Girlfriend in Tacoma

May. 26, 2008 at 9:22am

Memorial Day Musings

(or, How I Gained a Healthy Dose of Perspective)

My husband fell into power lines about 16 years ago, and died in service to his country. So I suppose it's only natural for me to feel a bit morose that my Significant One is headed off to war.  Memorial Day seems as good a day as any to wallow in morose feelings, especially given that the house seems eerily empty, devoid of something intangible despite the presence of two larger-than-life dogs, a self-mutilating gerbil, and a kid who keeps me on my toes.

So it was, that yesterday had me waking up at 7, and deciding to embark on a project I've been putting off for about a year: craft organization.  Yes it was truly a mind-numbing, solitary task; by the time I got to all the rubber stamps with a toothbrush soaked in Caldrea cleaner, I'd been at the project for 6 hours.  Add two hours of rubber stamp brushing, and... you get the idea-- not a lot going on, with a lot of time for me to feel sorry for myself, lonely, and sad.

Then I was reminded that I had promised to go to my aunt's to pick up an easel.

Driving to Parkland doesn't qualify as "fun" exactly, but when one makes a promise--esp to my aunt-- one had better be prepared to keep it.

My aunt is about 70, has been in the United States about 15 years.  Her English is limited, mostly because she has me and my mother to talk to in her native Hungarian.  But what that means is that once she's got us, she doesn't let go, whether on the phone or in person.  So heading over there can be a daunting process, especially because the house kind of freaks me out.  

Her husband was my mom's best friend since I was 11; I always called him Mr Gaines, even though his role in my life was more like that of "father." Mr Gaines started falling into dementia in his seventies, and my mom was unable to care for him full time, although in the early stages of his disease, he didn't need full time care.  My aunt came over to the States for a visit, and when she and Mr Gaines hit it off, it seemed like an all around good situation. As Mr Gaines gre progressively worse in his Alzheimers, he became angry and violent.  Gone was the gentle, mountain-climbing, highly-educated painter, and in his place a restless sprit, babbling incoherently, would decoupage pictures of Marilyn Monroe on paintings, securing the pictures violently with large screws.  Seeing the evidence of his mental deterioration was, to say the least, unsettling; moreso,even, than the paintings depicting nudity and depravity that he'd committed to canvas before his illness. 

Now his house is oddly empty, the walls dingy and in need of paint in the absence of his paintings. My aunt has been steadily emptying the house so she can eventually move somewhere smaller, in less need of major repairs.  When we arrived yesterday, the main source of life and color was the shrine in Mr Gaines' memory.  A few photographs, and many flowers, and a photograph of flowers scattered on snow made gray with ash.  Her eyes welled when she said, two years he's been gone.

Two years ago, Easter Monday, a day when women bake for men, giving out  random acts of homemade caloric goodness for the odd spritz of perfume, Mr Gaines struggled for his last breath.  Alzheimers makes it so that your brain doesn't know the difference between swallowing and breathing; Alzheimers makes it so your brain forgets how to walk, robbing you of your dignity one small step at a time.  I like to think Mr Gaines regained that dignity when he was unable to be resuscitated, though my aunt's howling cries echoing through the care facility showed that she didn't share my opinion.

Two years ago, Memorial Day, a group of us convoyed up to Mt Rainier, Mr Gaines' playground of many years.  Despite the lateness of season, it was snowing heavily, and there were about 12 feet of snow left on the trail we'd meant to scatter his ashes on.  My sister and I fell into hysterical giggles at the inanity of the situation (particularly when I'd inadvertently locked our mother in the car with The Urn -- I didn't realize my clild locks were that effective) --while my aunt's face was as ashen as what we were scattering.

Even still, there was a beautiful symbolism that day, releasing Mr Gaines' remains to the place he loved best.  The ashes were on terra firma, under a great tree; I like to think he'd help to nourish the tree that would in turn help nourish the air.  I like to think that every time I look at the solidity of the mountain, I am reminded of his strength.  I like to think, as the snow blanketed his grey dust, he was accepted into the Next Realm.

In her house yesterday, my aunt's loneliness was palpable. My kid was squirrely-- mom, let's go, mom, let's go! --and I understood why she felt less than comfortable in the musty house, feeling my aunt's sorrow.  But I found it hard to extricate myself.  FInally, we did leave, two easels dominating the interior of our small car.

And now, my kid's painting on Mr G's adjustable wooden easel standing in the center of our living room.  She's working on the Happy Painting the two of us started; on it are motifs symbolizing things that make us happy. There's a skull (she likes skulls, call it remnants of Dia de los Muertos fun, call it an appreciation for Punk Rock fashion) a surfboard with Sharpied hibiscus flowers on it, a red mountain, a blue airplane.  "My Dad", a yellow-green, purple, and blue sunflower, a tulip, and a gemstone round out the painting, a heart with the words "I am sad" Sharpied on it--it's a piece I think Mr Gaines would have appreciated.

For me, it's all kinds of things coming together in a pretty powerful moment. 

comments [3]  |  posted under Memorial Day, memories, sad day trips, Tacoma


by Dave L. on 5/26/2008 @ 11:18am
Odd - I don’t quite want to comment, because it feels like I’d be treading on precious family memories. But I have to say thank you for sharing, you. Heading through the old neighborhood shortly to go up to visit my father’s resting place. Veteran of three wars, he was someone I was never quite close to, but the connections are there nonetheless. Some days more than others. Yeah – I think I need to work on crafts after the little ones are asleep.

by jcbetty on 5/26/2008 @ 12:31pm
thanks for sharing your own piece, Dave :) (I'm going to the onld 'hood, too, to visit my mom, to help her measure for, and find flooring. Ugh, is all I can say.)

by Heather on 6/2/2008 @ 11:48am
Thank you for posting this. We have Alzheimers in our family, too. It is painful.


musing her way through arts, culture, dining, shopping, exercising, and parenting, all while wearing a pungent, truffle-like aroma.

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