We’ve had two days of strong southerly rains in Christchurch, making me think with sympathy of the emperor penguin dads huddled in the dark on the antarctic ice, where the weather system originated. This morning a hard frost covered the garden but the sky itself was clear. NZ is a commonwealth country, and, God Bless the Queen, we had Monday off today.
“She’s sleeping a lot, and not eating much. If it’s important for you to say goodbye in person, you should plan your trip for the next two weeks.”
Dad’s email was pretty devoid of sentiment. That was probably his coping mechanism to manage emotion. From half way around the world in New Zealand, mine certainly were raging.
I am the oldest grandchild. Mommom was only 52 when I was born, and since we lived in Saratoga, only 45 minutes from Delmar, we garnered the grandparent attention like no others. We spent a lot of special time together. For me my grandmother’s passing wasn’t a distant fact of life, as it is for so many others who had un-involved grandparents. It was a bereavement; a loss of a source of identity, a loss of a great love.
Before Poppop died I had planned a trip back to the states with both my kids; Milo was 3 and Naomi was 8 months. I had wanted to bring the kids back to meet both grandparents, as a way of honouring them and thanking them for their involvement in our lives. When Poppop died three months later, I didn’t make a trip back for the funeral; I felt I had already said my goodbye in person.
But with Mommom, I felt differently. At the end of her life, she wasn’t able to have conversations. She might have recognized me, but then again she might not have. I was already too late to say goodbye in person. And after she died, I wasn’t sure how to move on. No one in New Zealand knew her. No one could share special memories to celebrate her life and enjoy her legacy, and that’s how she deserved to be honoured. I needed the family for that. I wanted to go home.
My uncle’s statement corroborated: “I will do everything including throwing toys out of the pram to wait until you can make it. You need to be there and we need you there.”
It’s good to be wanted.
The memorial service was set for the end of May, plenty of time to plan a trip. This time I went alone; we had a family trip already planned for July, and besides, I wanted to focus entirely on the Harro family.
My first day in NYC we met Kelsey for lunch in Bryant Park, Manhattan, near her work. Kels was home in the evenings, so we got to reconnect then too.
On Friday we took the train to Albany, where the rest of the family was gathering. My aunt had organized a block of hotel rooms for us all to be close, and under one roof we had maximum time to converse after years of separation. Some of my cousins have kids of their own, a passel of quick-moving boys, and I spent the first evening reviewing their names, wishing I had flash cards. Quinn, Mason, and Colton. Miles and Cooper. Fox, Macaiah, and Teddy. There, I’ve written them, I ought to be able to remember them….if they’d only stand still. I gawked at my cousins Spencer and Crosby; they were young teens last I saw them, now they’re young men. Does Crosby realize that he looks just like Clayton? And Riley is driving! Kevin has bulked out, John now has no hair…..and Duncan has more than his fair share of curly locks. And the uncles and aunts! Everyone has aged, and put on some weight. But their fundamental characters are so stable and recognizable after the decades.
My uncle had invited anyone who wanted to talk to prepare something short to share. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but wanted to honour Mommom by saying something. My uncle suggested sorting some special memories into categories and seeing if a theme emerged, and said to aim for 3 minutes, max, and I had worked and reworked my memories into a theme of sorts. Then worked on making it familiar enough that I had a chance of delivering it without being a untidy emotional mess.
“How can I look back and encapsulate the gift I had of being the eldest grandchild, of living near Mommom and Poppop when they were young and energetic?
“In three minutes….!
“That’s hard to do. So instead I’ll just share a few favorite snippets of memories.
“Some of my strongest memories are of the things Mommom LOVED.
-the bright green Weeping Willows in spring
-the cheery Marsh Marigolds
-the Fraser Fir Christmas tree, with baskets of dried flowers and chocolates
-her little green car; “I’ve come to visit you in my “Green Apple,” she’d say
She named the practical plastic table cloth that protected the carpet under the kid dining table her “flower garden.”
We drank Red Zinger tea from her special collection of tea cups
Her favorite word was “Lapis Lazuli.”
“She delighted in beautiful things. In warm and colourful beautiful things. And in names…she loved naming things. There is feeling in the names.
“My enduring memory of Mommom is that emotion counts. The feeling of a thing matters. And the words we choose to describe things have the power to shape how we feel about them.
“So in her honor, I will pause to admire beautiful things. I will name them. And I will take time to savour them.”
I had expected lots of grandkids to say a few words, but only one other put their hand up. If I had known I was representing Grandchildren in general, I would have added some more. I would have gone into more detail about the things they did with us—the overnight canoe trips at Follensby, the sizzling apples roasted in the wood stove, the quilt making and car trips to Charleston, getting tossed into huge piles of leaves raked up in the fall, and the birthdays and school performances and music recitals they celebrated with us. I would have pointed out that the activities themselves were fun, but the real value was the love they gave us. It’s a wonderfully secure place to be, when you know your family loves you, unconditionally, regardless of personality faults, achievements, or lack thereof. I was reminded on this trip just how powerful that is. Grandparents and extended family add layer upon layer to what parents can possibly offer.
My dad and his brothers all had something to say. Their stories certainly illuminated who Mommom was, but interestingly enough what they chose to share and how they shared it was also uniquely characteristic of who they are. Stewart made us laugh and didn’t need any notes to carry his tale. Dwight (and Laurie) had show and tell items and a themed story. My dad had a long story with a back story about where Mommom came from with fear and loss to fullness. Ted made us laugh too, and incorporated some philosophy along with sincerity.
A week is a short time to travel all the way back to the USA, but surprisingly it was long enough to be refreshing. The shared history of family is pretty special, as is their love, a love that’s independent of performance and undented by personality foibles. The oldest generation is gone now, but I’m still wearing their affection, an invisible cloak against the wear and tear of daily life. Thanks, Family.
There are plenty of disadvantages to being the primary care giver for kids, but a few days ago even I had to admit that I had a pretty sweet deal.
It’s school holidays right now, the two week break between each quarter of the school year. It’s always a juggle with working parents, but this time some friends and I decided to take a day or two off, pack up the kids, and head into Rod Donald hut for an overnight.
It’s a hut that you have to book, so we took a gamble on the weather. Last time we walked in there it was wet and misty, but the hut has a nice cozy pot-belly stove and the walk is so short that we could bring luxury food and games; even a hut-bound overnight is fun. And these two friends happen to be English, where any weather is good weather, so I knew we’d be ok.
Failed attempt number 572:
Success at last:
School holidays end this weekend, and Naomi’s sojourn at school starts on Monday. The times: they are are a-changing.
When we were expecting Naomi I thought to myself “Good. I’ve had one baby in the USA, now I’ll try the prenatal care and birthing system in New Zealand.” I was pleasantly surprised how well the NZ midwifery system worked. I felt that if I had run into complications that care would have been efficiently referred to an obstetrician, but the midwives I worked with were professional, skilled, and personable. And the post-baby support beat the US system all hollow. I’m a NZ birthing system convert.
I recently got to test the general medical system in NZ out….not that I have much personal experience with major medical problems in the US, so probably not a fair trial. This test was a bit more rocky than the baby test.
April 2016 I started a problem that was eventually diagnosed as disc between two vertebrae bulging out and pressing on nerves, causing leg pain. It sounds so simple in that description, but living with the problem was misery for months last winter, and I wallowed around in the NZ medical system waiting for one appointment or another… 4 months before getting an MRI (and therefore a correct diagnosis) and 9 months before getting approval (funding approval) for a surgery to correct it. I’ll spare you the details of the wallowing. I might do better the second time around, but probably not. Basically the problem wasn’t an emergency (not life threatening), so rather than your first port-of-call doctor (a general practitioner in this case….well, after physiotherapists couldn’t do any more) ordering an expensive MRI scan, they order an appointment for you to see a specialist…and 6 weeks later when your appointment comes, they order and MRI for 4 weeks later….then wait again for a follow-up appointment. You get the picture. Health care is slow because it is rationed. Economics is considered. Unlike in America.
But in January when the approval for a surgery finally came through, I was actually feeling better. Gradually, ever so incrementally, my back had improved to the point where I could mountain bike, and after that it got better on its own, slowly but steadily. By late summer I was back to standing straight, not to mention back to hiking and rollerblading and all the stuff I love, and feeling that perhaps the slow-and-economical health care system was ok after all. It’s financially sustainable at least, unlike the American system.
BUT THEN, that disc bulged again. I don’t know why. I didn’t DO anything. But all of a sudden I was right back to where I was a year ago, limping around, not sleeping well, unable to do anything fun. The only difference was this time I took more pain killers, because we were booked for our big trip back to the States and I just had to cope. And this time, I already had all the contacts in place.
While in the States I was able to organize a new MRI appointment for the day after we got home, and an appointment with the surgeon two days later. The funding approval was still valid from January. He didn’t really have space in his surgery list for me, but he said it was a quick job and he’d squeeze me in the next week. I felt like you do when you’re 40-weeks pregnant, when even the process of childbirth sounds better than the prospect of staying pregnant. Cut open my back and take out that lump of the disc? Yes please, that sounds great!
I don’t have many photos to share of that process. I suppose I should have taken a picture of the knitting I was working on for hours before it was my turn for surgery, looking forward to the relief of the anesthesia. Or the cheerful OR nurse with the bright blue eye shadow who said she had had the same problem (“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” she commiserated.) No picture can show the relief of waking up and having the squirmy-can’-t-sit-still leg pain gone. Just gone.
That was a week ago, and I’m back at work now. (Not back to vacuuming yet….thanks Jeremiah.) Moving a little slowly, but feeling tremendously much better. The surgeon says there’s a 95% chance that that will be the end of the saga. A few cases re-occur, but if it does, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. In six weeks from now I should be able to get back up into the mountains to backpack, maybe in time to catch the end of the snowy season.
I guess the NZ medical system did work for me this time….eventually.
We returned from the States July 31 and I’m just managing to get photos up of the second half of our vacation in Alaska, which could be distilled as “Fish and Cousins.” At least they aren’t fishy cousins!
About a year ago Jeremiah’s oldest brother, Ben, moved with his family from upstate NY (where we grew up) to Sterling, Alaska. Ben and Jeannette have 13 children, so in the interest of travel efficiency we decided to make Alaska Hub Shaw, and asked Jeremiah’s parents and siblings if they could join us there. Plus, July happens to be Salmon Season in Alaska….
After WEEKS of rain, the weekend forecast looked spectacular. By spectacular I mean sunny, 18 C, and still. Not windy, even in the mountains. It was NOT a weekend to stay in the city.
We packed up the kids Saturday morning, stopped for some pies at the Sheffield pie shop, got some candy bribery at the gas station, and drove up to Porter’s Pass through the Torlesse Range. It’s a lowish pass on the dry side (our side) of the mountains leading up to Arthur’s Pass where a couple trails lead off into the hills. Trig Peak was our goal, an achievable 350 meter climb starting right off the highway.