Update: Seattle and the family

Hi folks,

I’m still deeply ensconced in family dynamics. My 96-year-old father is not dying as he expected — not yet! He’s now on oxygen, which helps. And I have a feeling that all the people around keep him too stimulated to move deeply into that final process.

I spent three afternoons with him and Mom, ferrying them to and from meals, and outside into the sunshine, when possible — Dad in his wheelchair, Mom with her “four-wheel drive” walker. I try to make sure she keeps up with us as I wheel him — and he’s heavy, a big man — 6’2″ in his prime— who’s gained 30 pounds from edema in his legs and abdomen (kidney failure) — down the hallways of this wonderful “institution” called Mount St. Vincent that feels so infused with love.

I have never been in an eldercare facility like this one, where they operate a pre-school in the facility, so that children’s energy is continuously breaking up the torporous feeling of the very very old as they sit, impassively in their chairs, or walk, painstakingly to and from wherever they are going with walkers or wheelchairs, to the sewing room (a wonderful little room, well utilized) or the second-hand store (where we got two Shirley Temple movies (VHS) for 20 cents each) or the well-stocked snack room, or the room where they have sing-alongs with a young woman with her guitar, golden oldies from the ’20s and ’30s or even earlier.

Mom and I went there for the 4 p.m. sing-along on Wednesday, after walking slowly through the halls, viewing residents’ remarkable artwork (most of it already sold! — for prices hovering around $100!). At first, only about five residents were present, each sitting behind her or his walker. We sang a few songs. Gradually, the room filled.

Then, finally, at 4:45 p.m., the moment we were all waiting for, when the 3-year-olds paraded in, to sing their own songs with us as witness, delighted, sitting circled around them as they played gleefully, unselfconsciously, awkwardly — singing and hands waving to the “elephant” song, singing and hands on each other’s hips while bouncing along to the “train” song. . .

Including small children in an eldercare facility guarantees that energy moves, continues to move. Dying and regeneration at ease with one another, side by side.

On Wednesday, when I came in to spell Paula, she was with Mom in an “intergenerational art workshop,” with five -year-olds and 90-year-olds sitting side by side. Paula told me later that first, the teacher talked about Picasso and Matisse, and how they knew each other, and how their art differed. Then she handed each person a large sheet of newsprint and told them to paint whatever they wanted.

Here’s what our 94-year-old Mom painted. I was immediately struck by what was going on with her arms. Oh . . . my . . . god! Jung would have a field day. Her hands either sparking or receiving energy. The drawing reminded me of goddess statues in the museum on Crete, arms up, hands open to the sky . . . Is Mom entreating the heavens, — lift me up, please, lord, lift me up?

When I asked here about it, Mom said, “Oh, it’s nothing.” Wanted to throw it away. I said, “Oh no you don’t!” and grabbed it. Showed it later to Kathy, and Mary, and sent it to the other sibs via email.

And the people who run this place, the Sisters of Providence, so genuinely caring and friendly and spontaneously helpful. . . Already, with 400 residents, many staff people know both Mom and Dad by name (they moved to this facility only three weeks ago). But what really amazed me: at one point, I had told Mom to get out of the elevator and was trying to maneuver Dad’s wheelchair to also leave it, when the elevator door shut! I had forgotten to tell Mom to hold the door open. (I’m new at this.)

Mom has dementia! She would be alone in a still unfamiliar environment! Yeek!

The elevator shot up to the fifth floor from the first floor. Both Dad and I were freaking out and told the man who was with us on the elevator. This man, who I imagine works in some capacity at Mount St. Vincent, got off at the fifth floor and ran down to the first floor, where he awaited us, with Mom, until we could get there.

I spent three afternoons with Mom and Dad, relieving sister Paula, who has generously taken on the task of being with them on a daily basis.

Tomorrow I go to Vashon Island with sisters Mary and Kathy and Sue, a friend of Mary’s, and Marty, Kathy’s husband. We will make the usual pilgrimage to Kronos, a wonderful little gift store that my dear old friend Claudia and her daughter Eugenie run. We will have lunch there, hang out in the store, then take the ferry back.

Today I spent going through Mom’s desk, which is now at sister Mary’s house where I’m staying, organizing the “stuff” that was in it, making piles — one for each of the eight sibs (and their children), one for “war years correspondence,” one for “church liturgical stuff” (e.g. homilies that Dad gave as a Deacon), one for pictures that include so many sibs that I don’t who to give the picture to, one for Dad’s wonderful letters to his Dad that I didn’t know about until now, and so on. About 15% of the material was emailed jokes! Painstakingly printed out and collected, now thrown away. I had no idea jokes had become so big a part of their elderly repertoire.

All day at this task, steeped in mostly other people’s memories. Every half hour or so I’d send an email to sister Kathy, who is preparing Dad’s obit, with names, dates, places, from the past. Just cryptic notes of where in the midwest, one of his brothers lives, or what was the name of the clinic where Dad practiced in Ketchum Idaho. Or, the best one: when he came home from the war. I discovered this through a tattered telegram from Manila to Mom: “Leave for the states. October 3, 1945. Stop writing. Love you. Bernie Krielkamp.”

Saturday I will take over a bunch of old yellowed papers and ask the folks to talk with me about them. To help them refresh their memories and transfer those memories to me. Saturday evening I will eat with them and Paula at the Mount. Then, hopefully, spend an hour or so with Kristin (the youngest sib), who lives nearby, and who has been the primary person working with the folks for many years.

Then on to the airport, where I get the red eye for Indy. Back Sunday A.M. No more posts until Monday.

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