Greetings, Dear Friends and Poetry Lovers! It has been too long, with an unintended summer break. (More on that in a bit.)
The pandemic has hit older folks with dementia particularly hard. Jeff's dad, Reuben, was in an independent living facility apartment in Georgia near Jeff's sister, Patti, and waiting on his room at a memory care place when everything locked down in the Spring. The isolation (meals brought to residents rather than served in a dining room with others to share them, etc.), and the upheaval of daily structure seemed to exacerbate processes in place in his mind and body. Quick visits could happen, but technology - which Reuben had always stayed a step ahead of, as an original Apple fan - began to elude him, until even FaceTime calls became difficult, then impossible.
Patti kept things together for him as best as one can in those situations, and Jeff's brother Baris was not far away. As Spring turned to Summer, the dementia challenges became overwhelming, and Reuben had a couple of trips to the hospital and other care facilities before going back to his apartment with Hospice care in late June. He finished his earthly journey on July 1.
Reuben was always going places, rising above the challenging circumstances of live in a poor mill village to go to college, where he met his future bride, Marge, who came from a mill village a little farther up the socio-economic ladder. Reuben joined the Army and eventually became a Delta pilot, working on the administrative side as well in later years in his career.
Somehow several of my favorite memories around Reuben involve getting from some point "A" to a point "B," which I guess he was an expert at after all of those years flying internationally. (When he retired from Delta, he took our entire family on his last trip as pilot - to Dublin! Somewhere there's a picture of one-year-old Seth holding up a Guiness can or some such that Reuben put in his hand, and a picture of four-year-old Morgan holding her hands over her eyes at the Trinity College Library as I tried to force her to look at the Book of Kells! Those tykes are 25 and 28 now....)
Back to transportation. Reuben liked to share something his father told him when he was learning to drive on those rutty Georgia dirt roads. "Keep it between the ditches, Son." That advice served him well, and I have turned to it myself more than once.
When our family had moved back to north Georgia with little ones and then bought a small farm, I found myself learning how to drive a truck and pull a horse trailer. Reuben and Marge were at our house, and I said I was going to go take the truck and trailer out for practice, planning to make only right turns to return home! Reuben said, "No - you need to take it to the top of the driveway." We had a gently curving gravel driveway about a quarter-mile long. "And back it up."
Took me 45 minutes. But it was a good learning experience!
When Morgan was learning to drive, she had us and Reuben teaching her. "He taught me to parallel park," she remembers, "saying that if he could park an L10-11, I could park his Volvo. "
One more. Reuben loved to recount the story about how, one time in the wee hours before dawn, he was driving to work (the Atlanta airport) from home (an hour north) and making quite good time on the otherwise empty, dark interstate. Then, blue lights.
An officer came up to his window and said, harshly, "Do you have a license to fly?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Reuben answered, and showed him his Delta license. Reuben said the officer shook his head and said he always figured one day, there would be a (insert expletive of your choice here) who would ruin his line, and he let Reuben go with a warning.
Marge used to quote Dylan Thomas's
"Do not go gentle into that good night."
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. ...
You can read the rest here.
Reuben did not go gentle, the last few weeks of his life. But in the end, and with help from Hospice, he was able to go peacefully. We had visited him just a few weeks before. When Jeff got the call that the end was near, we were in the midst of a family week here with our kids. Seth drove Jeff to Georgia, and they stayed with Reuben his last night, and they were with him when he died the next day.
While Reuben had several issues which ushered Death more quickly than we would have imagined, we now suspect he also had an undiagnosed case of Covid-19 as well. A few days after Jeff returned home, he started having symptoms. Long story short, the results of his test (obtained after four miserable hours in the hospital's Express Care parking lot on a Sunday afternoon) were positive. He is good now, but he was quite sick with flu-like symptoms for more than two weeks, and I Florence Nightingale-ed my way through July, putting everything else in my work and personal life on the shelf. (Just starting to get it all back down now!) Everyone quarantined our couple of weeks and then some, and we are grateful to be back to work and school.
July ended with more sadness. Reuben's youngest brother, just 72, was diagnosed with Covid-19 at the end of the month and hospitalized in Georgia. He and two other members of his church were on ventilators at the same time. One survived, but Reuben's brother and another gentleman did not.
August brought us a quick trip back to Georgia last weekend, to bury Reuben's ashes next to Marge's at a family farm. (Marge died from Parkinson's in February of last year.) Jeff's brother Tim led a beautiful short family service. All five siblings and families were there - outside, masked, and safely distanced. (We only took off masks for a 'couples' picture, far apart from each other.) Tim also brought an expensive bottle of Jameson Whiskey to sip from vintage Delta china cups - and to sprinkle on the dirt. Reuben would have loved that!
Reuben's marker features a trio of his favorite sayings/quotes:
Have the Courage to be Yourself
The collage detail pictured above the marker was created by Jeff's oldest sister Kathy. She made similar pieces for each family! What an amazing gift we'll treasure forever. (Kathy teaches high school art; here's a shout-out and love to ALL you teachers, my Morgan included, starting off this very strange new school year.)
Thanks for reading all of this! And words are inadequate to thank friends (& neighbors) who reached out to us in recent weeks with dinners, yard care, grocery runs, and other acts of generosity and kindness. I don't know how we would have gotten through without the TLC and prayers of others. A few of my writer buddies knew what we were dealing with and sent me.... books! Just for me. A couple of old ones to repurpose, a couple of delightful gently used ones to READ, and a new, quirky humorous book about animals. Bright spots of wonder and happiness in a blur of stressful weeks. THANK YOU! :0) And I wouldn't have gotten through July without frequent consulting with my nurse-sister, Sharon, and my doc here, Andrea. XO
Our wonderful Molly has the Roundup today at Nix the Comfort Zone - but I bet you'll find some poems of comfort in this week's offerings, too. Thanks, Molly. Poetry Friday is a comfort to me.