Saturday, May 26, 2012

Harder Things

My uncle died today, after being on ventilator for two weeks. He had heart bypass surgery two weeks ago, and suffered a series of strokes in the week afterward. Blood pooled around his brain stem. His wife (my mother's 80-year-old baby sister) and children and grandchildren gathered around his bed as he was unplugged from the machines at 5:01 this evening. All the sisters' husbands but one are gone now. Meanwhile the six sisters, each with their ailments, continue on. We all know that when the first one goes, the thread that binds them will be broken. They will all follow as if permission has been given. We know this.

So the family is once again traveling north, this time to New Jersey, to say their goodbyes. The service is in two weeks. Our house will be full of relatives wearing black. My brother, who returned to Jamaica on Wednesday, will be back to pay his respects. So will my cousin who has been deployed in Afghanistan. He will deliver the eulogy.

As all this sadness unfolded, my daughter was having an intense three weeks at her internship. She has learned that restaurant work can be brutal, so many fronts to be covered at once, perfect plates of food to be created on demand, but at the same time, she loved it. She learned so much from the owner-chef, a high-strung Italian woman who actually taught her things, including complicated sauces the names of which I can't pronounce and secret recipes. She and my daughter got along well. She offered her a job at the end of the internship, which my girl was not at liberty to take. But Gaia (the chef) told her she would have a job there whenever she wanted it; she was sad to see her go. My girl was surprised that she had become so valued in such a short time. "Well, you're a hard worker and you have a willing spirit," I told her. My daughter smiled wryly and said, "It's true that I never make the same mistake three times."

All in all, the internship was a good experience, but she came home exhausted and downright cranky each evening, not used to the long hours of unremitting physical and mental work. This shortness was new and hard to take, though in truth, no one found it marked but me. She also has a boyfriend, and he came over most evenings, which was sweet and cosy, and he didn't ask her endless questions about her day the way I wanted to, but it meant we hardly talked at all. I have to deal with that. That is my baggage, not hers. She has three more weeks before she leaves for sleep away camp, where she will once again be a counselor this summer. Before that, she has a week-long senior trip to build houses with Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore, prom, and two graduations. I'm realizing this makes me jealous of every minute, which I have to control, because it is so very normal for her to be choosing her life away from me, choosing bonding time with her young man and her friends over bonding time with her mama. I've had a good run. She really did indulge me for a very long time. But now, I have to let go. It is not a cliche. It is an exact representation of what has to happen. Oh, we still have our moments. I cherish those. I sound pitiful.

My son left to go back to college yesterday. He was completely better from the flu. He is working for the summer as a supervising lifeguard and swimming instructor at his school's fancy smantzy athletic center. This will help pay his tuition in the fall. So that is good. We made reservations while he was here to travel to St. Lucia at the end of July to see my mom. We are all going, the four of us, plus my niece and her mom, and E. (that beautiful now-grown child in the last post). My husband and I call these kids "our four." They are old enough now to sample the island nightlife and will no doubt go off without us during the days. My mom lives in a part of St. Lucia with lots of great restaurants and shops and hotels along a prime stretch of beachfront. The water is literally steps away.

I can't wait. On the phone, my mom sounds more frail every day. Her bionic knees are worn out and she can no longer walk on her own. The death of her brother-in-law today has really taken it out of her. My breath catches. I tell her, Hold on, we're all coming soon. I wish it could be sooner.


15 comments:

  1. I'm sorry about the loss of your brother-in-law.

    Your daughter's experiences with restaurant work sound like Dave's. After culinary school he had an internship in a restaurant -- that's partly what sent him back to teaching! But your daughter is younger and probably more energetic than he was at the time. :)

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    1. Thanks, Steve. It's actually my uncle who died, my mother's brother in law. He was 88. And thanks for the note about Dave's experience. I was thinking my daughter's sunny cheery personality was changing. then again, how awful to be required to be cheery all the time. so i am trying to give her space.

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    2. Your uncle, yes. Now I'm doubly sorry, for your loss and for my mistake! Hang in there, Angella. :)

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  2. It is the way of it, isn't it? I think you have nailed it - once death has been given permission, it comes quickly.
    I'm so sorry. And the other side of the coin of having such a large and close family is all of the loss that comes when they start to go.
    As for your daughter- you are both learning so much. Your time and relationship with her will change but it will always be there. She will always make time for you because she needs you and she loves you and she wants time with her mother. Always.
    Be patient with yourself and with her. It is so hard. I know.

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    1. Ms. Moon, you're exactly right. I've had the love and laughs of this close sprawling family and now it's time to pay the piper. The price has definitely be worth it.

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  3. So sorry about your uncle and the sad time your family is going through right now.

    I'm SO glad to hear that you will be visiting your mother in July. It won't be long at all, it's practically June already. I know it makes you feel better to have that visit all set, to hang on to.

    Sounds like your life is transitioning into something new. Mine is too. It's hard. At least we both have friends, and loving supportive husbands who know when to be ready with a hug and when to give us room.

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    1. ellen, thank you, my dear friend. the funny thing is this time is a sad one, but that is not the overarching mood. there are some exciting transitions coming, too, and it leavens everything. life throws everything at you at once, doesn't it. and somehow, i'm feeling all the emotions, even contradictory ones, at once. hang in there, sweet friend. i hope things aren't too hard on you over there. love.

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  4. Sorry about the loss of your uncle Angella... but how wonderful to be so loved. Your family inspires me so.
    That photo of your father above? Those goggles. Incredible.

    All these milestones of our children are so damned bittersweet aren't they?

    {hugs}

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    1. Ah dear Deb, somehow i think you know exactly what I am feeling about my daughter's evolution. it has to happen, and i have to let it happen. but thrilling as it is that she has made it to this place, it is not so easy to let go. hugs to you too.

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  5. Oh dear honey I'm so sorry. It is a mean season. I love you.
    Rebecca

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    1. Dear Rebecca, i think it is a mean season. So many people are struggling with it. I feel lucky in some ways. You being here, for instance. Lucky me. Hugs.

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  6. Oh god there's so much going on here. So much emotion and letting go and a fierce appreciation of every moment. You are doing it right. I'm sorry for what you've lost and for what you will lose. I'm enthralled with what you have and what will come to you, I think there will be lots more loving in your life.
    love d

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  7. so sorry to read this....condolences..

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  8. I'm sorry to hear about your uncle -- and all the dread you face for the elders. I can't help but think that your witnessing -- through words, through photos, through presence -- is sustaining not just to you but to the younger generation as well. Your words and photos are a beautiful gift in that way --

    As for your daughter and her cooking internship -- oy! I think I've told you that I met my husband when I was working as a pastry commis at L'Espinasse in NYC in the early 90s where he was a sous-chef. I worked as a pastry chef for many years and quit when Sophie was diagnosed. I have watched my husband work like -- literally -- an animal for nearly twenty years and would advice anyone who believe cheffing to be "romantic" to look elsewhere. Your daughter seems uncommonly talented at it, but I'm still shaking my head. :)

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  9. These two sentences completely undid me:

    "We all know that when the first one goes, the thread that binds them will be broken. They will all follow as if permission has been given."

    xxoo

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