco also had wordsearch books that he would work on. Wordsearches seemed like an unlikely type of puzzle for Paco to enjoy because he was dyslexic, something that he did not discover until his youngest granddaughter was diagnosed as a child with an inherited form of dyslexia. This led to a number of fundraisers organized by first Paco’s grandson and later his aforementioned granddaughter to raise money for Learning Ally, which helps people with visual impairment or print disabilities to access written language. These fundraisers came to be known as the Paco Project in his honor.

Another word puzzle that was part of Paco’s day was watching Wheel of Fortune in the evening. It came on right after the national news. My older sister would often call him at the time and they would watch part of the show together, even though they were hundreds of miles away from each other.

Paco’s other puzzle passion was jigsaws. When he was in his apartment in independent living, there was a card table in the corner of the living room with a puzzle on it for him, Nana, and visitors to work on whenever the mood struck them. For many years, he made 500 piece puzzles, with the occasional 750 piece thrown in. However, over his last couple of years as some dementia developed, he cut back to 300 piece puzzles. He worked on those until he fell in June and never recovered his ability to be up and about and clear enough mentally for puzzles.

At some point, after we get through this initial period of busy-ness with paperwork and bureaucracy following a death, we will find a home for the several shopping bags’ worth of Paco’s jigsaw puzzles that we brought home with us. I expect we will keep a few special ones as mementoes for ourselves and donate the rest for others, who we hope will enjoy them as much as he did.

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As you can tell from this post, Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is puzzle. As always, you are invited to join us. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/09/17/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-18-2021/

One-Liner Wednesday: Paco

Sharing the news that my father, known here as Paco, passed away yesterday. I will share more in the coming days and appreciate all the support of my readers as we have been dealing with Paco’s decline.
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To join in with Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday, visit here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/09/15/one-liner-wednesday-words-to-live-by-2/

a momentous visit

While my blogging has been haphazard for months due to my father’s declining health, I wanted to share a post about the recent visit of our daughter E, her spouse L, and their daughters, four-year-old ABC and one-year-old JG. As people who check in here at TJCM periodically may recall, they live in London UK and the pandemic left us unable to visit each other. This meant that when they arrived in the US, it was our first chance to meet JG in person.

All the adults are fully vaccinated, but the children are too young to qualify. While our area of upstate New York is not a COVID hot zone, the transmission rate is still high enough due to the delta variant that we were very cautious about taking the girls to indoor public spaces. While I had scaled back my expectations for the visit a lot, I hadn’t scaled them back quite as much as I should have. For example, I had hoped to see a few more friends than we were able to. Unfortunately, Paco, my 96-year-old father, had more health challenges appear and his unit at the nursing home had to go into lockdown due to a couple of COVID cases among vaccinated staff.

In a way, though, it was nice to have them in our home, doing normal, everyday things like we had when E and ABC lived with us for over two years while waiting for E’s spousal visa to be accomplished.

B, with an assist from ABC, got to bake yummy treats for breakfast.

Everyone enjoyed watching the birds at the birdfeeders. ABC especially liked the tufted titmouse and goldfinches, while others were partial to the cardinals.

We enjoyed watching other wildlife, too. ABC even spotted some deer near the back fence. We also spent a lot of time watching the bunnies eating various leaves and flowers in the lawn.

You probably can’t see the bunny, but – trust me – it’s there.

One thing that they don’t have at home in London is rocking chairs. JG especially loved the one that was her size!

JG was an early walker so we missed her being a babe-in-arms, but Auntie T did get a taste of what that phase was like when JG got so tired she actually fell asleep in her arms.

L took the girls on walks. Here is ABC at the 1 mile – or is it 1 smile? – mark on the Rail Trail. Our area, like many others in the US, has re-purposed places where there used to be railroad tracks into recreational trails.

We also got to visit the parks and carousels. Broome County has six vintage carousels and it was very nostalgic to revisit them with ABC and introduce them to JG. ABC made friends everywhere she went.

L and ABC enjoyed rides in the carousel chariot
JG loves being on the swings!
JG also enjoys being on the move!

We got to enjoy a lot of playtime with the girls. ABC, at four, has a great imagination and enjoys making elaborate scenarios. She is also quite operatic! Besides singing songs that she knows, often from Frozen I and II, she likes to make up songs while she is playing. With both her parents being accomplished singers and instrumentalists, she appears to come by music naturally. She is learning to play the piano, so we got to experience her lessons with her daddy.

ABC is also a beginning reader, so sometimes she would read to us and other times we would read to her. It was an honor to be chosen as the final bedtime story reader. Of course, she also requested a bedtime song before going to sleep.

The most important event of the trip, though, was the one visit we were able to make with Paco in the outdoor courtyard of the nursing home. ABC was being her charming self, singing and dancing and clapping for Paco.

The most precious photo is this one of the four generations.

Paco’s health has declined so much in the weeks since we had this visit that he has now been admitted to hospice care. I will be forever grateful that Paco had the opportunity to meet his second great-granddaughter who won’t remember that day and to see his first granddaughter E and first great-granddaughter ABC who certainly will.

SoCS: blue

Since I was a child, my favorite color has been blue.

The color of my eyes and my mom’s and dad’s and sisters’.

The color of the sky at midday.

The color of some of my favorite clothes, although not jeans, which I never learned to like wearing.

I still like blue. I’m wearing it today.

But today, thinking of blue makes me think of how I’m feeling.

Blue.

Most of my #SoCS posts in recent weeks have been giving updates about my father, who is struggling to recover from falls, broken bones, infections, and we aren’t totally sure what else, while dealing with dementia and the wear and tear of ninety-six years.

I am doing everything I can to keep him as comfortable and content as possible and he is doing much better than he was ten days ago. We finally have the rest of his things in his skilled nursing/rehab room.

His Irish-themed banner and plaque are on his door, which makes it easier for him to find his room in the hall of similar-looking doorways. We finally got a temporary phone number working, although he needs help to answer calls and we aren’t sure if he can re-learn how to dial.

Baby steps.

It’s just hard for me not to feel blue. As much as I understand that this is just the journey we have been given in this last period of his life and that we are doing everything we can for him, I can’t help but feel sad.

All the time.

It’s hardest when I am with him, although I have a really good game face and manage to be cheerful – or seem cheerful – when I am interacting with Paco. He is sleeping quite a bit, which is probably good. Most of the time, he isn’t really aware of how much he has forgotten, so he is not blue, which is a blessing.

I am blue for both of us.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to use “color/colour” as a noun or verb or choose a color to write about. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/07/23/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-24-2021/

so many roses!

rose

The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.

This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.

We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.

with

Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.

Nana would have loved it.

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