Thursday, October 14, 2010


Family is a very strange thing. Growing up, I always thought my mother had such a huge family. She had tons of aunts and uncles and cousins - so many second and third and fourth cousins that sometimes she wasn't even sure exactly HOW they were all related to her! Like every family, they had that one cousin that no one would claim - she was always described by everyone as YOUR cousin.

Over the years we went up to visit my grandparents, I remember always being amazed by how we seemed to be related to everyone. I knew so many members of my mother's family, even though I rarely saw most of them outside of special occasions, like birthdays, bar/bat mitzvahs, and funerals. My grandmother's family seemed larger to me than my grandfather's family. My grandmother had two distinct parts of her family - her father's family and her mother's family. I only knew a small portion of my grandfather's family. Ironically, some of my strongest family memories relate to my grandfather's portion of my mother's family.

What amazes me most, however, is how some family members are people you only see for snapshots in time...a family holiday once every few years, a birthday party, or a major life event. Nevertheless, these family members forever make an impression in our minds and hearts. Tonight, I was thinking and reminiscing about family with my cousin, F. F's grandmother and my grandmother were sisters. My grandmother and her sister were 15 years apart in age...which meant that my mother was approximately 15 years younger than her cousins, and I was a good 15 years younger than her cousin's children. F and her parents are perfect examples of how some family members can make a huge impression in just moments of time.

By the time I was born, F was already an adult. I really only saw her and her parents when they were visiting my great aunt at times I happened to be visiting my grandmother. If I added up all the visits with them, it probably wasn't a particularly large number. And yet, I have such strong and vivid memories of my times with them. Perhaps some of it was the fact that my mom adored her cousin and his wife, and somehow, that transferred to me, too. I loved F's father's mustache - he had this huge, thick, handlebar mustache that looked like it belonged in another era.

I remember F as a younger adult, with very long hair that she wore hanging in two thick braids. F was always doing something overseas, working in refugee camps, traveling around Asia, studying peace in graduate school in Hawaii. I loved hearing updates about F and seeing photos from my great aunt whenever I came to visit. When my grandfather died, my grandmother took a cruise around Asia - and she met up with F and her parents (in Bangkok, I believe). I loved hearing all of those stories and seeing the photos.

I remember being so thrilled when F "finally" decided to return to the states and "settle down" right here. She was always such an exciting person to me and I loved the idea that we would get to know each other and become close. I was even more excited when I learned her father would be moving here, too. For many years, we spent time together, but as my grandmother's dementia set in and his MS worsened, we all just sort of drifted apart. I think when my grandmother's dementia set in, my mom pulled away from a lot of the family - it was just too hard.

I find it interesting how family relationships change with time. Some family members float in and out of our lives. Sometimes, we hold everyone close, and at other times, we have a way of losing track of relatives. Over the years, my mother's family has slowly passed away and drifted apart. Now, it is my father's family that seems to be the predominant presence in our lives - many of whom I never met until I became an adult.

But, in times of great sadness, families sometimes have a way of rebuilding. At my mother's request, I have been reaching out and finding some of her "long-lost" family members over the past month - an attempt to reconnect with them. Ironically, F and I found each other a few months back (before all of this happened) on Facebook...just before her father died. I learned about her father's death through Facebook...and I was so sad that we did not have the opportunity to re-establish our relationship before he died. My mother, father, DH, Micah and I went to his "Jewish wake" - that was the first time we had seen F, her husband and her son in many years. Since my mom got sick, F has been a huge presence in our lives - she has been supporting us with food delivery, messages of encouragement, and incredible tips and gems of advice from her own experience caring for her parents.

The kids were up early today, and DH was out the door by 9:15 for a meeting. Megan helped me get the kids fed and dressed and took Micah to class, and I stayed behind to take care of a few odds and ends. Around 11:30, I left for the hospital with Maya, but first I decided to detour to meet my friend for lunch on my way out to meet my parents.

I arrived at my friend's office at 12:30 as she was finishing up with a patient. She and her brother are dentists and own a wonderful dental practice. They recently moved into a gorgeous new office, and it was my first time visiting the space. While my friend was finishing up with her patient, her brother and I had a chance to catch up and he gave me a tour of the office.

I had a great visit with her, and it was a nice break before I started the day. Maya and I made it to the hospital a little after 2, and much to my surprise, my mother was already finished with radiation! The parking attendants were kind and let me double park my car in front while we sat and waited for the wheelchair transport with my mom. It was a long wait - a full hour! During that time, I read the blog to my mom, I lotioned her arm and her head, and we had a chance to just catch up a bit while my father wandered around with Maya.

Today was a good day for mom. When we returned to the nursing home, she showed me her mail from the day - she had received several cards from rehab staff at the hospital! She was so touched that they were thinking about her...there were notes from all of her nurses and all of the PT and OT staff, too. My mom hasn't forgotten any of them, and we think of them often, too. We had QUITE a laugh over Ed's note. Many of you may remember that my mom kept telling Ed that he was like the last guy in the circus parade, who got stuck walking behind the elephant and cleaning up shit. Well, Ed's note said that the circus just isn't the same without the elephant. My mother said that the "elephant" misses him, too.

My father left on the early side so I could spend time with my mother. I also had another surprise for my mother - her talking watch arrived! I had set it up and I put it on her wrist and taught her how to use it. Hopefully, the watch will help her keep oriented on time and date. We also had gotten a crochet tool that should help my mother hold the yarn when she tries to crochet again. We are hoping it allows her to work on projects again, but we shall see.

My brother arrived a little after 4, and he stayed with us through dinner, focusing on mom while I nursed Maya. Once again, we all left around 6. On my way home, I got an update on my friend's grandmother (she is out of the hospital and in rehab). Mom called again at 9:00 tonight to tell me things were going well. I hope the rest of her night is just as good.

This evening, F brought over the wheelchair van for us to borrow to use with my mother. I cannot even begin to express what that means to us. It will give us a freedom that relying on wheelchair transports just cannot do. It made me realize the importance of family, yet again. Even when time passes, and even when we drift in and out of each other's lives, family has a way of becoming a touchstone, a rock, in the presence of great adversity.

Tonight, F and I got to know each other, as adults who now have a common connection. We caught each other up a bit on our lives, but we mostly reminisced and focused on our memories. F told me that when she was a child, she used to think my mom was "cool." I found that ironic, since I always thought of F as "cool" when I was a child, with her world-traveling. I told Francine some of my memories of her and her parents, including the night that her father stayed up all night with us after my brother's bar mitzvah, telling us stories (while we plied him with whiskey).

I drove F home, and had a chance to go inside and spend some time with her husband, too. F shared with me a plaque that my great aunt had gotten when she was a participant in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and sitting in her living room was a piece of my great aunt's furniture that I remember from my childhood. It is sad that from such a large family, there are very few of us left. Most of all, I guess I am glad that F is back in our lives again, and I hope that this time, we manage to stay in each other's lives.

Tomorrow, we have a meeting with the nurses at 11:00 am. We hope they will have worked out a solution to my mom's lift issue and finally start to bring my mom some relief. I hope to do the "early shift" with my mom tomorrow - I'll leave here around 9:30 or 10, and I hope to be heading back home by 3.

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