Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Change in Life

I enjoy looking out my window at the birds - I find it both entertaining and relaxing. I feed them and bought them a bird bath, all of which I placed out by the Dogwood tree in the backyard. The one my dad planted. Now the tree creates a little haven for the various birds that visit the yard. Once in a while I have to chase out a neighbor cat. They enjoy the birds too but for a different reason than me.

The Dogwood tree
My life has slowed down immensely in the past two years since I retired. Now I get to enjoy things I never would have notice in my past busy schedule of working three jobs and taking a weekend course. I have time to do what I want to do. I like it.

My dad, Alvin, died in 2008 after a three year struggle with Myelofibrosis, a disorder of the bone marrow. It affects the red blood cells and people get anemic. It started with him complaining about being tired all the time. I watched my once energetic father struggle to move, lose weight, get infusions (a type of transfusion) progressively until he was getting them every couple of weeks. He was a trooper. I remember him carrying the water can from plant to plant outside on hot days. Watering the few plants that managed to survive his slow health decline. He continued to maintain the house with my mother Louise’s help. But then my mom wasn’t doing that great either and she ended up in the hospital with a lung infection, after that they put her on oxygen so when she got back home she had to drag her little tank around everywhere she went.

My home, at that time, was in Burbank, CA where I worked in the transportation department of Warner Brother’s Studio. I had been there 19 years and had an opportunity for early retirement after 20 years, since I would be 55 years old. My son, Ryan, was 25 years old, still living at home, between jobs but working part time as an extra in T.V. and movies. We were all suffering through a writer’s strike and the job situation and economy were fast going south.

Me in the garden
And that’s what happened. One day the thought hit me to ask my son if he would go to Oregon for a year and help out my parents. Before I ran this by mom and dad, I felt I should “try to convince” Ryan how important this was - I knew he would say “no way.”  That night when I mentioned it to him. I was surprised when his face brightened, he sat up straighter and actually got excited. He didn’t even need to think about it. Wow.  I really didn’t know my son. He was close to his friends and L.A. lifestyle and I never imagined he might want to leave all that. Plus, he would be biting off a lot to take care of ailing grandparents, who he had met maybe six times since he was five years old.

Mom and Ryan

The next day my mom told me Social Services wanted to talk to her. They were concerned she wouldn’t be able to take care of herself. They wanted to set an appointment. There was my mom, driving to see my dad every day with her mobile oxygen tank. It was tiring her out, no doubt. She thought they were being helpful but I don’t always trust government agencies and I had heard horror stories of elderly abuse, drugs, setting up guardians, taking their money, selling their home and personal belongings, putting them in a home - you get the picture.  I told my mom not to meet with them. I said, “Tell them your grandson’s coming to stay for a while and help out. My parents were so excited and my dad even offered to pay Ryan for his help (money was always king in my household). 

In two days Ryan had his one-way ticket and was gone to Oregon. Over the next weeks my dad’s health deteriorated. Soon I bought a plane ticket because I felt I needed to be there at his side. I took a week’s vacation and was so grateful I did because my dad died midnight of the morning I was scheduled to fly back home. He was just a few days past his 80th birthday. He had always said he wanted to live to be 80. I thought, “Be careful what you wish for.”

A lot took place in that week before my dad died that brought me to a place of peace with regards to personal issues that I hadn’t faced and held onto all my life. In the end I was left with renewed love and closeness - cherished loving memories of self-sacrifice, knowing I helped my father in his time of need, knowing I made amends.  It’s amazing how quickly people can change in the face of hardships and emotional trauma. How viewpoints can shift and minds once hard and set can soften. Hearts can do the same. 

Mom and Dad
I stayed for another week on my bereavement leave from work and reconnected with family and friends. My dad had set up his entire funeral in advance and paid for everything. I can’t put enough emphasis on how important that was to his loved ones left behind to not have to make those kinds of decisions. And we knew everything was as he wanted it. The only things we had to select were the clothes he would wear and the day of the funeral.

I had lived away from my family since I was 18, always anxious to leave, just get away, sometimes angry, and for the first time in my life when I flew back to L.A. I felt like I was not coming home. I wanted and needed to stay in Oregon near my mom and son.  That’s where I now belonged. 

As I watched the brilliant sunset from the plane’s window I cried and thought of the song my dad had selected to be played at his funeral - It was about, somewhere over the sunset, that’s where he would be going. An old song from his era I had never heard. I stared out the plane window toward the sunset knowing he must be there somewhere and aware of me watching. I said goodbye and promised to take care of mother.

The next year I called “home” every day. I began wrapping up the loose ends, selling all my belongings on Craigslist, saving my money and getting rid of useless accumulated crap. It felt good and as the process continued I began to feel free and unencumbered. I flew home over Christmas, helped paint the living room, sorted through belongings with mom and knew this was where I belonged. 

Over that year I helped my mom work with her health issues - she in Oregon me in California.  I helped her buy an air filtration system. Had her take out the carpets and put in oak floors. Told her to get rid of dust traps that weren’t helping her lung condition. We spoke of diet and nutrition, not running the furnace but finding another heat source. She was making changes. 

A person has to have a reason to live, something to look forward to, in order to survive. I wanted my mother to survive. I tried to get her interested in her genealogy again because she had set it aside and it was her favorite past time.

Ryan helped her every step of the way and it was an invaluable lesson in responsibility.  I was so proud of him. I know many young adults would not do what he did. After we were sure my mom could manage better, she had cut down on the oxygen, Ryan went looking for a job and got the first one he applied for. One day when we were talking on the phone he said, “I’m not coming back to L.A.  I’ve discovered my personality is more suited to Oregon.” Hearing that was like a ray of light in my world.

Mom with her brothers and their wives

I left L.A. July 1, 2009 to drive to Portland, Oregon with my friend Mark. He had helped me paint my apartment, clean, pack and finally drive there in one day. I was home. I moved back into my old bedroom (odd) and for the first time in 30 years I was living in someone else’s home - I had lived here throughout my high school years - but it in no way represented me.  It was my mother’s home and I soon found out we lived on opposite ends of the equator when it came to how we did things. But I was ready to step up to the plate.  I knew, no matter what lay ahead, I was doing the right thing.