I dropped my mom off at BWI a couple of hours ago. We’ve been together for the past 28 days — longer than since I was still living under her roof. I’ve heard that you can break (or form) a habit in 28 days, so I guess Mom became a habit.
I’ve been crying on and off for the past couple of hours. For a lot of reasons — relief is one. I’m no longer the strong one. Sadness is another — I’m finally able to feel/express the sadness that was inside me about placing my father in the nursing home. But just plain missing my Mom is the biggest of the reasons. For the past 28 days I’d gotten to know her again. I’ve gotten to know the person she’s become in my absence.
We had a pretty good month if you discount the nursing home / Medicare / insurance worries. We ate out a lot — mostly at Bookers (of which I became Mayor on Foursquare on my second visit). We laughed some, and talked a lot, but mostly we enjoyed each other’s company — sometimes in silence, sometimes not. I hope she feels the same about our 28 days together.
If I look at as a new phase of many new phases in one life, it doesn’t really seem so bad. It doesn’t seem like an ending, but a new beginning.
About two-and-a-half weeks ago I drove to Elgin to help move my dad to a long-term care facility because he needed more care than my mom could give him. There was long-term care insurance in place and it really seemed like a relatively simple process. Admit him, promise to pay the deductible, do some paperwork and maybe shed a tear or two. I figured I’d be home by the following weekend at the latest.
Well, Dad’s in the facility, but it was not a simple process by any measure. What with insurance fine-print, arrogantly incompetent doctors, hospitals that pretend to be 4-star hotels and care more about their image than the families of their patients, I lost several nights’ sleep, went through high levels of stress and am still in Elgin.
Dad seems to have settled into the facility fairly easily. He seems to be more concerned about when his next meal is than where his family is or why he is not at home. He’s going to get physical therapy 3 times a week and has a multitude of people to talk to — people who have not heard about his 4-year stint in the Navy or about the time, when he was a child, that he accidentally burned down the school-house. He was always a social person and has not really had the opportunity to be around people for many years. He may not get along with everyone there, but I am confident that this is the right place for him.
This is just a new part of his life, just as going to school was when he was 5; just as entering the Navy was when he was 20; just as marrying my mom was when he was 26: just as becoming a father when he was 28; just as the times he changed jobs and finally retired. He has a new home now at the age of 82.
PS: Yes, I know I’m rationalizing it and, although what I wrote above is true, going to a nursing home, while probably for the best, is not a positive experience for the person going.
Once a year when I was in elementary school our class would take a field trip to the local planetarium. We’d get to the planetarium on a school bus — a novelty for me since I was a “walker”. The bus would drop us off in front of the planetarium and we’d file into the domed white building. Inside the planetarium, it was cool and dimly lit, almost church-like. We were instructed to find a seat on one of the pew-like benches that encircled the large star projector. The backs of the benches were tilted to make it easy to lean back and look at the dome over our heads on which the projector would project the stars and planets.
Once seated, the planetarium teacher, Mr. Tuttle, would step up to the podium and welcome us to the planetarium. He’d slowly dim the lights and take us on an amazing journey that involved sunset, moonrise, constellations, planets, and an uncountable number of stars. For several years all I saw was a blur because I was nearsighted but had not gotten glasses yet. Once I got glasses, I was awed by the number of stars on the screen. The huge star projector seemed to move (perhaps it did) and sometimes I’d pretend it was a monster.
I don’t know that I ever talked to Mr. Tuttle when I was in grade school, but I vividly remember him and his lessons. I did have the opportunity to talk to him when I was in high school. I’d signed up to walk for the “Hike for Hunger” in the early 1970’s with my best friend, Cindy. Her father was a teacher and a friend of Mr. Tuttle. Because of that connection, Mr. Tuttle walked with Cindy and me for most of the 25 miles that day. I felt honored beyond words that of all the other students in the crowd, he chose us to walk with.
I never really got “into” astronomy and although I can name all the planets and a handful of constellations, I don’t know where they will be in the sky on any given evening. However, I love looking at the night sky. I get updates from Spaceweather.com telling me when something cool is going to happen in the sky and sometimes I remember to watch for it and when I stand outside looking up to the heavens I always think of Mr. Tuttle — even though I’ve known other planetarium directors, having taught elementary school.
A few days before I set off on my trip to Illinois I read on Facebook that Mr. Tuttle had died the previous Sunday and that a memorial service would be held for him the following Saturday. I wanted to go to the memorial service because it was for a man who I thought about several times a month.
I did go to the service and am glad I did. I discovered that he was more than a planetarium director. He was a loving father and husband, a musician, a maker of quilts and an active church member (of the church in which I was baptized).
I did not know, as a child, that Mr. Tuttle was religious. It never occurred to me to think about it. If I had thought about it — years later — I would probably have thought that since he was a scientist, he probably was not very involved in a church. Sitting in the church on Saturday during Mr. Tuttle’s memorial service, I was struck by how similar being in the planetarium was to being in a church. The benches were wooden pews. The atmosphere was serene. If I recall correctly, there was even a “pulpit” of sorts where Mr. Tuttle would stand and tell us about the stars.