One year ago today my house was sold, my belongings were in storage on the other side of the country, and my 1998 Honda CRV was tuned up and packed for travel. I wrapped up my job of eleven years, blessed my friend who shared her home with me for three weeks, said goodbye to dear friends and co-workers and favorite places, put my twelve-year-old diabetic cat in the tricked-out dog crate behind the front seats of CuRVy and pulled out of Raleigh on a brilliant Sunday morning. My monumental adVenture was on; no turning back. Two weeks—including one bad fall, one scary night, and one car issue—and 4000 miles of American heartland, magnificent mountains, verdant valleys, and visits with friends later, I arrived at my new old home on the hill above my small home town to live for a year with my 96-year-old mother.
I can’t believe the year has gone by already, and it seems like forever since I left North Carolina. I have settled in about as much as I could have hoped to, I suppose. One would think I would have learned all the rules of the house and the proper way to do things by now, but I still receive instructions from time to time. I no longer detest cooking a meal for someone else every night, though some nights I fear I will lose my mind if I have to do it one more time. I may never stop resenting the narrow range of menu choices and the acceptable ways of preparing them. I could turn that into a “happy privilege” or a “growth experience,” like a good daughter should; but frankly…no. My task is to live with the resentment like I live with the occasional ache in my shoulder suffered in the fall in Bumfuck, Arkansas.
I have watched Mama decline this year in mental acuity, physical strength, and ability to see and hear. And I have marveled at her ability to still carry on and to maintain at least the illusion of control over so much. And over so much that I wish she would let go of. I have wondered at her odd mix of recall and clarity of thinking, and forgetfulness and bizarre reasoning. I have read several books about aging and caregiving as experienced by others, and written 24 blog posts fit for the public to read—and several that were not—about my own experience.
I have ridden the stomach-lurching roller coaster of joy and despair. Was this move the smartest or the dumbest thing I have ever done? Smudge adjusted much more quickly than I to her reduced-size, claustrophobic life. She has never even considered leaving through the exterior door of the dark basement apartment. I have considered running like hell on several occasions. But like so many decisions in anyone’s life, it just is. It would be a sorry state of affairs if I had no regrets over what is lost. What I left behind was mostly wonderful, how could I not miss it? It is up to me to create a new kind of wonderful. And I am.
I have been here through the four seasons and learned what they have to offer: foggy dawns, the bluest skies and the grayest gray, bone-chilling damp, spectacular flowers, crisp cool mornings and stifling afternoons, rainbows, and spectacular sunrises over the mountain. I have lured the birds back to the garden by the simple act of feeding them. I frown at the deer feeding on the garden plants and the birds’ seed and enjoy their presence in the meadow, hoping they feel safe here. I have explored the back roads of Lewis County and beyond. I had my second experience of week-long writing workshops, the first in the muggy June heat of a Virginia college campus two years ago, the second in the December mist and fog at a retreat center by an alder marsh on an island in Puget Sound. I discovered wonderful new friends and writing sisters at each.
As my year draws to a close I have acquired a small paying job, finally found a coffee shop I like to write in (it’s new), attended one Meetup event in the hopes of expanding my circle of friends and activities, and at last dug in the garden and planted a few growing things. Mama has celebrated her 97th birthday and I my 61st.
And I have signed on for another year. My hopes for year two of this adventure are to:
Explore more ground.
Meet more people.
Write more words.
Get more exercise.
Do more art.
Be a participant in improving Mama’s quality of life beyond merely being here, though that is big.
Attend another writing experience in the marsh (already signed up).
Continue to be here in this moment, this month, this year. Tomorrow can take care of itself.
Create more wonderful.