Am I a widow? Not exactly.
When I was still a very occasional guest blogger in these MIE precincts, Stan advised me that the best blogs are personal. I believe him. But most of the time, I lack the courage to be much more than a little self-revealing. I’ve decided to take the plunge in a big way today. In the back of my mind, there floats the notion that—on this first real workday of 2015—the lovely regular MIE readers will be too busy kick-starting the new year to pay too much attention, so I needn’t be too embarrassed.
A little background: Nearly eleven years ago the love of my life started to get forgetful, would look at his to-do list and could not remember if he had called that client, or placed that order. He was only sixty-seven, so no one was very alarmed. It took the docs four years to figure out that they should do a brain scan. When they did, in 2008, they discovered “brain changes consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.” So today David and I are beginning year eleven of the sad business that is often called “the long goodbye.”
|David's 78th birthday, last October, with the whole mishpucha.|
Early last year, I moved David into residential care, giving him more security, a greater variety of daily activities, and access to therapies and professional nursing care. And giving myself freedom from the stress of daily caregiving and more capacity to move about and concentrate on my greatest consolation, my late-life career as a novelist, something I wanted to be when I was nine years old.
It was just few weeks before my seventy-third birthday that I started living alone for the first time in my life. It’s had its ups and downs. Single personhood affords a great deal of freedom. But for a someone who has never done it, it’s disorienting.
Fast forward to the holiday season that is now coming to a close. So how was it?
Christmas Eve is a big deal for Italians. Cultural traditionalists like me stage a huge fish dinner. With lots of help from my friend John Linder, my ten-year-old grandsons—who are both wonderful cooks—and my son-in-law Ted, an extraordinary cook, who is also extraordinarily calm about the whole process, I gave it the full court press.
It was a rip-roaring success.
The next morning, I woke up alone in the house on Christmas for the first time in my life.
|David wearing his gift scarf and eating his favorite--Nathaniel's chocolate chip cookies.|
That afternoon we all—my daughter Kerry Ann, son-in-law, and my four grandchildren—went to visit David. He recognized us, something I can’t always count on anymore. We had a warm, bittersweet visit. Later that day, I went to my daughter and son-in-law’s apartment, which was lively with affectionate dogs and the chaos of many newly acquired treasures multiplied by six. Ted made us a lovely Scandinavian Christmas dinner. Yummy.
The following few days were busy with visits from friends and good food and wine. But New Year’s Eve loomed. Gone were the grand opera performances followed by swanky dinners. I told myself I would survive being alone. I was sure I would.
|Ghosts of New Year's Eve Past|
Then came an email from a friend of decades who had recently moved to Philadelphia. She and her husband had some low-key plans and if on the off chance (she imagined) that I was free, did I want to come and spend a couple of days with them? Supper. A visit with friends of theirs. Fireworks. And the next day the Mummers Parade.
I said yes. What fun that was.
The Mummers Parade
|Lots of ruffles and gold shoes.|
|There must have been 200 of these Knights in White Satin.|
|On New Year's Day, Philadelphia is the cross-dressing capital of universe!|
|See what I mean. More men in skirts than in Edinburgh and Glasgow combined.|
|Men in red ruffles and me.|
This past Saturday I went for my weekly visit with David. I left early because snow and sleet were predicted for the afternoon, and my car does not go well on snowy, icy roads. The car is impractical. It is also the swankiest gift David ever gave me—for my 60th birthday, as proof that a person could still be cool at that age.
I love driving. And my buggy is perfect: little and quick, like me. It feels like part of my body when I am behind the wheel. If it’s impractical, so be it.
All of this is to say that I needed to visit and be home for before the snow flew, predicted for mid-afternoon.
When I got to him, David was not at all responsive to me. I asked him if he knew who I was. “Not really,” was his answer. “ We walked around a bit. I talked to him. He was uninterested. He really wanted to go and sit in the activities room where a guy was playing the piano and doing a sing-along with the residents. David chose a chair where there was no spot for me. I stood near him for a while, singing along, too, but then, after having been there only a little over an hour, I figured there was no point in it, and I got in the car to go home.
As I exited the Lincoln Tunnel just before one PM, I found the snow already coming down.
While I drove down Ninth Avenue, my connection to David—the one my heart will never give up—glowed. He always believed that I could do anything I set my mind to. But he had also always been there, looking out for me. Seeing the flakes hitting my windshield, I understood that, on some cosmic level, David’s behavior sent me home early on purpose. You may not see this as I do, but you will never convince me otherwise. My universe still includes him, and though I don’t know how, he still helps it function in a way that protects me from harm.
Annamaria - the first Monday of 2015