I wrote this first part of this blog almost six days ago, on Tuesday morning.
I am wading through my first morning home after many days away, reckoning with how weird I feel, both physically and emotionally. Last Wednesday I drove the 550km that took me to Saskatoon where I got welcomed by my sister Linda and her husband Stu and we hunkered in for some days. Linda has a gift for hospitality and I was treated like a queen. My sister Jan flew in from Vancouver and stayed with my sister Margie and her family. Together the four of us, with help from my cousin Jodi tackled boxes and boxes of my Mom’s photo albums and some boxes of miscellaneous photos. I feel like what we did in wading through a lifetime of memories in their fullness is pretty rare, not something people get to do more than once in their lifetime if at all. From this rare point of view I want to report back on some of it.
The two things that I can’t stop thinking about are humor and love. Humor because it bubbled up often and allowed us to be real about what we were dealing with and yet not wallow in self pity or sadness. That meant for example that when Ella Fitzgerald came up on the playlist crooning about heaven, Janet, in split second creative humor, neatly revised the lyrics to address our situation. It meant my tears about reviewing pictures of our last happy party when my Dad was still a little bit well turned to laughter, as Linda looked over my shoulder and said, “and we weren’t even that happy.” It was true, dementia was taking its toll on all of us. There was something about the vantage point we had, more than 20 years later, that had us all laughing at her comment and pretty hard. We reviewed albums and albums from the 1980s which made it so inevitable that one of us would say something about hair, it was Margie, who with her very deep and sincere faith intact said “Why did no-one tell me that my hair was so god-awful?” It all just struck us so funny. Most of the things we laughed at are not typical knee-slappers, they might not strike you as funny, but it’s the mystery of humor, how it illumines our lives and helps us cope.
I got that far with writing then stopped. Now I am back at it, Sunday night. I have just spent much of the last hour looking at some of the pictures gleaned from our work bee. A word about process seems appropriate here. We set up in Linda’s living room, it was an invasion of sorts. Four big tables set up, the dining room table turned into a laptop and scanner station, for four days Linda’s space was pretty much turned upside down. Margie, Linda and I peeled pictures out of albums and sorted the content of the boxes, Janet received our sorted piles and using a high speed scanner we had purchased she did the painstaking work of scanning and catalogueing these pictures. Thru the wonders of modern tech we now all have access to all the pictures we handled. Can you even guess the number that Jan scanned? It was 6,700 on the nose (thats a prairie expression which means “exactly.”) Our discard pile was almost as big as our keep pile, so we looked at alot of pictures over the days.
Sitting here tonight I wonder about what makes humor possible. Definitely our stage in our healing work was part of what made us light hearted enough to laugh more than we cried. Perhaps it was the way that we had to keep a loose grip on reality because it was always changing. One minute being drawn back to 1981 and then 1939 and then 2002, all found in a combined box of pictures. Do you have one or some of these? I didn’t know my Mom had so many. I saw pictures I never saw before. Reality is a little more loose under those conditions and that loose-ness maybe encouraged humor. Maybe too it was about something kind’ve major. A kind’ve major truth, a truth that bubbled to the surface for me as we were preparing to start and discussing process. There was some anxiety rising to the surface…..what if we mishandle this and lose out on something special? We agreed we would look through the discard piles before they were garbaged in order to assure each other that we had all we wanted. It hit me then, this kind’ve major truth, I said, “girls, we have survived being orphans for a whole year now, we have lived without these photos and without our Mom and Dad for a whole year and we made it. What this represents now is the icing on the cake. We know we can make it, so everything here is bonus.” Its true. With that as our underlying truth it seemed like it was easy to live with a sense of gratitude for every one of the thousand moments our hearts smiled to see a familiar face, place, and item. With those smiles on our hearts the humor was more able to flow. In the end we never reassessed our throw aways we just let them all go.
I mentioned at the start that love and humor were on my mind. Perhaps the biggest reason that humor could flow is that each of us came to our time knowing we were loved and we are loved. Our parents loved us well, that is our most profound blessing in life. We all have taken into our hearts the faith our parents started in us, that tells us that we are beloved children of God. We all have established our own families, we have spouses, children and pets that welcome us home. That is major.
I have a few pictures to share with you. I am not going to make them orderly or chronological. It will give you a glimpse of how our minds were spinning thru these days together.