Monday, January 28, 2013

Fifty Shades of Blue, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

An ah ha moment. As I was driving to Minnesota last week, I realized why I was not so eager to pack up and head west this time.  True, it was minus something degrees and was doomed to stay that way the whole time I was there, but that was not the reason, at least not entirely. One of my intentions for the new year is to spend more time with my father, more casual and normal time, more one on one time, and this would be the first of those times in the new year. I enjoy being with Dad, so why had I lingered at home that morning and why had I taken my time packing for the three days in the apartment? 
     Ah ha! When my mother was dying of colon cancer, I spent a week every month with her and then longer when she was closer to death. I would leave our country sanctuary in Ohio and fly to Minneapolis on a Sunday morning and then return home on Friday evening. The decision to be with her at those times was intentional, knowing that each month I would more than likely see changes in her, but I was never sure what they might be and what might be required of me. How much less of her would there be and how much closer would we be to saying goodbye? 
    Ah ha! My intention to spend time with Dad on my own every month feels like that time with Mom and reminds me of the inch by inch grieving I did all those months, leading to the power punch grieving when she died. The difference is that Dad is in good health and doing well. Obviously, at 89 his death could happen at any time--this is no time to be an ostrich daughter-- but there is no current diagnosis driving my decision. 
     Ah ha! There were two tasks Mom always wanted me to do during my stays with her: clean the refrigerator and straighten the linen closet. "Your father doesn't know how to fold the towels." And along with having lunch with him, what was I planning to do during this visit? Clean the refrigerator and straighten the linen closet! The heart remembers more than we can imagine and just the thought of those tasks brought me back to those days, doing things that Mom could no longer do for herself, but remained important symbols of her role as Mrs Clean. 
     Both of those tasks were ways of saying, "Mom, don't worry. Your house will be cared for. Dad will be cared for." Straightening the linen closet, especially was almost a ritual.  Refolding and smoothing and stacking. Piles of pink for the guest bathroom. Piles of pale blue for the master bathroom. I was stunned to see so many pink towels frayed and worn, but Mom was married to a certain shade of pink to match the wallpaper in that bathroom, and she couldn't find the right shade of pink in replacement towels. I made an executive decision and eliminated a towel or two every time I came. Not only were there stacks of those towels, enough for a girls' locker room, but Mom no longer opened that closet door.  
     And now for the blue towels. My sister bought Dad some fresh, thick white towels for his birthday this summer, thinking they would replace the worn, faded, and frayed light blue towels Mom favored in their bathroom. Mom has been dead for almost 10 years now, and he has used the same towels. Guess what we found on the floor of the linen closet? The white towels still in the box, just as Amy had given him. We chuckled and tsk-tsked and set about refolding and smoothing and stacking, but also eliminating the worst of the blue towels. 

     Later in the day my sister and I bought new blue towels. We didn't look at the price. We didn't even test for thickness or softness. Nope, we swarmed through the linen department like Goldilocks. This one's too grey. This one's too green. This one's too bright. This one's too dull. This one, this blue, is just right, close to what Dad expects to see when he opens the linen closet. 
     Ah ha! How much there is to learn about being in a different role in life--the daughter of an elderly parent. The daughter of an only parent. The daughter still missing her mother. The daughter seeing her father still missing his wife. Sometimes it is the simple things, the every day tasks, such as folding towels, that reminds us of how life changes and how life stays the same.   

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